'The Office' finale: Fact and fiction at work

While incompetent bosses like Michael Scott and Andy Bernard typically can’t survive in the workplace, office romances are a very real part of corporate culture.

By Jonathan Berr May 17, 2013 5:36PM
Scene from season 9 of NBC's 'The Office' (copyright Colleen Hayes/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)

As the curtain closed on NBC's long-running sitcom "The Office" Thursday night, nearly 6 million viewers laughed and cringed for the last time at the exaggerated dysfunction on display at the Scranton, Pa., branch of the fictional paper company Dunder-Mifflin.


It was an exaggeration, right? In the real world, inept bosses like Michael Scott and brazen corporate saboteurs like Dwight Schrute would be reined in by the corporate powers that be . . . right?

In theory, at least, the answer is yes.

"Can a Michael Scott survive in today's corporate environment?" asks Bruce Elliott, manager of compensation and benefits at the Society of Human Resource Management, in an interview. "Absolutely not."

Indeed, Scott, played by Steve Carell, probably wouldn't have lasted beyond the first season's "Diversity Day" fiasco -- a classic episode where he tried to promote respect among his employees but wound up offending them instead.


Being a funny manager is fine, Elliott said, as long as you aren't offensive. When bosses start to show Michael Scott characteristics, he says he tries to counsel them to act more professionally. 

"You can't say 'that's what she said,'" Eliott says, repeating one of Scott's favorite lines.

As for Schrute, the best way to deal with someone like him is to forge relationships with others in the organization whom you trust -- because, as one expert noted to NPR a few years ago, "you just never know when they're going to strike."

But while the show took liberties by playing with people's perceptions of their ineffective bosses and strange coworkers, other elements were quite realistic.

One of the series' most popular story lines was the romance between Jim Halpert (John Krasinski) and Pam Beesly (Jenna Fischer), who met at work, flirted for years, fell in love and got married. 

For many people in corporate America, office romances are a fact of life. In a 2012 survey by CareerBuilder, 38% of respondents said they had dated a co-worker at least once in their professional lives. Even President Obama met his wife at work, when they both worked at a Chicago law firm.


"The Office" crew were also famous for their workplace pranks. While Elliott doesn't recommend moving a coworker’s desk into the restroom or hiding a porcupine in anyone's drawer, harmless pranks can be a good way to build camaraderie among team members.


It certainly worked at Dunder-Mifflin, as the finale showed just how much the characters had grown to care for each other.


"Man, what a cohesive group," Elliott said.

--Follow Jonathan Berr on Twitter at @jdberr.



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