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How Toby Should Have Addressed the Top HR Issues in The Office

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The Office is one of the most endearing shows of all time. Most of us all have our favorite episodes, characters, and one-liners. But despite our collective love for the show, it’s hard to imagine anyone actually wanting to work at Dunder Mifflin under the helm of Michael Scott. 

And while Toby Flenderson did his best to implement HR policies, he could have been a lot more effective (if Michael ever gave him an inch). We have a few suggestions as to how Toby should have handled the top HR crises in The Office in case you’re dealing with a real-life Michael, Jim, or Dwight in your office. 

Take Complaints Seriously 

In the middle of season two, Michael decides to resolve all of the conflicts and complaints filed with HR. Toby tries to dissuade Michael, but to his chagrin, Michael persists and attempts to resolve the issues. In this case, Michael isn’t wrong. Toby is just too passive -- he makes no real attempts to solve any of the complaints brought to him. This approach leads to a lot of pent up frustration and resentful employees. 

Complaints should be taken seriously by HR professionals and resolved as early as possible. Now, that doesn’t mean you should take the Michael Scott approach and lock two employees in a conference room to sort it out themselves. Instead, consider these recommendations:

  1. Develop a plan for dealing with conflict in the workplace and inform your employees about it.

  2. When HR or a manager receives a complaint, investigate the issue as soon as you can.

  3. Meet with concerned employees in a private setting.

  4. Depending on the severity of the complaint, make a decision and implement it or have everyone involved agree on the next steps.

  5. Create a report and examine organizational policies for any contributing factors.

The key to conflict resolution is to actually take steps to solve the problem -- don’t ignore it and hope the issue solves itself. Instead, HR should work together with leadership to create a workplace where employees feel they can safely voice their concerns. 

Create an Office Romance Policy

Jim and Pam finally get together after three seasons of what some might consider wildly inappropriate flirting with an engaged woman. But I digress. After Jim and Pam make their relationship public to the office, Toby sends a thinly veiled memo reminding the staff about public displays of affection (PDA). Though sent out of jealousy, Toby is not out of line on this issue. Offices should have clear and documented policies for office romances, including PDA.

Much like handling conflicts in the workplace, HR’s goal in creating rules around office relationships is as much for the people involved as it is for other employees. The goal is to minimize any discomfort or negativity, no matter if the couple gets married or it ends in a public meltdown. 

Here are a few considerations for drafting an office romance policy:

  1. Dating happens in the workplace; it’s just a reality, so your organization should be prepared by having a formal policy.

  2. Office romances can get messy. That’s why your policy needs to be connected to your sexual harassment policy. While office relationships often begin friendly enough, there is always the chance of the relationship going south and accusations of unwanted attention being brought to HR. 

  3. Power dynamics are real and affect office relationships. It’s not a great idea to allow a manager to date one of their employees. You’ll undoubtedly have to answer questions about favoritism, and it invites quid pro quo. Just look at Michael and Jan’s relationship saga. 

Keep Your Employees Engaged 

Jim is the master of office pranks: from the classic stapler embedded in Jell-o, to the Dwight doppelganger, to setting all the clocks to 5pm so everyone can go home early, they all speak to the show’s creativity. But from an HR perspective, they also speak to a bored, unengaged employee. 

It’s obvious Jim’s work is neither challenging nor fulfilling. Between Toby’s wet blanket approach to HR, to Michael’s unpredictable management style, to Dunder Mifflin’s dysfunctional culture, it’s no wonder Jim puts his energy into pranking his co-workers. 

While HR can’t change a company’s culture entirely or single-handedly engage every employee every day, here are a few ideas on how to make a more engaged workforce:

  1. Hire and onboard individuals who meet your organization’s values. If you keep your company values front of mind, you’ll find and onboard employees who care about the mission of your organization. 

  2. Create a compensation plan and stick to it, if possible. Money is a powerful motivator, and it can help to include monetary carrots with strong employee performance. Clear goals and a path to promotions can also keep employees engaged. 

  3. Encourage an open line of communication between employees and managers. HR can’t force a management team to be more open, but HR can attempt to demonstrate the benefits of an open work culture. 

  4. Last, but not least, understand why people leave. When employees quit, use the moment to learn more about your organization and culture and what could be done to improve it. 

Strive to Make Your Staff Love HR

There’s a laundry list of cringe-worthy moments in The Office and no shortage of HR crisis’. When Toby steps in to try and head-off an ill-fated Michael Scott idea, he’s usually met with open hostility: “Why are you the way that you are? I hate so much about the things that you choose to be.” While Michael’s criticism is harsh, he’s not entirely wrong. Toby is not a shining example of what HR can do for employees. 

HR doesn’t have to involve passive aggressive memos, hiding complaints, and not addressing workplace conflict. Instead, with the right strategy, there’s a better way to do HR. With Dominion’s Applicant Tracking, Onboarding, and Performance Reviews features, we put your company at the forefront of HR. Plus, new clients receive six months of premium access to Enquiron. You’ll not only be able to ask human resources and employment law questions, but ERISA attorneys will also answer your healthcare, benefits and retirement questions as well. Request a quote below to see how Dominion can improve your HR processes!


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