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4 Key HR Lessons We Can Learn From NBC’s "The Office"

by BGC HR

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NBC’s "The Office" was a TV show that showcased the crazy antics of dull, everyday, office workers. Until I started working in an office. Being a comedy, it felt like some of the scenarios presented in the series were a little too ridiculous. However, there are some key lessons that can be learnt. 

As a manpower specialist agency in Singapore, we understand the woes that most internal HR teams go through. In this article, we’ll talk about the surprising HR-related lessons we can learn from NBC’s "The Office". 


1. Nobody trusts Toby from HR 

The Lesson 

The protagonist, Micheal Scott’s hatred for human resources (Toby Flanderson) can be observed festering as the seasons go by. One of the most telling reasons for this disdain is because Micheal believes that Toby is a “spy” sent in from corporate. Additionally, Micheal also believes that Toby’s job is to stop...the fun from happening. 

His irrational hatred for Toby can be observed in this quote: “Toby is in HR, which technically means he works for corporate, so he’s really not a part of our family”. And this sentiment is uncommon amongst employees in the real world. Research shows that up to 80% of employees in some of the top companies surveyed, do not trust their HR department

 

Problems

When there is no trust between the employees and the HR team, it is harder for the organization to function properly. Obviously, any distrust amongst different departments within the organization leads to a number of problems. These include:
 

  • A drastic increase in employee turnover 

  • Recruiting high-end talent will be much more difficult 

  • Reduced communication between employees and the HR team 

 

Because more and more employees have trust issues with their HR. Many are turning to other external organizations (i.e. TAFEP, AWARE, MOM)  to resolve their workplace issues. 

 

The Solution

Of course, one way to resolve this is by bridging the trust gap between the HR team and its employees. Many believe that HR teams are not “on their side” as HR often for the employer

 

Some methods to help build trust include:
 

  • Be present in day to day activities (not just company mandated outings and activities)! 

  • Foster an inclusive workplace 

  • Consider training your HR team (again) 

  • Hold managers and supervisors accountable for their actions 

 

2. Being the minority...kinda sucks  

The Lesson

Oscar, Stanley, and Kelly Kapoor are the only minorities shown onscreen. And honestly, the problems these characters face...kinda sucks. In fact, The Office regularly showcases these problems by dedicating entire episodes to it. 


In “Diversity Day” (Season 1, Episode 2), Micheal Scott forces the office to undergo a racial diversity seminar, whilst reciting a controversial Chris Rock routine (see above). Throughout the show, we see the characters making jabs at Oscar for being gay. We also see Kelly, an Indian employee slap Micheal in the face after he makes racially insensitive remarks to her about Indian people. Of course, all this was done for laughs, but it does bring a controversial HR topic to light. 

 

Problems

The lack of diversity means that there is little to few opportunities to understand the perspectives of other groups. Additionally, the lack of inclusion and diversity will make your minority employees isolated and stressed out.

When there is a lack of diverse employees, potentially offensive and inappropriate marketing deliverables will be able to slip through. A problem that can easily be avoided if there were more diversity in the workplace.

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The Solution

Diversity is important. With more diversity, the organization is able to have more innovative and newer ideas. Some solutions to resolve diversity issues at work include: 

  • Measure diversity, just like you do KPI’s

  • Understand that diversity is more than just race. Gender, sexuality, different nationalities, religions, and physical backgrounds make up diversity.

  • Recruit employees from more than one town, region, or even country.

  • Provide diversity training to everyone in the company, not just HR.

  • Hold people accountable for both workplace and diversity-related issues. 

 

3. “The people you work with, become your very best friends,” Micheal Scott 

The Lesson 

Despite the turbulent and chaotic misunderstandings that the characters in The Office go through. They still managed to foster long-term friendship and even good camaraderie. Having more agreeable employees leads to a more positive work environment. Other benefits to workplace camaraderie include

 

  • The team performs better

  • Boosts employee retention rates 

  • Improves communication and co-working skills 

  • Improves workplace morale. 

 

Ultimately, a well connected and friendly workforce leads to a more productive one. 

 

The Solution 

Instead of leaving it to fate or chance, HR can help foster better camaraderie amongst the teammates. This can be done by: 

 

  • Hiring people based on the individual team’s MBTI personality type (see here) 

  • Arrange for team bonding events (e.g. team lunches, picnic, parties) 

  • Encourage workplace chit chat during breaks 

  • Resolve workplace and interdepartmental conflicts properly

  • Encourage interdepartmental teamwork 

 

4. Be more aware  

The Lesson

The one major takeaway we can see in "The Office" is that Toby, the HR representative, is left in the dark whilst the workplace crumbles. Much of the shenanigans that happen (i.e. workplace and sexual harassment, racism, workplace endangerment) often take place without the knowledge of Toby Flanderson. Instead, he spends most of the day cooped up in his office. This, of course, leads to more unresolved personal and professional issues. 
 

The Solution

We’re not blaming you. There’s a lot of work that bogs down the standard HR team. Perhaps you should consider outsourcing part of your HR workload or headache (e.g. payroll processing and recruitment) to focus on other internal issues. 

 

Click here to learn more about the services BGC Singapore provides! After all, we’re HR specialists too ;)
 

Liked this article? Let us know of other HR-related topics you’d like to hear from us! 

 

Read More: How to Identify and Utilize HR's Best Weapon: Employee Personas

 
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