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Top 9 documentaries to watch for HR professionals and leaders

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24 March, 2023

Most of us would love to spend our leisure time curling up in our happy places doing something fun and relaxing. Some of us would prefer to engross ourselves with a movie or a book. Some others would love to binge-watch a show, and others would like to watch a documentary. This week, as you might have already guessed from the title, we will focus on top documentaries for HR professionals.

By the way, you can explore more about top movies for HR leaders and must-read books for HR professionals to make your weekend much more vibrant.

Why don't we explore some top must-watch documentaries for HR leaders?

The Corporation (2003) The Corporation

Directed by Mark Achbar and Jennifer Abbot, The Corporation is a Canadian historical documentary. It shows how modern business corporations developed while focusing on North American corporations. Presented through visual vignettes, clips, case studies, and interviews with prominent figures like Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, and others, this documentary personifies corporations as psychopaths.

In this documentary, the creators have well-knitted various narratives, including the invention of Fanta by the Coca-Cola company. As an HR professional, watching The Corporation, packaged as three one-hour episodes, can paint you the importance of building practical and ethical corporate culture and conducting CSR initiatives in organizations.

Additionally, the documentary also brings into the spotlight how employee exploitation can negatively impact any organization. This is a focal point for HR professionals to work on to contribute positively to their organization.

If you have some free time over the weekend, why not give The Corporation a watch?

Miss Representation (2011) Miss Representation

Miss Representation, an American documentary directed by Jennifer Siebel Newsom, concentrates on the underrepresentation of women in influential positions in mainstream media. Through this, the focus is on showcasing how such representation of women creates biases and shapes society. In most cases, they highlight how the media prioritizes women’s looks over presenting them in vital leadership positions.

Since most teenage girls spend time-consuming different forms of media, these depictions tend to shape their thought processes drastically. This documentary also includes interviews with renowned individuals like Jane Fonda, Katie Courie, and Rachel Maddow.

It also considers how fewer women hold governmental positions, act as CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, and do other leadership roles.

As an HR professional, this documentary can further clarify the importance of creating a gender-inclusive workplace, removing unconscious biases, enhancing employee wellness support, and encouraging diversity and inclusion.

By the way, if you would like to learn more about women in HR and how they are making an impact, you can click here!

Inside Job (2010) inside job

Inside Job is an American crime documentary directed by Charles Ferguson that focuses on the late 2000’s financial crisis. This Oscar-winning documentary, divided into five parts, crafts a clear picture of the role played by corporate greed and corruption in paving the way for the 2008 financial crisis.

In short, while watching this documentary, you can understand the events that led to this crisis, how it all began, how major banks grew in power, and the effects of this financial crisis, including layoffs. In Inside Job, the creators present the causalities of the event by interspersing with elements like interviews and graphs.

As an HR professional and leader, watching Inside Job can be much more insightful in learning more about the significance of ethical leadership, accountability, transparency, and responsible corporate behavior. It also shows why organizations should prioritize cultural integrity. With these many key messages in store, you can consider adding Inside Job to your watchlist.

American Factory (2019) American Factory

Directed by Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert, American Factory is an American documentary film focusing on the story of Fuyao Glass Industry Group Co, the largest glass production company in the US. The documentary deals with how Fuyao Glass Industry started a new factory in the place of an abandoned General Motors Plant in post-industrial Ohio. It presents the struggles 2000+ employees in this organization had to go through.

Created by following a fly-on-the-wall documentary approach, American Factory presents the story by following the management and workers. It depicts the challenges faced by employees due to low wages and safety issues and the concerns they had to go through while endeavoring to find stability at work.

From an HR standpoint, watching this movie can help you understand the hurdles companies face when there is a difference in work culture and legal frameworks. For instance, being a Chinese company, Fuyao had issues navigating US labor laws. Additionally, they had low employee retention due to low wages and a lack of employee engagement and satisfaction. American Factory also shows the importance of effective communication and the need for building cultural awareness throughout the company.

The Square (2013) The Square

The Square or El-Midan is an Egyptian American documentary directed by Jehane Noujaim. This documentary won three Emmys and was nominated as the best documentary feature for the 2014 Academy Awards. Streaming on Netflix, this documentary focuses on how a nation erupts against a dictator and how they demand the end of a regime. In short, it runs you through the 2011 Egyptian revolution and the events after it.

This documentary walks you through its narrative by following people from different walks of life. It even includes a movie star, Khalid Abdalla.

Although this movie doesn’t directly impact HR functionalities, it presents valuable insights into the power of collective action. This is something worth noting for HR leaders and professionals.

Enron: The Smartest Guy in the Room (2005) 5. Enron- The Smartest Guy in the Room

Nominated for the Best Documentary Feature in the 78th Academy Awards, Enron: The Smartest Guy in the Room is an American biographical documentary film. It focuses on the collapse of the Enron Corporation, an American Energy, Commodity, and Service Company. This documentary, presented with interviews and archive footage, is the story of this organization’s scandal and how it went bankrupt in just 24 days (about three and a half weeks).

The company focused on several unethical practices, creating a brutal, competitive, and unhealthy work culture. The documentary presents these events and other greed, intolerance, and pride elements.

As HR professionals, watching this documentary can help you understand the problems caused by unethical leadership, lack of accountability and compliance, etc. It also depicts the need for creating a culture of integrity in organizations.

Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine (2015) Steve Jobs- The Man in the Machine

Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine is a documentary directed by Alex Gibney that will take you on a journey through Steve Jobs’ life. While presenting a chronological representation of Steve Jobs' life, it also focuses on the history of the Apple Macintosh and its different aspects, including the making of the famous 1984 Super Bowl Commercial. It examines Apple's leading products, like the Apple iPhone and iPad, while showcasing the social impact brought by these innovations.

As an HR professional, this movie can provide critical insights into building creativity and innovation within your organization. It also highlights the value of leadership in shaping an organization's culture. Additionally, the documentary shows the need to invest in employee engagement and satisfaction.

The Social Dilemma (2020) The Social Dilemma

Directed by Jeff Orlowski, The Social Dilemma is a docudrama film that portrays social media usage's impact on people. It includes addiction, depression, anxiety, privacy erosion, etc. This docudrama further depicts how social media continues to use manipulative techniques to addict users and even take data to train and create AI models.

Orlowski has also collated several interviews into this docudrama's narrative, which flows through the life of a family of five. Some interviews are from renowned figures like Tristan Harris, the Centre for Human Technology co-founder, Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist, etc. As the docudrama ends, it also presents the different actions to fight against social media’s harmful impacts.

As an HR professional, working on your employees' well-being is integral. Through this docudrama, you can gain clarity on how addictive usage of social media can be for them, impacting their work-life balance and mental health. Based on this, you can take action to improve the situation.

The Social Dilemma also presents data privacy concerns and the spread of misinformation, which are the other issues HR professionals have to work on to improve employee experience and satisfaction.

13th (2016) 13th

Nominated for the Academy Awards, 13th is an American documentary film directed by Ava Duvernay. It begins with an audio clip from Barack Obama, where he speaks about the history of slavery and how racial issues continue to prevail in the US. 13th also presents different issues faced, including forced labor, exclusion of black people from the political system, and even lynching of black people. This documentary has features from several public figures, including Bryan Stevenson, Jelani Cobb, and Van Jones.

Watching this documentary as an HR professional is highly recommended. It is because, in short, it presents the issue of systemic racism in the US. While working in an organization, HR professionals must ensure that there aren't any biases or inequalities within their HR systems and organization.

Final thoughts

Thus, these are some of our top recommendations for documentaries HR professionals and leaders should watch. These documentaries can help enhance your professional journey by adding more perspective into equality, leadership, removing unconscious biases, improving employee experience, etc.

So, why not add a few of them to your watch list?

Revathi V Gopal
Revathi V Gopal
Revathi is a writer who fell in love with words from a very young age. She primarily writes B2B blogs, articles, listicles, whitepapers, e-books, and also enjoys creating content in niches, including HR-tech, Femtech, travel, digital marketing, e-Commerce, lifestyle, fashion, mental health. Apart from writing, she loves to read, travel, binge watch shows, try new things, go for long walks, window shop, and most importantly, be with her closest people.
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Topics: Remote Hiring

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