Here’s why it feels like you’re working in ‘The Office’

The show inspired countless laugh-winces, but it also taught us a few key things about the workplace, too

A half-dozen years after it went off the air, the American version of The Office continues to be discovered and swallowed whole by new viewers. (It was Netflix’s most-streamed show last year.) For a show that’s so defiantly silly, it has a lot to say about teamwork, the economy, and what happens when you work with the same group of eccentric people for a long time. Six lessons worth remembering:

At some point in your career, you will have a boss who drives you nuts. 

Your bad boss hopefully won’t share every negative quality with Michael Scott, the delusional, callous, and hyper-sensitive paper company branch overlord, but chances are you’ll report to a manager with some serious idiosyncrasies. At the very lease, having a bad boss will teach you about dealing with difficult people. It’ll also make you feel extra grateful for those you enjoy working with. Michael Scott’s most famous quote (apart from his obsessive use of “That’s what she said”) may be this one, which is a nightmare of hilariously bad management philosophy: “Would I rather be feared or loved? Easy—both. I want people to fear how much they love me.” The genius of Steve Carell’s performance was that he made us crazily fond of Michael even as we thanked god that we didn’t work for him.   

Also, you’ll probably have a frenemy. 

One of the great pleasures of The Office was watching the wry and adorable Jim Halpert wage psychological war with the conniving, beet-farming black belt Dwight Schrute. It taught us that archnemeses will drive you crazy, unless, like Jim, you put their stapler in Jell-O and then, while actually eating Jell-O, say innocently, “How do you know it was me?” On top of all this, Dwight’s desperation for the tiniest bits of power was a cautionary tale about the necessity of keeping things in perspective. If you are a megalomaniac, maybe don’t work at a paper company.

Your job will consume your life if you let it. 

The Office showcased so many different workplace personalities that it was like a Harry Potter quiz trying to figure out which house you’re in. Angela was prim and scolding. Kelly gossiped like a 13-year-old on a sugar high. But the most telling difference between the characters was how invested they were (or weren’t) in what they did for a living. Michael and Dwight attached way too much importance to their jobs. Stanley—a good salesman but always either pickled with boredom or seething with contempt for his boss—arguably attached too little. The lesson is a real one: Is your job just a way to pay your rent? Is it a career? A calling? How much will you let it define you? Working in an office can be like joining a cult: You can forget there’s an outside world. 

You may find romance at the office. 

If there’s such a thing as “beer goggles,” then there’s certainly “office goggles.” Working with people can involve a profound amount of bonding without any of the baggage that accompanies real relationships. This isn’t to say that Jim and Pam were lying to themselves. Their love story was one of the show’s most impressive achievements—it reached Ross/Rachel intensity when all they did was sit at their desks. But Michael and Jan were nuts to think their relationship could work, and Angela should never have married Dwight after he euthanized her cat, Sprinkles, by putting it in the freezer. 

You’ll be shocked by what happens sometimes.

In season six, Dunder Mifflin was purchased by a company named Sabre, which was unsettling for the staff partly because there were suddenly a bunch of new rules and partly because “Sabre” was hard to pronounce. Then, in season seven, something even more disruptive happened: Michael Scott left Dunder Mifflin to be with his one true love, Holly, in Colorado. Astonishingly, his replacement, Deangelo Vickers (played by Will Ferrell), was even less qualified than Michael and eventually suffered brain damage while trying to prove he could dunk a basketball. Every bit of this rings true. Just when you’re lulled into thinking nothing will ever change at the office, it all goes sideways. What’s worse, it’s only then that you realize that things were actually pretty good the way they were. Which brings us to the last lesson that The Office had to teach us…

You will grow to care about every single person you work with (yes, even your nemesis). 

One of the most touching moments on The Office comes in season four: To hurt Dwight, Angela finally agrees to go on a date with Andy, and Dwight is so devastated that he goes into the stairwell, smushes his face against a wall, and moans. Jim surprises us by following his sworn enemy and comforting him. Is it Jim’s way of thanking Dwight for pepper-spraying Pam’s ex, Roy, when Roy was about to beat up Jim? Maybe? Probably? To paraphrase Michael Scott, the thing about coworkers is that after enough years, you start to fear how much you love even the ones you can’t stand.

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