Lessons 'The Office' Taught Us About Workplace Mental Health

Though ‘The Office’ became popular for representing desk work’s drudgery, we can also learn a lot from the Scranton branch about the importance of good mental health support in the workplace.

The Calm Team

On premise, NBC’s beloved faux documentary TV show about the office dynamics of a paper company doesn’t sound like it’s set up to be a tearjerker, and on watching an episode or two, might not exactly paint a picture of a healthy work culture. In fact, the main draw of the show is the exact opposite, as we watch regional manager Michael Scott bluster his way through each workday, to the amusement and frustration of his employees.

But longtime fans know that throughout the show’s 9-season run, The Office actually has a lot of hidden lessons about how to create a mentally healthy workplace — amid its many, many lessons about what not to do. (Also, we have something to say about the much-maligned Toby Flenderson, perhaps TV’s most prominent representation of HR leaders, and how he actually deserves a second look.)

This show got popular for depicting how monotonous the average desk job can feel sometimes — but then warmed our hearts by showing us that even in the most drab, de-personalized corporate environments, coworkers can show each other beautiful moments of humanity. Here are some of our favorites among those moments.

Taking your team out of their comfort zone can open up new dynamics in your culture.

What Michael Scott lacks in tact, he makes up for with unabashed enthusiasm. It’s why he’s somehow not the villain of this show — though being an overbearing, sometimes inappropriate, and emotionally desperate boss would certainly make him perfect for the role. As much as they roll their eyes at his uncomfortable bonding schemes that usually manage to center his own desire for attention and praise, his team often ends up experiencing important bonding moments in the chaotic spaces he creates.

Michael’s creation of The Dundies ultimately becomes a cherished tradition on his team, showing that recognizing people’s effort (especially when you give out more specific and appropriate superlatives than “Hottest in the Office”) gives them a sense of pride and purpose in their work, and community among their peers. 

And though the all-day team bonding event of the Beach Games are set up to secretly select a new branch manager via physical challenges, the real winner of the day is softer-spoken Pam, who finds a bolder voice to advocate for herself after walking across hot coals. (Though, we’ll implore you to implement literally any other type of bonding event before you opt for something involving flames.)

As corny as they might seem, committees and clubs can provide helpful structure for creating a better work culture.

Despite her reign over the Party Planning Committee and her seeming inability to have fun while doing so, Angela is an underrated force and powerful example of the can-do attitude an opinionated, type-A teammate can bring when they take their extracurricular assignments seriously — and when given enough budget to pull off some rather remarkable events on usually short notice.

And perhaps in our favorite example of spontaneous, employee-led culture building, The Finer Things Club shows that not all programming must be company-led or -sponsored to be successful. Though Pam, Oscar, and Toby’s “no paper, no plastic, and no work talk allowed” club is a bit exclusionary there's an undeniable sweetness about the group’s defiance of quotidian drudgery. 

HR does care.

Toby Flenderson is Michael’s sworn work nemesis, and paints a rather mundane picture of HR leadership in the workplace. Sure, he could stand to stick up for himself and enforce workplace safety standards a bit more than he does. But ultimately, Toby is one of The Office’s more personable, human, and kind characters, who often serves as a stabilizing force amid the hijinks of his team. Without Toby’s slightly dampening presence serving as Scranton’s only source of equilibrium, we suspect far more injuries than the occasional paper plane to the eye would have happened on company property.

Like most HR leaders right now, Toby deserves to be given a break. So we hope he’s sipping a tasty beverage on a beach somewhere in Costa Rica. To all Tobys everywhere, we raise a glass to you! (And please, whatever you do, don’t ride a zip line on your next vacation trip!)

Standing up for yourself and your mental health at work is hard, but worth it.

Some of the show’s most emotionally powerful moments are best shown in times when employees reach a crossroads. Whether that’s transferring to new roles elsewhere in the company or moving onto the next opportunity, the reactions in response to coworkers following new paths exemplifies the emotional ties and unique culture that has brought them all together at the Scranton branch.

Ultimately, the moral of The Office may be this simple: Work is more meaningful when you like the people you work with. Our jobs come with tedium, conflict, and change, but they’re also an important part of our lives — and like everything else in life, are best when shared. For that lesson especially, we’re grateful for how The Office showed us the importance of culture building in the workplace, and the many, many, many examples it gave us of exactly what not to do on our way there.

Bring the sounds of The Office to your office with the new soundscape from Calm and stream all nine season of The Office exclusively on Peacock.

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