Lessons from “9 to 5”

by | March 22, 2018

I recently watched the move “9 to 5” while on a flight.  I hadn’t seen it in years and not since I started my own business or began practicing law.  I loved it when I first saw and I still found it to be really entertaining.  I remember a film class I took in college that discussed how television and film highlights social issues of the time.  For those of you who have not seen the movie, it’s a 1980 comedy about three women who work for Mr. Hart, a misogynist boss who treats everyone with disrespect. After some antics, the women take over and the workplace becomes a better place.  Mr. Hart takes credit for all the improvements and gets a promotion to the company’s office in Brazil.  You can’t help but notice the emerging social issues flamboyantly portrayed here.  However, beyond the obvious crimes of various characters in the movie, the movie presents a number of lessons for business today.


  • Within the first 10 minutes of the movie, the discrimination and sexual harassment in the workplace is apparent.  From the perspective of 35 years of progress, it’s amusing; but at the time of the film, it was not too exaggerated from reality.  We like to pretend this is not the world we live in today but it still exists.  Just look at the #metoo movement.  As a business, you need to be aware of behaviors in your business and have policies in your employee handbook to enable people to come forward with complaints or suggestions.   The “It’s just a joke, don’t take it personally” response no longer flies.


  • The business experiences such an obvious improvement in morale and efficiency because the company listened to its employees and implemented policies to help them balance their work life and home life.  Something as small as personal items on the desk can make a huge difference in an employee’s perception of their importance to management.  Listen and make changes to positively affect the workplace – they don’t have to be extreme but only a reflection of what your employees value.  It will pay off in an enhanced community and culture.


  • Hart is a jerk.  Leaving the illegal activities out of the mix, he’s a jerk.  At that time and even today, bosses can be jerks.  It’s not illegal.  As an employee, your choice is to deal with it or leave.  As a leader, you need to make decisions about the effect of jerks in your company.  Does your employment agreement or other employment policies address such behavior?  If you’re the jerk (see Mr. Hart in the movie), consider the personal and public relations risk you’re presenting to your business from a harassment or assault claim.


This film left me intrigued by this reflection of social issues in film, so I may need to go check out more for snapshots of business life at various points in time.  What lessons can be learned and how can we apply them to our current work environment?