EntertainHR: Gamehendge – What Phish’s Music Can Teach Employers about Handbooks

Phish fans were in for a very special treat at the band’s recent New Year’s Eve 2023 concert at Madison Square Garden. For the first time in 29 years, the band played its Gamehendge set in full to the delight of its dedicated followers.

phish gamehendge
Phish performs full ‘Gamehenge’ set at Madison Square Garden for NYE 2023 (Photo Credit: Peter Wallace)

The musical set originated from lead singer Trey Anastasio’s senior college project and has evolved over the decades into an intricate lyrical tale of power and corruption, complete with a diverse group of characters and mythical creatures. For non-Phish fans, think Alice in Wonderland meets Tolkien set to a fever dream of rock music.

What does this have to do with employee handbooks, you ask? Far more than you might anticipate.

Our story begins in the mysterious land of Gamehendge, where the Lizard People have enjoyed a peaceful and harmonious existence abiding by the fundamental values contained in the Helping Friendly Book.  The Book was written by the wise prophet, Icculus, and sets forth all knowledge inherent to the universe, including the secrets to eternal joy and never-ending splendor. This blissful existence is shattered when our main antagonist, Wilson, steals the Book and uses it to establish his own evil dictatorship.

Our protagonist is the retired Colonel Forbin, who finds himself magically transported from the suburbs of Long Island to Gamehendge. There, he meets the Lizards and learns they are plotting a revolution to end their suffering under Wilson’s tyranny. Colonel Forbin agrees to help reclaim the Book and restore order and peace to the people of Gamehendge. 

Phish is known for pulling off elaborate stunts and surprises for fans at special events, such as New Year’s and Halloween concerts.  The band’s New Year’s Eve return to Gamehendge was no exception. Band members were accompanied by a full cast of actors, elaborate puppets, acrobats, lighting effects, and even Orange Is the New Black alum, Annie Golden.

All of these elements came together to usher in a New Year by sending spectators on an epic quest for peace and harmony.

While I have yet to review an employee handbook that contains the secrets to eternal joy or never-ending splendor, handbooks are a vital part of the fabric of any workplace.  A well-drafted and updated handbook is the employer’s opportunity to establish from the very beginning of the employment relationship:

  • The at-will nature of the employment relationship;
  • The culture of the workplace and the employer’s founding principles;
  • The employer’s commitment to providing equal employment opportunities to all employees and applicants consistent with federal, state, and local law;
  • The various avenues available to employees to report any workplace concerns that they have about discrimination, harassment, retaliation, safety, ethics, compensation, or any other concerns;
  • The availability of leave options and other reasonable accommodations for a serious health condition, disability, pregnancy, childbirth, or other related condition;
  • The expectations for employees in terms of attendance, behavior, safety, and conduct, as well as potential repercussions associated with non-compliance;
  • The various benefits and privileges of employment (e.g., paid time off, holiday pay, etc.) and parameters for eligibility and accrual; and
  • The processes in place for ending the employment relationship, such as exit interviews, payment or waiver of accrued leave, and requests for advance notice of the employee’s departure for the employee to leave in good standing.

While all of this is aimed at establishing a harmonious and productive work environment with clear guidelines for employees, consistent enforcement is also key to maintaining a sense of equity, transparency, and fairness. The Gamehendge saga artfully demonstrates that discontent and even chaos can fester in workplaces without strong policies and consistent enforcement by well-trained managers, leaving employers vulnerable to union organizing efforts and costly litigation from disgruntled employees.

As Icculus sagely warned Colonel Forbin, “all knowledge seeming innocent and pure becomes a deadly weapon in the hands of avarice and greed.”

Kristin Starnes Gray is an attorney at FordHarrison.

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