Avenging a HR department

After watching the Avengers for about the fourteenth time at the behest of my husband I began to realise just how poor the human resources department of S.H.I.E.L.D. really is. Not only were there some members of S.H.I.E.L.D. engaged in extremely unsafe working practices, but there was also a lot of horseplay and a general lack of professionalism among most of the staff. Astonishingly this has never been brought up before. I can not sit idly by and let this transgression pass, it needs to be addressed, the day needs to be saved.

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I’m only going to be covering the major transgressions to workplace safety, security, and harmony with this post. To list everything in this movie that would run foul of a robust HR department would be to write a novel. Though it would probably be a graphic novel with lots of colourful pictures that my husband would no doubt demand for his birthday.

Right at the outset of the movie we bear witness to this travesty of an organisation and see clues to how sloppily it operates. The arrival of the CEO, Nick Fury, flying in on a helicopter, landing very close to where a lot of people are milling around, and not a single one of them is wearing any sort of high visibility clothing or Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Only the necessary staff should be anywhere near an operating helicopter. It does make me wonder whether any of these staff have had a company induction. An evacuation is supposedly taking place. Generally, during evacuations, people head in the same direction – the designated safe point. Milling around isn’t an evacuation. It is what people do in the workplace when they are pretending to work but really can’t be arsed with it.

The “Tessaract” mcguffin is emitting what we are told is “an unusual form of energy”. Rules on a suspect device or hazardous substance in the workplace are absolutely clear – you call the emergency services, then evacuate the area and pool at the nearest safe assembly point. This is certainly something Hawkeye should have taken to heart, as an extra-dimensional demi-god arrives and proceeds to take over his mind. Given the nature of the work Hawkeye does evil mind control hazards should really be covered by his company health insurance plan, but sadly we never find out if this is the case.

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This extra-dimensional demi-god is called Loki, and a little later we observe him announcing that he intends to take over the world or something. It’s amazing how many apparent super villains appear to want to take over the world without any specific reason for it. But as Loki is played by Tom Hiddleston we’ll let that non-HR-related point slide. That aside, it is during this announcement Captain America arrives and tells Loki that his evil plot is going to be foiled. This is not how to handle such disagreements.

Firstly it’s always disappointing when workplace grievances get this far,. If this occurred in my shop, and had Loki come to me, initially I would have encouraged him to speak to his manager to see if we could resolve the matter informally. Secondly Captain America made this announcement very publicly, and that’s never advisable. The very first thing Captain America should have done is to have a private word with Loki to understand his issues, then if it was something that they could not resolve between themselves the matter should be raised with HR to look at on a formal basis. Loki’s behaviour and performance at work falls way bellow that expected of a professional villain. But rather than review his performance and seek to address any issues the Avengers answer is to just beat him up and throw him in the back of their aeroplane. I know we have have all seen managers who want to behave like this, who raise no issues all the way through a probation period or process, and when it comes to the review they want to summarily drop their employee into a piranha tank, but this is not how it should work. We should be continually addressing problems constructively and providing feedback.

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Loki is captured and taken on board the weird looking aeroplane this outfit seem to have, when the second demi-god, Thor, arrives in order to rescue/kidnap/apprehend Loki, I’m really not sure which. And rescue/kidnap/apprehend Loki Thor does. In response Ironman jumps out of the aeroplane to get him back without any risk assessment or consideration to his own or anyone else’s safety. A sack-able offence in my opinion. To be fair to Mr Stark he is the only one of this band of merry mayhem makers to actually come equipped with some proper personal protective equipment. Then again, he does use this PPE as an excuse to engage in some outrageously hazardous horseplay. Jumping out of an aeroplane to engage in a bout of fisticuffs with an immigrant is not acceptable behaviour.

Fortunately for Ironman they convince Thor to join up with them. But this itself raises a problem. After arriving back at S.H.I.E.L.D, Mr Thor is apparently recruited into the Avengers without any proper background checks. To hire staff from outside of the European Economic Area requires a number of background checks and for the employee to be sponsored for a visa – given how quickly Mr Thor was recruited and working for the company, I very much doubt these checks have taken place. I would also not recruit an extra-dimensional being without first assessing whether there are likely to be any integration issues arising from cultural differences and how these can be mitigated, particularly given that there will be very few if any other gods from Asgard working for this company in any capacity.

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A little later in the movie we discover that Tony Stark has hacked the computer network of S.H.I.E.L.D, which would certainly result in an immediate suspension if he were working for me. But he has also discovered S.H.I.E.L.D are up to something sinister, which again might also happen were he working for me. This marks the beginning of what can only be described as workplace tension. The Avengers start bickering. Banner is complaining about something. Thor is complaining about something. Mr Stark and Mr Rogers are very obviously not getting along. Nick Fury, as manager, does nothing at all to try to calm the situation down. From a HR perspective we know when high performance teams are formed that there is a process of forming, storming and norming before we even get to performing. In this newly formed team we are bound to have some teething issues with the constant demands and pressures placed upon them. Nick needs to address this – he needs to be uniting the team towards the common goal and understanding the team roles and dynamics. Then he needs to lead them rather than leave them to their own devices. I would be speaking to Nick’s manager and seeing if we could enroll him on a leadership development course. As is common in many organisations Nick appears to have been promoted for technical competence but is severely lacking in people management skills.

Mr Fury’s lack of leadership becomes apparent as a former and future (but not present) employee of S.H.I.E.L.D, Hawkeye, arrives and shoots arrows into this flying aircraft carrier from the future, causing severe damage. I am no expert in warfare but it does seem odd that an aircraft carrier is vulnerable to bows and arrows (I am looking forward to the Robin Hood vs Das Boot cross over movie). Chaos ensues, the lack of a proper action plan by this supposedly military focused organization becomes something of a problem for them.

Several other things happen. Ironman and Captain America go off to try and repair the damage caused by Hawkeye’s arrows. Whilst Mr Stark is a qualified engineer, Mr Rogers is not, and his attempts to repair the aircraft carrier’s stricken engine are certainly against best practices. Having unqualified and inexperienced people working on vital engineering components is not advisable without supervision, and although Stark assists remotely this is still not advisable and could leave the company open to legal claims should any damage or injury occur to anyone as a result of these ad hoc repairs. While these repairs are being attempted the Hulk and Thor start fighting, creating a lot of fresh damage and breaking a virtually universal taboo of the modern workplace in most of the developed world – you do not engage in physical violence towards co-workers in the workplace.

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The Hulk jumps out of the aircraft carrier and ultimately ends up falling back to the earth. We learn later he crashed through the roof of a warehouse and caused several thousands of dollars in property damage, thus he does a very good job of bringing the company into disrepute.  Ironman and Captain America sort out their differences, which is commendable, but apparently do so while sifting through the bloodstained private property of a freshly deceased co-worker, which isn’t. Finally the ex-employee of S.H.I.E.L.D. who just shot arrows into their flying aircraft carrier is re-hired without any consideration to his wanton destruction of company property, any pre-employment checks or induction. So the Avengers, having been quite badly beaten, and have to figure out how to work together as a team to defeat the evil.

Two very pertinent thoughts come to me at this point in the movie. Firstly, the movie is finally coming to a close. Secondly, if my husband has fallen asleep after insisting we watch this yet again he will suffer a terrible fate.

Ironman arrives back at Stark Tower, where Loki is hatching an evil plot of some sort, and threatens/goads/stalls Loki who, in the spirit of incompetent baddies everywhere, responds by talking back and not turning Ironman into a smouldering heap of ash. This gives Ironman the time he apparently needs to construct a new Ironman suit. This is excellent timing on his part, as a portal to space opens and an army of flying evil creature things with laser guns comes roaring through. I am not quite sure what Loki is trying to accomplish by doing this, and it hasn’t ever been covered by any workplace manual that I’m aware of, but Ironman seems on top of things as he goes off to fight this army. He is soon joined by the rest of the Avengers, who, after some skirmishes with the alien invaders, gather together on the street for a conversation about how things are going.

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This is heart-warming to see, as workplace bonding in this manner, particularly during crisis events, does make for a happier working environment. Even as a giant worm thing from space starts moving towards the Avengers, apparently following Ironman, they calmly discuss the situation and don’t resort to bickering. Unfortunately the Avengers flirtation with decent workplace practices is short lived indeed, as Dr Banner arrives on a motorcycle, becomes the Hulk and punches the giant worm thing in the face. I have been assured by my husband that the Hulk doesn’t actually need hand guards before doing this as his fists are “like imagine the strongest metal ever and they’re a hundred times stronger than that!”, so I’ll let his lack of safety gloves slide for now. But this certainly creates a lot of collateral damage in the area, not to mention noise pollution. By this action, particularly in so public a place, the Hulk will bring the company into disrepute. Again.

Captain America takes on a leadership role very quickly and effectively at this point, which makes me wonder why he doesn’t have Nick Fury’s job. He delegates appropriate tasks for the rest of the Avengers and then sets them to work. The work in this case being mortal combat with an army from outer space, but in this movie evil space alien prevention and management is quite the growing industry. From what I could tell from the minutes and minutes of endless noise and colour that assailed my senses, The Avengers fight very well, but apparently look like they’re going to be beaten. At this point S.H.I.E.L.D get nervous and decide to fire a nuclear missile into the city.

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Deciding that nuclear annihilation would be a setback to his New York based company, as well as The Avengers project, Mr Stark flies towards the nuclear missile, grabs it, and then flies vertically upwards to take it through the portal into space. I know very little about the nature of his PPE and whether it protects against radiation, but by the looks of things he is within inches of a dangerous amount of nuclear material. The EU limits on exposure to radiation are 60 millisieverts per annum and it appears that he is breaching this regulation by a quite considerable degree. However, he is successful in his plan to save everyone. The bomb detonates somewhere conveniently away from the good people of New York and Tony Stark falls to earth.

On his way down it becomes apparent he is unconscious. The Hulk leaps up, catches him, then lays him on the ground. They Avengers then mill about looking forlorn, which indicates to me that not a single Avenger has any first-aid qualifications. Given the nature of the work The Avengers do this is a major oversight and a first aid training course for all of them is warranted. They remove his mask, but no ABC – Airway, Breathing, Circulation. Instead they decide to mope around until the Hulk yells at the top of his voice, and this appears to bring Tony Stark back to consciousness. I don’t know about you, but I think this is an extremely poor way to train ones staff to deal with injuries. Particularly in an occupation which, I am sure you’ll agree, is quite high risk.

Clearly, given the above, S.H.I.E.L.D. requires a more professional HR service. They have no regard for any of the collateral damage caused by their actions or the reputation of the company. They lack discipline and leadership. And they are constantly fighting their co-workers. Following the events of this movie every single member of the Avengers would be either suspended or dismissed for gross misconduct, at least if I were head of HR for S.H.I.E.L.D. In fact I would have gone on such a firing spree that they would call me the black widow.

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Thanks very much to Jenny Parks for her kind permission to use her amazing pictures. You can see more of her stuff here.

 

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