Projects... The final frontier... These are the Ramblings of the Project Managers. Our continuing mission: To cobble together strange new solutions... To seek out new ideas; new resources... To boldly complete our projects on time and on budget!
First off, we want to start by saying that we are Star Trek The Next Generation fans. We love the show. This idea was developed while re-watching the series for what must be the hundredth time. We fully understand that it is fictional and that sometimes, in fiction, things function in ways they wouldn’t in the real world.
Now that we have that little disclaimer out of the way, we would like to present to you some ideas that could make being an employee on the USS Enterprise NCC-1701-D (and probably E) an experience that would not be pleasant when occurring in a more realistic world. Throughout the TNG series, there are many examples of the leaders of the Enterprise conducting themselves in ways that could leave Human Resources extremely busy answering complaints or fighting lawsuits.
1. Unreasonable Demands with Unrealistic Expectations
Riker: Riker to La Forge.
La Forge: La Forge Here.
Riker: How close are we on that transporter?
La Forge: Two hours, maybe three.
Riker: I want the captain out of there now!
La Forge: That’s not very likely, sir.
Riker: I don’t want to hear that, Commander.– Star Trek The Next Generation. Season 5, Episode 2. “Darmok”
TNG is full of these scenarios where they get asked how long something will take to complete, then receive a command to do it faster. Why did they ask for a timeframe to begin with if they were just going to demand it be done sooner?
Every few episodes someone on the crew makes a major breakthrough by doing something that has never been done before, solely because a leader demanded it of them. The underlying message seems to be that leaders must demand the impossible from their subordinates to achieve greatness. While this might make a good motivational tool for would-be leaders, is it something that works well in reality?
Joshua: I get that this is actually the military (although they all have their families aboard, which presents a whole other set of problems for a military vessel not covered here, but probably great for morale), and sometimes the demand needs to be higher in many situations. Unfortunately, you are not likely to ever motivate someone to do something faster than it takes to complete a task by demanding they do it faster. This idea that we can do that seems to come from a belief that the employee is not prioritizing the tasks you need completed or not fully devoted to getting it done in a timely fashion. Most of the time, the best you can do as a manager is to inform the employee that this task needs to be a priority.
I also am skeptical that most of our current technological achievements, that were once thought impossible, were achieved because a leader demanded that they be done. More likely, someone doing the work had an idea and told the leader their idea. Then the leader gave approval to try the idea.
Pedro: Well, if we are talking in military terms, I would be the worst person to accept employment on the Enterprise since, as a Portuguese, we are probably the most friendly country in the world where war is almost a word that doesn’t exist in our dictionary. I can understand the panic situation, you have to see that it was their captain there, it was Picard!!! Nevertheless, my point being, from the leader point of view, we never agree in theoretical terms to talk louder our make emotional demands but sometimes it can happen if the situation leads to it. In my personal case, I can accept that I was never perfect, but I’m quite happy when it is more common to hear shouts than actually saying them. In general, what do you think this comes into?
Joshua: Well, Making demands like this is a poor management practice in my opinion. It’s effectiveness, if it is ever effective, would be very short lived. Employees cannot exist in a constant state of urgency. Within days of this urgency, especially if the urgency has nothing to do with losing their lives (like it could on Star Trek), employees will begin treating all perceived urgent situations as just another day. Their morale may decline, and they certainly won’t be breaking their back for their manager to get things done at top speed.
Pedro: They always have the holosuites to break from stressful moments, and that’s a really good feature. I wish I had my own holosuite, don’t you? I actually would like to know first how they spend their time besides working, since they don’t spend too much time to go home. Lunch breaks might take like 15 min because no one has to cook… However, without losing the scope on this, I believe that they might not have anything to do in space for 1-2 weeks (which would be coincident with each episode’s release). Stressful moments would be only in very specific moments, don’t you think? But anyway, what is the worst that can happen, let’s debate on that?
Joshua: I do wish I had my own holodeck, despite the conversation surrounding number 3 in this list. I would agree with your assumption that they may not face that sense of urgency non-stop. They definitely would have some breaks in-between.
Based on my experience working in places where things like this were done constantly – i.e. having that sense of urgency being pushed on them all the time, I believe several things will happen:
- Employee moral will decline due to never meeting expectations
- Employees will actually achieve your deadlines, but it will be subpar work that may cost more in the long run
- Hostility will arise between managers and their subordinates – both believing the other to be incompetent
- Employee turnover will increase
- Productivity will decrease, often willfully by employees who learn to ignore the demands of management
- When an urgent situation actually arises, the employees will be less likely to pull together to complete a task in a reasonable amount of time (further adding to the manager’s belief that the employees are lazy and the manager must demand they do the work quicker)
Pedro: Putting it like this… I would see Klingons easily rule the Federation since all humans would riot at a glance. However, we always find epic the moments that Captain Kirk comes to scotty and says “Scotty, I need warp speed now!” … and Scotty does his finest, every engineer has to like this scene!
But seriously, yes, “carrot” before “stick”. No humane person will work well on forcing situations unless the person is either a slave or a very sadistic person (which also can be applied quite commonly). My case specifically, as I mentioned before, I avoid at all costs when someone raises his/her voice, I try to ask back like “Why are you raising your voice? are you ok?” It’s not easy to be a leader, it’s easy to feel, and leadership should not be given to everybody. Anyone can lose their heads on stressful moments, in spite of intelligence level or strength, it’s a certain characteristic that grows with experience.
2. Inappropriate Relationships
Is there an episode where Riker isn’t hitting on a subordinate? There actually is, but Riker is the easy one to look at when it comes to these inappropriate relationships. He is the one that probably came top of mind to every Star Trek TNG fan out there as soon as they read the header for this section, but he is hardly the only one.
Anyone recall Dr. Beverly Crusher falling in love with a patient in Season 3, Episode 25? What about the relationship between Picard and Crusher, with Picard being her commander?
Then there was the time Geordi La Forge made a holodeck simulation of Leah Brahm, an engineer that helped design the warp core for the Enterprise. A season later he met her in person and it was rather awkward when she discovered his simulation of her. It didn’t help the creep factor that La Forge was drooling over her the entire time and tried to set up a dinner date with her.
In a world where people work to fill a psychological need, not their financial or physical need to eat, how many would stay around to tolerate the inevitable problems all these relationships would create? On the flip side of that, in a world where no one cared if they lost their job because they don’t need it to survive, would these relationships be an inevitable outcome?
These are bigger questions than we are trying to answer here, but they are things to think about. Our goal here is to examine how leadership engaging in and/or allowing these relationships to continue could contribute to a terrible work environment.
Oh Jean-Luc, what naughty thoughts. But how wonderful you still think of me like that.– Lwaxana Troi; Star Trek The Next Generation. Season 2, Episode 19. “Manhunt”
Joshua: Relationships between a manager and subordinate can happen and do happen, but often they go against company policies. Whether you agree with those policies or not, you have to at least recognize the difficulty of leading a whole crew of people that contains several dozen of your prior romantic interests. You couldn’t transfer them to another starship without incurring at least the rumors of some bias going on.
People often take romantic relationships very seriously, and breakups are not always nice and clean. I think in the real-world if someone like Riker was going around dating all of the people in the office, the company would be fighting a lot of lawsuits and the entire workplace atmosphere would be toxic. You can’t be an effective leader when you are using your team as your personal dating pool. This should apply to both military and civilian jobs.
Pedro: Wow, never thought about that, ahah! Number1 (Riker) was always for me that guy that gets all the cool girls and it remains ok because he has exceptional skills in all senses. But when it comes to the daily reality on dating coworkers, and in the same place where everyone cohabitate, it reminds me the times of college or even high school where awkward moments happened everyday with ex-girlfriends. Being light-years away from any other possibility and knowing how a heartbreak can be seriously dangerous… yes, I have to agree with this. Even if it takes away all the entertainment fun. So, take off the romance from TNG, Voyager or DS9… you would “kill” any interest of cohabitation there anyway.
Which leads to another problem, so no romance? Therefore, you will have sad people all over the place or too many hiding sex with crew mates. Maybe I’m too liberal, but sometimes transparency can be better in certain extreme situations.
Joshua: I can see that it being hidden could cause some issues. You don’t want to be blindsided by the irate crew member making complaints about having to continue work with a former love interest.
I also recognize that some people spend a lot of time at work. It may be the only opportunity for many to meet other people. This can be completely fine, but you do need to be mindful of possible conflicts of interest and you would have to be able handle yourself if the relationship ends on bad terms. In cases where the participants cannot handle themselves appropriately, management should certainly step in and do something about it.
William Riker should never be put in command of anyone ever again though. He would seem to be the extreme case that gets rules put in place about dating coworkers.
Pedro: Well, in the last episodes where all Enterprises meet from each parallel universe, one of the Enterprises get very stressed out and is the only one that is led by Number1 (Riker). Picard never made it away from the Borg when he was captured earlier.
But as I said, I understand that is dangerous and I already had employees with romance, and the story is always the same. Everything is wonderful while it goes well, everything is a hell when it’s over. Normally I end up losing two great colleagues on my team.
What are you going to do with the heart? As I mentioned, maybe it’s because I’m Portuguese and we are very “relaxed” to many matters. After all, we don’t have so many lawsuits for love affairs – except for real harassment. Some rules for me could just drop off if society would relax a little bit. If I was on the Enterprise (I wish…), I would have too much difficulty to avoid Deanna. Who could resist Deanna? Wouldn’t be a workplace rule that would stop me!
Joshua: You are very much correct on the cultural differences. I can recall being surprised to learn that it is common in many countries to include your marital status on a job resume. As someone who has conducted interviews in the United States, I could not ask this – nor do I believe it is crucial information to whether a person can do their job. When I asked about the inclusion of this information, I heard arguments that for them, they regarded that information as being very crucial for the job. Ironically, their arguments for its inclusion were exactly why I don’t believe such a practice should be allowed and why it is prohibited here in the United States.
3. Just Generally Unsafe Conditions
Aside from being on a starship, and going to potential war zones (why did they bring their kids again?), things are not terribly safe aboard the Enterprise and the leaders don’t seem to care. They get exposed to doctor’s with questionable ethics, a kid getting injured in the onboard biolab, a guy jumping into a plasma stream, and a lot more that doesn’t seem related to their military conflicts. There are also episodes of the show where they let any random person onboard – from people that steal their DNA to clone them, to people that steal their kids to keep them as their own (again, why are the kids there?).
As an example, there appear to be a lot of episodes dedicated to the holodecks malfunctioning or the crew members becoming way to involved in their holodeck programs. These malfunctions present serious physical and/or psychological safety concerns. A few of the holodeck issues are listed below:
- Riker, not content with his dating pool of subordinates and colonists, falls in love with Minuet. She was a holodeck program. The love was so strong that in a later season the Romulans thought she was a real person after scanning Riker’s brain and that is what helped Riker realize he was in a simulation.
- Crusher, Data, and Picard were trapped in a 1940’s detective simulation where they could not be reached by the crew.
- Worf and his son become stuck in a wild west simulation.
- Reginald Barclay became so involved in the holodeck world that he was shirking his duties to the Enterprise.
- A simulation from Sherlock Holmes unleashed Professor Moriarty onto the ship, causing quite a few problems.
After several such incidents with the holodeck, the leaders do not present any appearance of caring about the potential danger of using the system. Even keeping it onboard presents a safety hazard to the crew, but the leaders of the ship just went about their business as usual.
Joshua: A lot of employees believe their employers don’t care about them or their safety. Star Trek TNG seems to work at trying to prove those cynical thoughts for the crew of the Enterprise – at least when it comes to certain situations. Having your kids abducted from your workplace might make you think twice about working there, or keeping your kid there with you. If it happened once and nothing changes, there is a good chance it could happen again.
In the case of the holodeck, the problems are known and doing something about it wouldn’t have a direct impact on the work they perform. A case could be made that removing the holodecks would be worse for employee morale, there are still the possible legal and financial responsibilities the employer would have with a known problem hurting someone again.
Pedro: Well, just think like we are going to work in places like Lagos or North Angola. It can really be a challenge there, alone away from our family. So we bring our kids and try to be happy there! Or maybe we should compare with “French legion” but with kids…? So, It would be interesting thought that in order to raise the morale you go to a war zone…with kids! That is kind of hilarious when it sounds as: “Honey, I had this wonderful idea and let’s go this weekend to Damascus, Syria. I heard that it’s kind of interesting this time of the year, and I’m pretty sure that kids will have a lot of fun!”
So in conclusion…
We are sure we can find many more areas within TNG that could have a negative impact on employee morale, but the show wasn’t all bad on that end. Even with the known issues related to the holodeck, who wouldn’t want to get in and give it a try? There is certainly a morale benefit to letting the employee be able to check in on their kids easily as well, assuming they could be kept far safer than they are being kept on the Enterprise.
…And don’t forget… Be well and under scope!
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ViacomCBS. Created by Gene Roddenberry. Star Trek The Next Generation. Season 5, Episode 2. “Darmok”
ViacomCBS. Created by Gene Roddenberry. Lwaxana Troi; Star Trek The Next Generation. Season 2, Episode 19. “Manhunt”