Black Swan: Where HR Meets Labor, the Economy, and Pop Culture

Article main image
Feb 16, 2011

Editor’s Note: With the Academy Awards drawing near, TLNT asked a number of prominent thought leaders to write about their favorite movie with a management or HR theme. We’ll feature one a day up to the Oscar ceremony on Feb. 27.

By Laurie Ruettimann

There are two reasons I went to see Black Swan, and neither reason has anything to do with ballet.

I wanted to see Natalie Portman’s character, Nina, lose her mind in a dark psychological thriller. More importantly, I wanted to see Portman and her co-star, Mila Kunis, lock lips in a serious smoochfest.

And it was serious.

Black Swan is everywhere, so I thought I would share some of my insights on the movie because — as we all know — Human Resources sits at the intersection of labor, the economy, and pop culture.

And pop culture is totally obsessed with this movie, right now. 

  • Encourage your key employees to have an identity outside of work.Natalie Portman’s character, Nina, had no life. She was a ballerina; her bedroom was decorated in a ballerina-theme; and, she came home from work at the ballet company and talked to her kooky mom about ballet. That is nuts. Work/life balance is a modern-day myth, but a little distance from the job can do wonders to re-energize the mind and body. If your employees haven’t had a vacation in ages, require it. Lead by example and put down your crackberry from time to time. Have a perspective on what’s happening in the real world and talk about something other than work.

    Natalie Portman as a ballerina in the movie Black Swan.
    Natalie Portman as a ballerina in the movie Black Swan.
  • Don’t seduce your top performers. The director of the ballet company in Black Swan tries to seduce Natalie Portman’s character in an attempt to evoke a strong performance. Bosses love to praise and accommodate their key staff members because it is fun and exciting to work with talented professionals. Leaders dole out trips, bonuses, and trophies to reward their teams. This is appropriate in some situations, but remember that you’re employing an adult who makes a choice to work hard and be great. Don’t patronize your employee by giving her a $50 gift certificate to Outback Steakhouse. Spend less time seducing and more time providing opportunities to be amazing.
  • Don’t be surprised if you see ballet-inspired fashion in the workplace this spring. Because there can’t be an article about HR without mentioning dress codes, it’s important for you to know that ballet is hot. The New York Times and The Telegraph in the UK tell us that gauzy, wispy attire is trending for spring. Yes, it’s a totally cool look and awesome if you’re a ballerina, a teen-age girl, or an eccentric woman on the Lower East Side. For the rest of your employees? Ballet attire is not appropriate. And be ready when your employees ask you to take an extended lunch so they can attend ballet-inspired fitness classes. Good luck with those conversations.

I won’t spoil the ending of Black Swan, but it’s both freaky and interesting. You should go see it. Just remember to update your dress code to ban legwarmers, ripped sweatshirts, and ballet-inspired shoes that are really nothing more than bedroom slippers.

You’ll thank me for this tip later.

Get articles like this
in your inbox
Subscribe to our mailing list and get interesting articles about talent acquisition emailed weekly!