This week’s episode was another repeat, and it was just as cringe-worthy as the first time it aired. Doug Hall did a fabulous job covering this episode in first run, so I’ll just use this space to talk about an issue that has been ongoing since the very first episode of the series: the personality clash between Dwight Shrute and Jim Halpert.
In tonight’s show, Dwight, jealous of Jim’s promotion, continues to pursue his Diabolical Plan to get Jim fired (or at least demoted). Although the conflict has since resolved (to the extent the Dwight-Jim war can) by Jim’s returning to the sales staff, it’s still worth talking about. What could Jim, as a manager, do when he encounters an employee like Ryan, who is determined to undermine his authority? Or, worse, like Dwight, who is determined to have him fired?
In light of Nicollette Sheridan’s lawsuit against ABC and Marc Cherry, employees’ conflicts with their managers are on everyone’s radar screen at the moment. Sheridan is claiming that show creator Marc Cherry harassed her and created a hostile work environment during her time playing Edie Britt on Desperate Housewives, physically assaulted her when she questioned him about a script, and ultimately fired her in retaliation for complaining about him to the network.
The lawsuit has brought workplace dynamics to the mainstream, with a juicy plotline that is worthy of Wisteria Lane itself. Of course, it’s too soon to judge the merits of Sheridan’s claim. But the fact of the matter is, conflicts between employees or between employees and their managers happen in many workplaces. In the close confines of an office — or television show set, for that matter — employees may occasionally (or often) find it difficult to get along with their coworkers or managers. Personality clashes can range from, at best, stressful disagreements about work matters to, at worst, incidents of workplace violence. HR managers often find themselves mediating these conflicts in the hopes that they may prevent them from escalating.
Dwight’s Diabolical Plan may be unusually elaborate, but he isn’t the first employee who has become disgruntled due to perceived problems with a supervisor. The HR best practice here would be for Toby to step in and mediate the personality conflict between Dwight and Jim — although, since neither one of them has asked for his help, Toby may consider it too intrusive at this point. It would be in Dwight’s best interest to learn to work with Jim, whether he likes Jim personally or not. If one of Dwight’s evil schemes went awry, and Dwight was fired as a result, he would probably not succeed in a discrimination claim, as personality conflicts generally aren’t covered by state or federal anti-discrimination laws.
Although Jim struggled to assert his authority over Ryan and Dwight, he ultimately was their boss — for a short period of time, anyway — and they stood to be reminded of that fact. Of course, we know that this particular conflict works out just fine. Jim isn’t one to get angry or violent, and he ultimately chooses the higher commissions on the Sabre sales staff over the constant battles to assert his authority as a co-manager. Still, I’m sure there will be more Dwight-Jim fights to come. Dwight’s Diabolical Plan may have run its course, but the personality clash won’t go away until Dwight and Jim figure out a way to tolerate each other — with or without Toby’s help. In the meantime, I’m rooting for Jim to put a few more of Dwight’s personal possessions into Jell-O. Dwight has it coming, if you ask me . . . it would be his “just desserts.”