"The Leftovers" and HR

by Matthew Stollak on Wednesday, August 13, 2014

I'm 100% in on HBO's "The Leftovers." 

The basic premise is that three years ago, 2% of the world's population simply vanished without a trace.  Three years later, there are no answers for what happened, and much of society is still coping and grieving over the loss of friends and loved ones.  A hierarchy of sorts develops (as well as a hidden backlash) based on the number of people one lost.  It is grim, but fascinating viewing (aside: I haven't yet read Tom Perrotta's novel for which the show is based).

Of course, I couldn't resist putting on my HR hat and imagining what the world of work looks like in the aftermath of the event.

The world's economy continues unabated (or does it?)

No mention is made of the initial economic impact of such an event.  Was GDP disrupted?  Three years later, grocery stores are still stocked with the usual array of cereals and other durable goods.  Pharmacies are still stocked to address appropriate medical needs.  People are still working and earning an income.

Of course, we see the rise of new businesses that attempt to profit from the situation.  There are conferences that host discussions on the possible causes of the event.  One company produces lifesize replicas of the departed for up to $40,000 (depending on how detailed you want the body to resemble the person you lost) that can be used as substitute body in a casket for a funeral.

Is it a recruiting boon or bust?
If 2% of the world's population disappeared, it is likely that, on average, organizations lost 2% of their employees.  Some may have lost more than others.  How do organizations replace that lost talent?  Does it thus lead to a war on talent?  Does it give recruiters a little more job security?  There are also many more individuals who decide to drop out of working altogther, but more on that later.

How are bereavement and leave policies applied?

With so many now "gone," how do organization deal with people taking time off from work to deal with the loss(es) they are grieving?  Do they apply sick leave?  Are EAP investments increasing?

How are survivors benefits handled?

The show noted that insurance companies are refusing to pay as there is no evidence the individuals actually died.  The government has stepped in and created "departure" benefits.  Bureaucrats go to the survivors homes and ask them a detailed 150+ question survey (in part to see if there is some commonality or correlation among those who left) to sift out frauds.

Is there career planning?

It doesn't appear to be a major concern for Generation Z, as there has been little to no discussion of career plans or college.

Your most engaged individuals will not necessarily be working for your organization

Perhaps the most fascinating part of the show is a group created in the aftermath of the departure called the Guilty Remnant.  They are comprised of individuals who essentially have dropped out of family and societal obligations; who feel guilty for not being chosen to be one of those who departed.  They do not speak.  They dress in all white (to set them apart).  They chain smoke (ostensibly because they believe the world ended on that fateful day three years ago, and so, why not smoke, since they believe they are likely to be raptured long before the smoking kills them).  They are 100% committed to their cause (though I em not sure where there economic support comes from).

What are your HR thoughts if 2% of the population disappeared?


One comment

I started to watch this but couldn't get into it. Funny though as when I was watching the first few episodes I was thinking about some of the things you mention in this post. Maybe as HR people we never really stop thinking HR!

by James Clark on November 5, 2014 at 4:09 PM. #

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