Entertainment

Workplace Lessons I Learned from NBC’s 'The Office' After It Was Too Late

Do yourself a favor and watch all nine seasons before starting your next job.

by Jay Stephens
Jul 29 2016, 4:56pm

​ 'The Office,' reading this post on VICE. Photo via NB

'The Office,' reading this post on VICE. Photo via NBC

I was in seventh grade when The Office premiered, making me far too young to appreciate the chilling truths behind all the jokes. I had no idea how realistic the show was in portraying the daily indignities of the modern office world until I spent 13 precious months of my own life working in one. These are the lessons I wish I'd heeded from NBC's The Office before I entered the workforce.

EMPLOYEES DON'T WORK

Everyone on The Office spends most of their time at work not doing any work. Ryan is constantly holding a phone without actually speaking into it and arguing his inability to complete everything from spring cleaning (Season 2: Episode 13) to simple data entry (6:11). Jim spends entire work days pranking Dwight, chatting with Pam, or hosting events like the Office Olympics (2:3). Creed is usually staring into space.

I wish I had understood that not giving a fuck was the norm before I had to learn it the hard way.

My first three months on the job were spent caring too much—I worked overtime to create, edit, and update 1200-plus social-media profiles. But over time I began to realize my manager couldn't tell the difference between something that took me eight hours and something that took me eight minutes. It was easy to stop trying after that. By the end of my employment, I had lowered the bar to a level I can only describe as "Creed": I was coming in late, getting high on lunch breaks, and using my company computer to flip between message boards about sociopathy and borderline personality disorder in an effort to diagnose myself.

Michael Scott, World's Best Boss. Photo via NBC.

BOSSES DON'T WORK, EITHER

Michael's inability to be taken seriously as a boss is a cornerstone of The Office. He becomes desperately ill without exhibiting any symptoms at least 40 times a year (3:22), sleeps on the job (5:28), and frequently justifies taking day trips to do everything from sign the papers on his condo (2:3) to asking all of his ex-lovers about his personality flaws (7:4). When Pam must account for his activities in a day, there are only two items on the list by noon: "Cosby Impression" and "Stood in Pretzel Line" (3:5). When Holly asks if anyone has ever faced ethical dilemmas, Michael readily confesses he didn't work for five entire days after discovering YouTube (5:3).

I thought Michael Scott was just a wild caricature of a bad boss until I got my own.

Once, I was running a wildly ineffective ad campaign for the recruiting department that had burned through $30,000 and had managed to hire a whopping one employee as a result. I had several urgent meetings with my manager, but she reassured me that I should keep the campaign running. When I eventually snapped and pulled the plug, she was annoyed with me for not doing it sooner. She recommended a feminist book for me to read and sent me a link to a Sheryl Sandberg TED Talk. She did this while sipping an iced coffee, finalizing an online order for shoes on Nordstrom.com, and watching the world burn.

Stanley of 'The Office.' Photo via NBC

BEING A MINORITY IS AWKWARD

The Office dedicates entire episodes to showcasing the obtuse ways Michael Scott handles workplace diversity. Michael assumes Stanley can play basketball (1:4), credits him for the "urban vibe" of the office (4:5), and even performs a Chris Rock routine about black people that triggers an even more disastrous day of diversity training (1:2). Darryl teaches Michael phrases to "help with his interracial conversations" that are completely absurd and fabricated but which Michael eagerly applies anyway (2:22). The second black guy to work at the office quits after a day of being harassed by Michael for fitting the stereotype of a black felon (3:9).

I thought Michael's diversity discomfort was funny until I found it reflected in my own coworkers.

There were roughly three-and-a-half black people in my office of 300 (I was the half). I made my first cosmic mistake by starting my job during #Ferguson, and my second mistake by watching a livestream of the grand jury proceedings. My manager asked me to unplug my headphones so she and everyone else could watch, too. For several weeks afterward, my manager sent me at least one New York Times article a day about institutionalized racism and my co-workers spontaneously shared their white guilt with me. It wasn't until I started vocalizing support for a then long-shot Donald Trump presidency that this behavior stopped.

ALCOHOL IS EVERYWHERE

Whether it's during Christmas parties, the annual Dundies, company lunches and picnics, casino night, happy hour, the company convention, Meredith's liquor drawer, or a literal booze cruise, alcohol appears on The Office so many times it deserves a guest credit. Despite this forewarning, I wasn't prepared for dealing with so many semi-professional alcoholics at my office.

I had never seen a beer fridge until I started my job. There were four of them at my office. It wasn't kosher to start drinking before 4:30 PM, but people would openly get smashed once the clock struck. The fridges weren't convenient enough for one of my co-workers, though. He purchased a literal bar cart complete with whiskey decanter set and expensed it to the company as an office supply. Outside of the building, there were company-sponsored happy hours for every conceivable thing: new hires, new fires, birthdays, anniversaries, Tuesdays, whatever.

Dwight, trusting no one. Photo via NBC

TRUST NO ONE

The Office is littered with moments of espionage. Jim and Dwight form a private alliance (1:4), Dwight goes behind Michael's back to steal his job (3:3), and Andy steals Dunder Mifflin's biggest client in order to swindle his way back into the company (8:23). Oh, and everybody in The Office, at one point or another, has a secret phone call in the stairwell.

At least twice a week, a fake meeting would be scheduled on my Google calendar by one of my co-workers. We would meet in one of several soundproof glass-paneled cubicles, set our laptops up, adjust our body language to seem convincingly professional, and have a 30-minute "meeting" about who fucking sucked the most that particular week.

Real meetings weren't much better and often devolved into people covering their asses over balls that had been dropped (blaming whoever wasn't at the meeting was a go-to move) or outright lying about their own productivity.

The Nard Dog: Shitting and quitting. Photo via NBC

QUITTING IS EASY

As a kid I thought I'd stay at whatever job I got until I died because I didn't absorb this key lesson from The Office: Jobs are remarkably easy to quit. Dwight leaves Dunder Mifflin with less than a day's notice (3:12) and then leaves his Staples gig without any notice at all (3:13). Karen is adamant about not leaving Scranton, but her desk is mysteriously empty the next day (4:1). Erin serendipitously stays in Florida to become a live-in nanny for an elderly woman she just met (8:18) after leaving Dunder. Andy leaves Scranton to follow his dreams and shits on David Wallace's car to ensure he can never return (9:21).

I quit my office job two days before Christmas. I wasn't planning on it, but once I was in a room with my beleaguered HR rep, the words tumbled out of me like an avalanche of freedom. It was so easy I wondered why I hadn't done it months earlier. I told him that the daily doldrums of the office were wearing on my mental health and that I just had to leave. He understood, and it felt wonderful to get it off my chest. (That's what she said.)

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