6 Things Movies Love to Get Wrong About The Workplace

Hollywood loves to make movies about businesses, because that's where all the peasants in their audience work. But writers and directors aren't exactly corporate experts and often don't even know what an average office job is like.

That's why they've come up with these weird misunderstandings of how companies work.

#6. Owning 51 Percent of a Company's Stock Makes You Supreme Ruler

The Myth:

Countless plot points have turned on the "51 percent rule," where if you own 51 percent of a company's stock, you are the supreme ruler of the company and can do anything you want. The villain in Mr. Deeds had the power to sell the company because he controlled 51 percent of the shares, even though the owners of the other 49 percent were unanimously against it.


Here he is spelling it out in case you weren't following.

Tons of other movies, ranging from The Secret of My Success to Richie Rich, have been based off of pivotal 51 percent moments, where the villain could only stare dumbfounded as the hero was discovered to have 51 percent ownership. Despite paying millions of dollars for the other 49 percent of shares, the other stockholders apparently have zero say in any business decisions and probably would have to bark like a dog if the 51 percent king ordered them to.

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"Nyaah! I own 51 percent! Mush!"

The Problem:

The truth is that most corporations require a two-thirds majority vote and are actually legally bound by some state laws to do so for big decisions (like whether to sell the company). Which makes sense. Is it really a good idea to give your company a self-destruct button that can be activated when almost half the shareholders don't want that at all?

Even if the company doesn't require a two-thirds vote for a decision as big as basically killing itself, there are laws to protect minority shareholders from "oppression" (that's the legal term) by the majority, which kick in during a number of different circumstances, like if the majority owner is doing something that makes no business sense for the corporation and only benefits himself. If the majority tramples these rights, minority owners have the right to sue their pants off.

Getty
Also a legal term, referring to suing someone for so much money they can no longer afford pants.

A legitimate case can be made that the owners of the 51 percent in these movies, both villains AND heroes, make some decisions an outsider could consider questionable (Richie Rich spontaneously appoints a team of street urchins as his R&D team), which the minority owners could use to at least start a lawsuit and cause some serious headaches for the "supreme ruler."

Sure, maybe the most dramatic choice for Mr. Deeds' climax was for the girlfriend to appear out of nowhere and discover a secret heir, but it could equally have ended with the bad guy going down in a storm of lawsuits from what appear to be a couple hundred people.

#5. Firings Are Often Spontaneous and Dramatic

The Myth:

There's no boardroom scene Hollywood loves more than the dramatic, unexpected firing. In Batman Begins, a corrupt executive fires Lucius Fox with the quip, "Didn't you get the memo?" a line which Fox himself cleverly uses to counter-fire the corrupt executive at the end.


It's probably at least somewhat reassuring to be fired by the soothing voice of nature documentaries.

And there's plenty of surprise firings with a twist -- like this one in Entourage -- where the firer uses some kind of clever gimmick or catchphrase. We mentioned Mr. Deeds above for the 51 percent rule, but the climax of that movie also involves firing almost the entire board. And of course, look no further than Robocop for one of the most extreme firing scenes in movie history.


We're just saying, if The Celebrity Apprentice ever wants to boost ratings, they have their blue print.

The Problem:

Both the spontaneous firing scene and "51 percent rule" are based on the notion that the "boss" at a company can do whatever he or she wants. If a CEO fired someone so definitively in a real boardroom, he'd probably end up asphyxiating on all the red tape he'd be tangled in.

HR departments have extensive bureaucratic guidelines for how to fire someone and are so paranoid about building a paper trail of documentation that the process of firing someone usually takes weeks. They're justified in their paranoia, since there are a number of laws that allow at-will employees to fight wrongful termination for various reasons. Most employees, especially at the top, actually have detailed contracts to protect themselves in case of a firing.

That's why HP's CEO Mark Hurd got about $40 million as a reward after being fired for sexual impropriety and fudging expense reports -- because it was in his contract. Mercedes booted exec Ernst Lieb for billing his home improvements and vacations to the company's account, but couldn't even get him out of the company, because of the paperwork and legal nightmare that firing an executive usually involves. The payoffs are called "golden parachutes" because you now have enough money to equip your fleet of golden leer jets with the appropriate safety equipment


Actual photograph.

If they'd dumped him, they might have a lawsuit on their hands, like the ones filed by this fired casino CEO or the fired CEO of U.S.A. Track and Field. And what's at stake if the company loses? Well, when Renault fired three execs accused of corporate spying, the company's COO and six other people involved with firing them lost their jobs for improperly firing the first three guys.

So while Morgan Freeman's comeback was certainly snappy, actual executive would gladly go through the tedium of filling out HR forms and letting the bureaucracy slowly grind out the termination process, instead of seizing the opportunity for a clever spontaneous firing. Despite what their name would have you believe, firings are best served cold.

#4. You Wear Either a Suit or a Uniform

The Myth:

Not only does Hollywood have a baffling idea of how most people work, they also seem to have a disproportionate idea of what most workers wear. There's plenty of high-ranking characters wearing suits: Wall Street's Gordon Gekko, American Psycho's Patrick Bateman, Bruce Wayne, whatever Richard Gere's character was named in Pretty Woman, the list goes on.


Apparently his name was Edward. An obvious Twilight rip-off.

Meanwhile, blue-collar workers wear uniforms even if they manage the plant. Office peons get to wear a tie just like the boss, but they must have their forearms exposed for at least part of the workday for some reason.

Everyone who works for a "company" has to wear something restrictive. If anyone goes to work in shorts or jeans, they're a surfer, an artist, an off duty or undercover cop or a stunted man-child hacker.


Mix and match two casually dressed professions and your job is done: The Point Break law of screenwriting.

The Problem:

In real life, 55 percent of workers report that their workplace has no dress code, and tech companies in particular commonly have workers of all ages wandering in at 10 or 11 a.m. wearing shorts and sandals. Not little quirky companies, but giants like Cisco, Google and Microsoft.

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Microsoft workers on the company bus going to their office near Seattle. No suits, but you may be required to wear flannel once a week.

Companies have even started hopping on board a trend where they encourage their employees to wear shorts in order to save money on office air conditioning in this economic crunch.

Yet you would probably be hard-pressed to name a movie where a well-adjusted 9-to-5 worker and father of two shows up to the office in a T-shirt.

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