The Office is one of the biggest TV shows of all time, and since appearing on UK screens on BBC Two in 2001 it has been recreated in a wide range of countries, including Germany, Greece and America, where it has ran for nine seasons. Not bad for a small mockumentary starring a handful of unknown actors and created by a failed 80’s pop star and his friend.
Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant captured the essence of a real working office when they created the series, and business managers all over the world have become a lot more self-aware and careful ever since. When the majority of people who have ever worked in an office think back, they can recall at least one person who was similar to David Brent, the manager of a paper merchants in Slough and protagonist of bad comedy.
It’s been ten years since The Office left our screens in its original incarnation, but it still resonates throughout the workplace. “It’s like that scene from The Office…” is one of the most commonly used phrases at work, and it shows no sign of disappearing.
So what could real life office managers learn from David Brent? Here are a few suggestions, and the majority of them fall in the ‘avoid at all costs’ category:
Don’t Try Too Hard To Be Liked
“Name: David Brent. Occupation: Inspirer. Status: None of your business. Young, free, and single, though. Thanks for asking.”
One of David Brent’s biggest problems was that he was a desperate man in search of friendship and love, and he allowed that desperation to feed into his work. He tries so hard to make people like him that he forgets that he’s a boss, which takes him to some excruciating places when he needs to instil discipline or fire someone.
The very first scene in the first ever episode highlights Brent at his worst. He hires somebody with no forklift licence, in a job where that lack of a licence could be potentially dangerous. In doing this, he lies to the manager of the warehouse and therefore risks damaging the relationship between departments.
Office managers should be there for their workforce and be helpful and kind, but by being too lax on the discipline front you will be asking for trouble if you do need to discipline a member of staff. It’s fine to care about being liked, but Brent’s level of desperation to be liked should be avoided at all costs. It will only get you into trouble in the long run, as it does with David.
Discipline and Order
“Professionalism is… and that is what I want.”
There are times in The Office when Brent has the opportunity to stamp his authority on his workforce, but he allows himself to be distracted. The perfect example of this is when Tim has put Gareth’s stapler in jelly. Brent attempts to put his foot down after some initial banter, before Tim panders to his childish humour and Gareth is left without justice and a stapler encased in jelly. In this moment, Gareth loses respect for his mentor, and Tim knows that he can effectively get away with anything.
There has to be a line in the sand when it comes to management, where a manager allows for some fun but knows when it must come to an end and their staff need to get back to work. If you don’t show the disciplinarian side early on, there is a chance that your staff could lose respect for you and see how far they can push you. It might not be putting staplers in jelly, but it could be anything from turning up late to missing deadlines.
Management Speak and Trying to Impress
“Does a struggling salesman start turning up on a bicycle? No, he turns up in a newer car – perception, yeah? They got to trust me – I’m taking these guys into battle, yeah? And I’m doing my own stapling.”
Brent is the master of Management Speak. He could write the book on it. We actually have Brent to thank in this regard, because managers are now very aware that any attempt to talk nonsense in management speak is almost certainly going to get them compared to Mr Brent.
The Office’s ace in the hole is creating excruciatingly tense comic scenes, usually from a social faux pas or fear of breaking the laws of political awareness. This is where Brent gets it spectacularly wrong, particularly when trying to impress university-educated intern Ricky or telling a dirty joke that Brent fears will offend new employee Oliver, whom Brent later refers to as ‘the black guy in The Office’.
Brent teaches managers valuable lessons in how to treat people and how to conduct yourself in an office environment. Knowing your job inside out it important, and that does involve reading up on the industry you work in and developing yourself as a manager. There are great books out there on being a great manager, but trying to quote them to people? Not a great idea. Management speak should be side-lined for something more real and honest. In Brent’s case, he usually gets it wrong anyway, or he quotes Dolly Parton over Bill Gates.
Health and Safety
“I’m already exploring the entertainment avenue with my management training, but I’d like to do that on a global scale really.”
David Brent spends so much of his time trying to event TV shows and focusses so much attention to the fact that this documentary could make him a celebrity at last, that he forgets that he is actually in charge of an entire team of staff and the health and safety of everybody in the building. When the fire alarm goes off, Brent has no idea what to do with Brenda, the disabled employee who’s wheelchair dumbfounds him. Brent and Gareth end up carrying Brenda in her chair down the stairs, before giving up and leaving her between floors in the stairwell.
Health and safety is obviously incredibly important, particularly knowing what to do in the event of a fire and training your employees so that they do too. If you have any issues in regard to what to do in the event of a fire, you can contact the local fire authorities to have them come and visit your workplace. At least this way you can avoid making a total fool of yourself, as Brent does.
James is a huge fan of The Office and has worked with his fair share of David Brent types. He works with www.lbsgroup.co.uk to help make offices safe and secure.