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Lessons in hiring from the Oscar-winning movie Parasite

Caution: Plot Spoilers Ahead

“I'm deadly serious. This chain of recommendations is the best.”

When Choi Yeon-gyo, a major character in the movie, makes this statement in reference to four new employees she has hired, she has no idea of what’s to come.

Parasite, the South Korean, dark comedy thriller has set many records, in addition to winning the best picture at the 92nd Academy Awards. Based on class divide and inequality, the film drives home some hard-hitting messages that will resonate across the world.

But when AuthBridge’s team watched the movie, we couldn’t help but derive our own lessons, given what we do.

The Premise

The story centres around two families– the Kims and the Parks whose worlds are totally apart. The Kims are struggling to make ends meet - living in a basement, relying on temporary jobs, stolen Wi-Fi and free extermination. The Parks live in a mansion, drive imported cars and host extravagant parties. It’s impossible to imagine their worlds coinciding till they do. Determined to rise above their circumstances and to grab any opportunity coming their way, the Kims enter the world of the Park family at the back of long chain of frauds that are every employer’s worst nightmare.

Lesson 1:Understanding the intricate relationship between trust and fraud

The movie Parasite subtly deals with the impact of circumstances on motivations, morality and ethics. Now, it is a fictional movie with a message and the plot is meant to serve that message but the actions that both the families take during the movie find resonance in the real world too. While the Parks fail to build a strong basis for trusting their employees by only relying on references, the Kims seem to be ready to take any means (lies, fraud, forgery, manipulation and later violence) to climb up the ladder.

Interestingly, the movie’s plot resonates with a theory called ‘Fraud Triangle’ coined by American sociologist and criminologist Donal R. Cressey. The theory postulates three factors that facilitate fraud by employees at a workplace. These are financial or personal pressure, the perfect opportunity to commit fraud and the rationalisation of the fraud.

In the movie, we know that the Kim family is barely managing to stay afloat. Their financial pressures are such that they fold pizza boxes for a living and celebrate the reconnection of their phones to neighbour’s Wi-Fi. But that doesn’t stop the family from aiming for more. “Wow, does Seoul University have a major in document forgery? Ki-jeong would be top of her class.” This statement by Ki-taek, the father of the Kim family, made in reference to his daughter reveals that though the family is economically underprivileged, it has skills and will to go to any lengths to rise above its circumstances. All they need is an opportunity.

The perfect opportunity comes their way when Min-hyuk, a friend of Ki-woo (the son of the Kim family) asks Ki-Woo to replace him as an English tutor for the wealthy Park family's daughter, Da-hye. Once the Kim family has their foot inside the door with Ki-Woo, they exploit the gullible nature of the wife and busy/absent husband to win the trust of the Park family. Each one of them recommends the other till all four members of the family are employed by the Parks. Behind their respective hiring are also elaborate conspiracies to oust the former housekeeper and driver of the Parks.

Even as the Kim family gathers to enjoy the luxuries of the Park family’s house in their absence, they do not feel guilty. In their head they have rationalised the fraud even as they accept that the Park family has been nice to them.

Ki-taek: She's rich, but still nice.

Chung-sook: Not "rich, but still nice.

" She's nice because she's rich. Hell, if I had all this money. I'd be nice, too!

Lesson 2: Mitigating risks related to employee fraud starts at hiring

Parasite makes it easy to understand the true nature of employee frauds while also establishing that the onus of facilitating a trusting and fraud-free environment always rests with the employer. The Park family blindly relies on the chain of referrals and never once stops to conduct background check of their employees before hiring them. The repercussions of this ignorance are felt deeply by both families by the time movie ends.

As employers, it is important to be aware that situations and circumstances of employees can change any time. While you can’t have any control over personal pressures and moral ethics of employees that will allow for rationalisation of frauds, you can always prevent giving that perfect opportunity through robust screening at hiring and repetitive authentication long after employees have been hired. It’s often that cinema mimics life. As employers, it is crucial to keep an eye for risks to protect your interest as well as interests of your employees. And the process starts right at hiring.