Gangnam Style, Lifeguards & Work Ethics

I never heard of Gangnam style until about 5 minutes ago. But when the word appeared 3 times in a quick scan of Google news — something about lifeguards, something about Britney Spears and Ellen — I had to check it out.

Quick update, for the uninformed and un-hip, like me. Gangnam Style is a song, video and dance by Korean rapper Psy. Britney Spears, former teen pop queen and current X Factor judge, tweeted something about wanting to learn the dance, and talk show host and dance fanatic Ellen DeGeneres was all too happy to make it happen.

What does that have to do with lifeguards, work ethics, and Blogging ‘Bout Boys?

Well, this: In California, a bunch of lifeguards decided to make a parody Gangnam Style video. They wore their work uniforms and recorded the video at work (but after work hours). Then they uploaded it to YouTube. And Facebook. Then, they got fired.

Apparently, the Internet and the entire world are blowing up over this supposed injustice. But I happen to think that 1) the terminations were justified, at least from what I’m reading and 2) this incident is a perfect opportunity to discuss appropriate work ethics with our sons.

I get it: Gangnam style is all the rage, parody videos are all over the place, and the lifeguards wanted to be part of the action. But what part of not-OK-for-work do they not understand?

Using your place of employment as a prop is not generally OK, unless you’ve obtained specific permission, and the sooner these kids (and ours) learn that, the better.

Our kids may be growing up in a culture that frequently blurs the line between personal and professional behavior, between private and public. But that doesn’t mean anything goes. That means that we, as parents, need to double-down and give our kids some honest talk about what’s acceptable and what’s not.

Let’s face it: our kids are growing up in a culture that bestows popularity on the basis of clicks. Like him or hate him, our kids all know about Justin Bieber, and they almost all secretly harbor the hope of someday starring in their very own viral video.

But…the real world still exists too, and our kids need to understand that employee handbooks still apply in the Age of the Internet. What gets me most about the story is that the lifeguards seem incredulous at what has happened as a result of their video. A Yahoo news story says that, “…most of all, they…are baffled over why they would be fired for doing something fun that they believed would bring positive attention to the aquatic center.”

They, apparently, don’t understand that concept of “at-will employment,” which means that one can be fired at almost anytime for almost anything. They further don’t understand why their employer would be unhappy to see that they were using city facilities in an unauthorized manner, after hours, in a way that had absolutely nothing to do with their employment.

So I guess we, parents of today’s Digital Natives, need to be explicit about workplace ethics. This is what I hope to teach my children:

  1. Maintain professional standards and behavior at work. When at work, in uniform, or even just talking about your job after hours, always remember that you are a reflection of your company or employer.
  2. Follow the rules. If the Employee Handbook states that uniforms may only be worn at work, while working, only wear the uniform at work, while working. If you have questions or concerns about rules of conduct at work, ask your boss or someone in Human Resources.
  3. If you think you have a great and fantastic idea for promoting your company, doing business, etc., discuss it with your boss FIRST. The lifeguards are right: an edgy and creative video may have increased business and/or brought positive attention to the aquatic center. But there’s a right way and wrong way to do things. If you’re not the boss, it’s not your call. Take your good ideas up the chain of command, or go work for yourself.
  4. Assume that anything you put online will be seen by everyone. Think HARD before putting anything online! You can restrict your Facebook settings all you want, but once a picture or video goes online, it’s very, very hard to control. Assume that your grandparents, your girlfriend, your future kids and all potential future employers will see everything you’ve ever posted online. If it’s nothing you’d want your kids (or future boss) to see, keep it offline.
  5. Popularity and clicks don’t really matter. As a professional writer, I understand the importance of cultivating and maintaining a digital presence. I’m told, at every single professional conference I attend, that unless I have followers and an audience, I may as well kiss my dream of publishing a book good-bye. But, while an audience is important, so is treating people nicely, and proving that you’re easy to work with. Really, bosses (and editors) want employees (and writers) who play well with others. In the end, the number of views your video or website gets is not nearly an important as how you treat others. Treating people with respect and consideration, completing work on time and working together to achieve goals will earn you far more personal and professional respect than a silly video. Even in 2012.

What are you teaching your kids about work ethics in the 21st century? Do you think the city was right to fire the lifeguards, or do you think the terminations were extreme?

The Building Boys Bulletin

The Building Boys Bulletin Newsletter gives you the facts, encouragement, and inspiration you need to help boys thrive. Written by Jennifer L.W. Fink, mom of four sons and author of Building Boys: Raising Great Guys in a World That Misunderstands Males, Building Boys Bulletin includes:

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4 Responses

  1. I have to disagree with you on this one. Though it’s true that they should have obtained permission before shooting this video, I hardly think that oversight is grounds for dismissal. It looked to me like good, comparability clean fun, and reminded me of video that circulated widely last year:

    My understanding was that the soldiers did receive permission for their video, but I don’t see any other difference in what they did verses the lifeguards, and they certainly didn’t get fired over a silly, innocent video.

  2. I’ve seen other similar videos too. To me, though, the permission part is huge. IF you get permission to do it and film it and upload it, have a good time.

    As a viewer, I thoroughly enjoy these videos.

  3. I’m so glad that you explained what it was, because I am apparently uninformed and un-hip, too!

    I understand why they were fired, and I also understand their confusion. They probably thought that by doing it after hours that it was totally OK. Assuming that there had never been a problem with any of the employees, I would have thought that firing wouldn’t have been the first course of action. However, the employer was fully within their right to do so.

  4. @Firefly Mom — You bring up a really good point. If there had been no other problems with the lifeguards (and I haven’t seen anything that says there was), firing was a pretty extreme first course of action. Counseling and some consequences probably would have been better.

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