March Madness always brings out our need to sort, rank, and compare. Personnel managers need not be any different and, since I’m nominally in charge of bringing literature to the discussion here and since we trace this blog’s heritage to speculating on Michael Scott’s employment law sins in The Office, let’s begin filling a bracket with the worst HR nightmares in literary history.
We should have fertile territory. Literature, after all, is nothing but a retelling of human foibles. HR is nothing if not managing human foibles. I defy any of you to convince me that you don’t draw parallels to your coworkers when you’re making your way through a novel on the evenings and weekends.
Space is limited so I can’t begin to fill out a full 64 (or is it 68?) team bracket, and I invite you to suggest additional contestants in the comments. The following, though, are a few who I consider to be locks and may be in contention for the higher seeds:
- Jay Gatsby, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald: Let’s just catalogue the red flags, shall we? For starters, he’s a nouveau riche playboy with designs on a wealthy man’s wife. Add to that the fact that he’s tied up with shady underworld characters, you can’t quite figure where they money comes from, and his associates come and go from his life with disturbing frequency and anonymity. Oh yeah – and his name’s not Gatsby! Remember the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), give your employees a compliant consent form, and run an appropriate background check lest Meyer Wolfsheim begin playing games with the payroll account.
- Jake Barnes, The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway: Barnes, the book’s protagonist, is one of the most puzzling HR nightmares: the talented layabout. He’s constantly leaving the office for the bar, an unrequitable love interest drives him to distraction, and he runs off to Spain with a crowd of idle rich buddies. He’s crying out for some good old progressive discipline (a phrase he will surely hate, since he’s a good writer), and he’s an ex-pat, so if you want to fire him your immigration folks will have to get involved.
- Governor Willie Stark, All The King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren: Lousiana’s bombastic Governor and Senator Huey P. Long (“The Kingfish”) inspired the story of Willie Stark, so pathological behavior is sure to abound. Indeed, Stark proves to be just as cynical, calculating, ruthless, and ambitious as you would expect. He also becomes a philanderer, so get ready for the complaints.
- Okonkwo, Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe: Okonkwo is the proud leader of an African tribe in Chinua Achebe’s story of colonial impact in Africa (if you haven’t read this one, I highly recommend it). He also rules with an iron fist and a quick, nasty temper. He’s much like the tyrannical department head who keeps people on a steady march into your office threatening to quit if you don’t do something about him. You’ll need to train him up, but be careful – he’s not going to be happy about it.
- Animal Farm by George Orwell: Take your pick here – Orwell’s jeremiad about collectivism’s dangers had its share of sociopaths and psychopaths. Napoleon the pig is the easy place to start. He chases off an erstwhile partner and capable rival, Snowball (man, do I ever feel ridiculous when I discuss this book), in a plot to solidify his own power. Napoleon is a metaphor for the managers who perceive threats from talented employees (rather than opportunities) and run off your best potential.
So, readers, do you have any suggestions to fill out the bracket?