Career Talk

What “The Office” Teaches Us About Work

 The popular TV show “The Office” hilariously satirizes the nine-to-five work world. The sitcom features a collection of cube-dwelling characters who are occasionally offensive, petty, obnoxious, inept, annoying, self-absorbed or unproductive — or all of the above.

The show has clearly resonated with the public and pop-culture enthusiasts, perhaps because people sometimes catch a glimpse of “The Office” in their own workplaces. But “The Office” offers viewers more than just laughs. The show is a cautionary tale serving up weekly reminders of how not to behave in a professional setting. With the corporate misfits of “The Office” in mind, use the following tips to avoid becoming the person your colleagues dread to see walking toward them.

Joke with care

When it comes to having a good sense of humor in the workplace, focus on developing the “good sense” part. While most professionals can easily identify jokes that fall into the “absolutely acceptable” and “clearly inappropriate” categories, they have trouble navigating the gray area in between. Many employees have found themselves in hot water for merely inching a toe over this fine line. So, if you’re unsure if you should tell an off-color joke or forward a risqué e-mail, remember that it’s better to be safe than sorry. No matter how well you think you know a colleague, refrain from joking about age, race, religion, gender or other sensitive subjects. Also, steer clear of making sarcastic remarks, which can be easily misconstrued.
That said, levity does have a place in “The Office” environment. Having the ability to laugh at yourself — and difficult situations — goes a long way toward maintaining perspective, reducing stress and building rapport with
co-workers. But you don’t need to be “The Office” comedian to win over your colleagues. Just be willing to see the lighter side of the workplace.

Forgo fulsome flattery


There’s nothing wrong with trying to impress your boss. After all, your manager plays a pivotal role in your career advancement. But it’s important to be sincere, and actions speak louder than words. Show your boss that you’re loyal to the firm by working hard and making smart decisions, not by playing politics or becoming a tattletale. The most respected and well-liked professionals treat each person in “The Office” with the same level of courtesy.

Avoid the gossip grapevine


Unfortunately, the ubiquity of workplace whispering can make gossiping an easy pastime to adopt. Skipping the opportunities to share juicy rumors about a pending merger or a colleague’s weekend adventure can be hard to resist. But resist them anyway. Talking behind someone’s back or passing along highly sensitive or unsubstantiated information as fact will only undermine your credibility. Though it can be beneficial to be aware of what’s being said by the water cooler chit-chatters, it’s wise to keep the information to yourself.

While funny and farcical, “The Office” does shine a spotlight on the many pitfalls of exercising poor judgment in the workplace. Use what you learn to handle yourself with tact and professionalism. And always remember that people enjoy working with individuals they like. By showing respect to both your boss and your co-workers, you’ll build camaraderie — and a solid reputation.

Excerpt from Robert Half International Inc.

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