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Cry me a river: Why the fuss over the Justice Ministry’s Justin Timberlake ‘scandal’ isn’t Justified

News that the Ministry of Justice spent $23,000 on five internal videos, including one featuring staff lip-synching to a Justin Timberlake hit, has caused the usual sputtering about wasteful government spending. Kathryn van Beek can’t stop the feeling that Timbergate isn’t actually a story.

When you’re organising an employee engagement activity for public servants, the first thing you should ask yourself is, “Is there any chance that this afternoon tea / lunchtime yoga event / BYO Christmas party could be spun into some kind of scandal?”

Asking this simple question will mean you can avoid being flung onto the pyre alongside the Ministry of Justice, which is at the centre of this week’s media roast for creating the morale-boosting video that launched the ‘Timbergate’ controversy.

You took a chance, made other plans
But I bet you didn’t think that they would come crashing down, no

– Justin Timberlake

Shockingly, the Ministry was found to have spent the perfectly reasonable sum of $23,000 in the normal pursuit of developing staff capability and improving staff engagement. They did this by creating five videos for employees. Four of these videos were about leadership, and one was a lip-synched rendition of Justin Timberlake’s ‘Can’t Stop The Feeling’ which featured employees dancing in a conga line.

Ministry of Justice employees not pictured.

Ministry of Justice employees not pictured.

Creating lip-synched videos has been a standard workplace activity since the release of the Sony Camcorder in 1983, but that’s no reason why Ministry of Justice employees, who must have some of the hardest jobs imaginable, should have any fun. We’re not about fun in this country, we’re about productivity! And we all know that productivity is improved when employees feel engaged. And employees feel engaged when they… oh. Have fun.

Being nice to employees might sound like fluffy liberal hogwash, but it has clear business benefits. It may seem counterintuitive, but research shows that people who enjoy coming to work are more likely to stay with their employers, become advocates for their organisations and even work harder. Having a good company culture also makes it easier to attract and retain great people.

Don’t be so quick to walk away
I wanna rock your body, please stay

– Justin Timberlake

So why don’t more organisations, particularly public sector organisations, invest in becoming flexible, friendly, and god help us – fun?

Because it’s hard to be fun when you know your activities will be wilfully misinterpreted by reporters hunting cheap clicks with troll-baiting headlines (fair play: Radio NZ’s “Justice Timberlake” was a stroke of genius). When you know that Andrew “the taxpayer” is lurking on Facebook, ready to spurt his angry-faced emojis beneath any hint of public spending. Rushing to his keyboard to say: “Classic example of idiots with other peoples [sic] cash.”

Followed quickly by Sue: “How do these idiots get to make decisions, they have no budgeting skills and come up with lame ideas that cost a fortune.”

And Ivan: “Ministry of Justice is a disgrace. I don’t see justice but I definitely see an out of touch ministry that doesn’t care about justice.”

Timbergate

It’s hard to ignore such loud voices, but organisations should continue to heed their data and the advice of industry experts, and not bow to the fleeting rage of social media warriors.

I don’t understand it, tell me how could you be so low
You’ve been swinging after the bell and after all of the whistle blows

– Justin Timberlake

As for the $23,000 question – it’s a reasonable amount of money to spend on five videos filmed across three cities, but it’s still a lot of coin. (Possibly not enough to solve homelessness though, sorry Facebook commenters.) It’s true that video content is king, but there is a cheaper alternative.

Don’t have a cow Andrew, but having an in-house photographer/videographer to create internal and external content is increasingly going to be a cost-effective option for many businesses. Who cares if they’re a self-centred millennial who eats smashed avocado for brunch and drinks a house deposit’s worth of lattes – if they can pump out five great videos a fortnight they’ll earn their keep within a matter of weeks. It’s not a frivolous waste of resources – it’s 2017.

“The Ministry of Justice has admitted spending $23,000 to have five leadership videos filmed,” screamed TVNZ, as though the Ministry had admitted to asphyxiating kittens. “Ministry of Justice lip-sync video cost taxpayers $23K,” squawked the NZ Herald, in a trumped-up headline that was bigly misleading.

“In their efforts to increase staff engagement, someone did their job well,” the headlines should have read.

You with the sad eyes
Don’t be discouraged, oh I realize
It’s hard to take courage

– Justin Timberlake

Don’t listen to the haters, Ministry of Justice employees. Get an in-house digital content creator and push yourselves to create such engaging communications that even Andrew, Sue and Ivan will love your work. And whatever you do, don’t stop conga-line dancing.

I can’t stop the feeling
So just dance, dance, dance
I can’t stop the feeling
So just dance, dance, dance, come on

– Justin Timberlake