Watching The Office makes viewers howl with laughter and cringe with secondhand embarrassment, but it’s probably never made you think, “I wish I worked at Dunder Mifflin!” There are plenty of reasons why working at the Scranton paper company was less than ideal. However, amid all the loose bats, staplers in Jell-O, and ridiculous costumes, we can all glean some important lessons about company culture from this beloved mockumentary workplace show.
Foster your employees’ career growth
Employees who feel like they’re progressing in their careers are 20 percent more likely to remain at the same company in one year’s time, according to findings from employee engagement platform TINYpulse. Turns out, Michael had the right idea when he brought Pam on to the Michael Scott Paper Company as a salesperson, recognizing the value she could add to the team beyond her role as an office administrator. Displays of recognition, such as Pam’s career path example, can make a significant impact on employee happiness and satisfaction. According to a SurveyMonkey survey of more than 1,500 employed Americans, 63 percent of respondents who are always or usually recognized at work consider themselves very unlikely to seek a new job in the next three to six months. Michael’s faith in Pam boosted her confidence and eventually helped guide her to the position she was meant to take on all along: office manager.
Support your team members outside of the office, too
No Office fan could forget Pam’s look of surprise and relief when Michael showed up at her art show — not to critique (like Oscar and his boyfriend) but to celebrate her talent. He regularly supported other team members, too, like when he went to Andy’s play or gave a speech at a business school class so Ryan could earn extra credit. Support and camaraderie outside of work ventures matters. In fact, a 2020 study found lonely workers are twice as likely to consider leaving their current jobs.
Remember the importance of HR
While Michael may not have liked human resources, we can thank HR representative Holly Flax for showing him how important this department can be — not only for the benefit of the company, but also to make uncomfortable situations a bit less awkward. She certainly helped turn around Toby Flenderson’s cringeworthy exit interview.
And say what you want about Toby, but he made the Dunder Mifflin employees feel heard when he served as the branch HR rep. A national workplace satisfaction study found that 75 percent of employees would stay longer at a company that listens to and addresses their concerns. Sure, the “permanent misbehavior file in New York” didn’t really exist, but sometimes all you really need is a good vent to a professionally trained HR colleague.
Make time for team-building exercises
It’s easy to roll your eyes at Michael’s many conference room meetings, but research shows team-building exercises can positively impact company culture. In fact, businesses with a strong learning culture enjoy retention rates around 30 to 50 percent higher than those without. Michael’s conference room meeting about Kelly’s Diwali celebration not only informed employees about another culture, but also demonstrated his support for diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Additionally, fun outings (like the team booze cruise) help make your employees feel engaged and appreciated.
Don’t try to hide a workplace romance
Michael was always up front — perhaps to a fault — about his office relationships. Angela and Dwight, however, hid their relationship to disastrous effect. According to an office romance survey, 75 percent of people assumed their office romance didn’t affect anyone but themselves. Of course, that certainly wasn’t true for Dwight and Angela, whose illicit affair led to blackmail, heartbreak, and even a duel!
Be friends with your boss, but not too friendly
Research shows when people quit their jobs, it may have less to do with the company and more to do with their boss. In fact, 57 percent of employees have left a job because of their manager. While it may have resulted in the only six-week honeymoon in Dunder Mifflin history, even Phyllis would agree that putting Michael in her wedding party was a big mistake. Cringeworthy speeches aside, being too buddy-buddy with employees “makes providing feedback and performance appraisals difficult, and puts you at risk for claims of favoritism,” says Devora Zack, CEO of Only Connect Consulting, Inc.
Don’t eat other people’s food (and don’t bring in smelly food)
Michael memorably tells the office, “R-e-s-p-svee-t, find out what it means to me,” and while he clearly cannot spell, the message holds up. In a recent survey, 33 percent of workers admitted to stealing food from coworkers. As simple as it may seem, leaving a coworker’s lunch — and other belongings — alone shows you respect them. It also demonstrates common courtesy to avoid microwaving pungent foods like popcorn or fish (lest we forget Michael’s tongue-lashing of Oscar when he brought egg salad sandwiches on their work trip to Canada). In fact, in a U.K. survey of full- and part-time workers, respondents ranked strong smells (including those from food) as the second most bothersome workplace irritation.
Keep it playful
No, your job doesn’t have to be fun. It is work, after all. However, it doesn’t hurt to incorporate fun into the monotony of office life. According to Gallup research, nearly two-thirds of the working population are not engaged at work — meaning they are not highly involved in, enthusiastic about, and committed to their work and workplace. That disengagement can lead to bad attitudes, unhappy employees, and high turnover rates. Seemingly silly team activities including beach games, Office Olympics, and The Dundie Awards could be the difference between employees staying loyal to a company or deciding to jump ship.
While episodes of The Office certainly depict some unsavory workplace scenarios, we as viewers stand to learn some helpful lessons about workplace support, camaraderie, recognition, and more.