20 Work Lessons in 20 GIFs From 'The Office'
On May 16, 2013, the American version of the “The Office” aired its series finale, bringing an end to eight seasons of solid television comedy. Steve Carell led the talented cast as Michael Scott, a lovable (though often inappropriate) boss at a paper company in Scranton, Pennsylvania. The show’s popularity and influence endures; it’s reportedly the most popular stream on Netflix.
Part of what makes “The Office” so unforgettable is the fact that the people on the show and the moments they experienced in the workplace and beyond were so relatable. Even if the circumstances became exaggerated (and hysterical), they were always grounded in some truth. And, somewhat surprisingly, even those comedic moments included valuable work lessons.
Here are 20 of the most memorable and helpful lessons about doing your work, approaching work, surviving office life, and — of course — dealing with other people you work that can be gleaned from “The Office.”
Read the Room
Depending on the industry, some work environments can be more casual than others. But depending on the rapport you have with your coworkers, it’s almost always inappropriate to tell certain offensive or borderline offensive jokes. That doesn’t mean you can’t mess around and have plenty of personality, especially if you work in a more relaxed atmosphere. But there’s a time and a place to be playful and a time and a place to be more focused and respectful. Make sure you’re able to distinguish between the two.
Be Respectful of Coworkers’ Personal Space
Speaking of showing respect, it’s almost always inappropriate to cross personal space boundaries set by your coworkers. Of course, in “The Office” Pam and Jim have a love saga for the ages, so there are some boundaries crossed there. But in real life, it’s often discouraged to date coworkers for various reasons. And it’s never okay to objectify or hit or even touch a peer in a way that could be interpreted as inappropriate. As the HR representative in the show, Toby should know this better than anyone.
Whining Isn’t Helpful
Even though it may feel like you’re “problem solving,” the truth is whining is counter-productive. Whenever you’re complaining, you’re not adding value to the conversation or to your work environment. The same could be said for office gossip, too. Even though it’s humorous in a TV show, it’s not in the real world.
Don’t Be Afraid to Set Boundaries
It’s easy to get overzealous and excited about a project or the people you work with. This happens most often at a new job or when some new major project arises. Oftentimes, this could mean that more expectations are placed on you (read: more work, longer hours) without any additional compensation or a clear payoff. And sometimes, you may find yourself oversharing with office workers or feeling pressured to engage in all sorts of social activities that affect both your work and your life outside of work. Learning to say no and to set specific boundaries for yourself is invaluable when it comes to your growth, balance and overall happiness.
Keep Your Communication Simple
The more complicated your explanation, the more likely it is to get lost in translation. This is especially true when you’re in a position of leadership and you have to communicate expectations to the rest of your team. The simpler you can keep your expectations or your explanations, the more effective you’ll be as a communicator (and, as a bonus, it’s more likely your overall team will be more efficient and productive).
Stand Up for Yourself
One of the hardest lessons for people to learn when it comes to their work life is that it’s perfectly fine to stand up for yourself. You don’t need to do it with the same attitude Stanley does in the show. But you can find ways to make sure your voice is heard and that you feel valued within your environment. You were hired because you add value to the overall team. Not speaking up or standing up for yourself can cause you to feel overlooked or resentful, which will often spiral into disliking other elements of your job.
It’s Okay to Take Credit
In a world where modesty is often encouraged, it’s okay to take credit for your work. When you do a good job and you’ve worked hard on a product or an outcome, take a moment to enjoy your accomplishments. If you don’t take credit for the work you do, somebody else may over exaggerate their own involvement. Or your higher ups may not realize the value you’ve added and won’t know how important you are to the rest of the team. This doesn’t mean you need to get a huge ego, it simply means you can take credit when and where credit is due.
But Also Be Willing to Admit Mistakes
If you’re willing to take credit when things go right, you also need to be willing to admit mistakes. Mistakes in and out of the workplace are perfectly human. It’s a sign of strong leadership when you’re willing to admit you made an error in judgment or something didn’t turn out the way you hoped. Mistakes are excellent opportunities to learn. By not admitting it, you lose the opportunity to learn and grow from it (even though it is not fun or easy to admit).
The Best Laid Plans Can Go Very Wrong
Often in a work environment, you’ll make plans based on what you can predict and understand about future projections. But in work (and, again in life), plenty of things can go awry. Even the most solid plans can be put into a tailspin thanks to an unforeseen issue. It’s important to understand that you need to remain open and flexible because sometimes anything that can go wrong, does. It’s best to remain level-headed and solution-focused so you can clean up any mess — metaphorically or literally.
Be Willing to Act Before You’re Ready
Of course you always want to be as prepared as possible when it comes to your work and output. But if you spend all your time hyper focused on making sure everything is perfect, you’ll often keep yourself from acting. And, in doing so, you’ll keep yourself from getting more opportunities or snagging the ones in front of you.
All you can ever do is make sure you prepare as much as you can for any opportunity that might come your way and trust yourself that you’ll figure out the solution once you actually act. If you keep your eyes on a larger, overall goal, you can figure out whatever you may need to figure out to get yourself closer to it.
Angela from “The Office” is a great example of the type of attitude that won’t get you very far in business. Though she’s excellent at her job, she is arguably one of the more negative and generally frustrated characters on the show. To be fair, that makes for great television and really entertaining interactions between her and the rest of the ensemble. But if you’re like Angela in real life, it will be hard to find people who want to collaborate with you, help you out on projects or just generally want to be around you on a daily basis.
Be Willing to Speak Up and Ask Questions
Asking questions is a sign of intelligence. Being willing to speak up and better understand what’s happening in a given project or presentation shows that you’re both engaged, interested and confident. It doesn’t have to be as direct as Kelly’s question here. But don’t feel like by staying quiet and confused in a work situation you’re helping improve anything. Staying on top of what is happening and your personal role within the bigger picture makes you an even more valuable member of any office team.
Remember, Working With a Team Can Be Fun and Rewarding
While it can be frustrating to work with other people when you feel like you can get a job done on your own, there’s a huge reward that comes with teamwork. Nobody can do everything by themselves. The more you enjoy working with and finding effective and efficient ways to interact with your coworkers, the more productive your team (and whole office) can be.
Do Your Best
A lot of people put pressure on themselves to perform perfectly every day. But the truth is some days are significantly harder than others. Maybe something is going on in your personal life, or you’re simply exhausted from outside commitments. Or maybe you’re feeling overtaxed with commitments at the office. Know that all you can do any given day is the best you can do that day. And that “best” can, and will, change. And that is perfectly okay.
Not Every Day Will Be Easy
Along those same lines, there are days that aren’t easy. Of course, if you’re like Andy here, your idea of “hard” is relative based on a pretty easy existence. But that doesn’t invalidate your feelings or frustrations, no matter what your previous experiences. Some projects don’t work out. Sometimes people get laid off. Some work environments are particularly difficult. And sometimes entire companies can go under. Just recognize that there will be good days, better days and tough days. But, no matter what, tomorrow will be another day you can get up and try again.
You Can Handle More Than You Think
Kevin may have not always been the most confident guy. And at some point in all of our lives, we’ve all felt like him in thinking that we can’t handle whatever is being thrown our way. Trusting in yourself, your abilities and your own value in the office (and outside of it) will help you to realize that you can actually handle anything that’s thrown your way — even if you need to ask for help to manage it.
Patience Is a Virtue
No matter what industry you work in, you inevitably have to deal with people. How much interaction you have with people may affect your level of patience or ability to handle different personalities. And, of course, are times when people can be frustrating. But staying patient will help you to keep a healthy perspective and remember that, even if they are sometimes frustrating, people can also be helpful and wonderful. Plus, at the end of the day, they’re absolutely necessary for the future of your business, no matter what you do.
Recognize Your Teammates Have Different Strengths and Needs
It’s inevitable that you’ll interact with all sorts of personalities. High-functioning teams always have a number of people who have different strengths and weaknesses. If you can learn to work together and embrace the fact that different people have different needs, you can create a respectful environment where everyone can thrive. And if you have Michael Scott leading your team, remember to give him a ton of praise.
Show Your Appreciation
People enjoy feeling appreciated. When somebody does a good job, take a moment and recognize them. Even if someone does something small and thoughtful that makes your job — or maybe your work environment — a little easier, that recognition can be motivating. When people want to do good work because they know they’re being recognized and appreciated for it, they are much more likely to continue to be a positive, contributing member to any organization. That appreciation can be as simple as a heartfelt “thank you.”
Celebrate the Small Things
Not every day at the office is going to be filled with adventure and excitement. If you want to keep a positive perspective and continue to be motivated, it’s helpful to find ways to celebrate the small joys that happen at work. It’s always easy to celebrate the big stuff. But if you consistently make it a habit to enjoy the small things at work, you’ll feel more overall satisfaction with your job and your life.