Shining a comic light on corporate America, The Office is a “mockumentary” television series about working in the fictional Dunder Mifflin Paper Company. While the show's characters and scenes are often absurd, some experts on the HR front see truths about working in the real-world embedded in the show.
. "As an HR person, I sometimes cringe," Sheri Leonardo, senior vice president for human resources at Ogilvy Public Relations , tells NPR. "Some of the stuff is so outlandish, politically incorrect, morally incorrect and everything else -- but at the same time I say, 'God, I would love to take clips of this and use it for training, because it's so perfect.' "
Leonardo tells NPR that she can even think of people who fit some of the show's stereotypes, like the ignorant, politically incorrect boss. “There are people who do have the insensitivities to others around them … to what makes people comfortable or uncomfortable," she says.
Much of the show's humorously awkward nature stems from this challenge of coping with diversity in the workplace. Economist and founding president of the Center for Work-Life Policy, Sylvia Ann Hewlett, calls the show's overall vibe "discomfort with difference."
Although diversity poses challenges, it is possible to embrace and work past cultural differences in the workplace. "It is critical to create a climate where diversity 'mistakes' can be made and people can be learners," says Jean Mavrelis, a diversity consultant and co-author of the book Corporate Tribalism.
So, instead of making culturally offensive jokes and scrutinizing co-workers, the best way for a boss like Michael Scott from The Office to support cross-cultural relationships is to help a diverse group of employees develop their careers, which in turn, builds the trust and goodwill that is necessary to overcome a diversity blunder, says Maverlis.