That's What She Said

Road Trip Redux

Litigation Value: Nothing this week, at least not from an employment law perspective. But beware next year’s version of Recyclops. At the rate Dwight Schrute is going, he’s going to wreak some real havoc.

This week’s repeat episode has Michael Scott and His Merry Men (Andy, Dwight and Oscar) off to New York — in a stretch limo no less (no Town Car here) — to attend the Dunder Mifflin shareholders’ meeting. Michael’s presence is intended to allow management to trot out one of the few success stories at the beleaguered company, which finds itself on the brink of bankruptcy (as Michael promptly blabs over a hot mike).

This being The Office, hijinks ensue, with Michael, unable to contain himself in the face of booing stockholders, promising that the executives will create a 45-point, 45-day plan to right the foundering ship — all during a 15-minute break. Back in the “hospitality” room, Michael is berated and belittled by the executives, culminating in Michael and “the Congressman” calling each other morons. Michael and his gang promptly hustle back to the limo and the safety of Scranton.

Meanwhile, back at the (b)ranch, Jim Halpert is facing a passive aggressive mutiny, led by Ryan, the gist of which is that “co-manager” Jim is perceived as less of a manager than Michael is. Jim’s solution? Make an example of Ryan (who truly is deserving of being made an example) by banishing him to a new “office” in a tiny storage closet. The plan seems to work — but at a long-term cost, as this later leads to Ryan joining forces with Dwight against Jim.

Although there are the typical stray remarks here and there (mostly directed at Oscar), there is no real risk of liability from an employment law perspective. (Could well be some interesting shareholder suits against the company, given the tremendous drop in stock price during the meeting, but I digress.)  So I thought I’d talk about an issue that struck me while watching this episode again: setting up employees to fail by not clearly explaining expectations, roles, and duties.  The most obvious example of this is Jim.

No one in the office — including Jim himself — knew whether he had the ability to discipline, leading to a total lack of respect for his authority as a manager and Jim’s somewhat over-the-top response. Michael, for all of his own cringe-worthy behavior at the stockholders’ meeting, can lay some of the blame at the feet of those who did not prepare him for what he could expect at the meeting, and what they expected from him there. Finally, Oscar is summoned by Michael, with no advance notice, to a meeting with the brass where Oscar is supposed to come up with a plan in 15 minutes to save DMI’s bacon. Oscar, naturally, feels embarrassed by being put on the spot in this fashion.

In each case, the individual felt as if he were in a big, big sea in a small, small boat, leaving him to flail about as best he could, with less than optimal results. That doesn’t benefit the employee or the company. Clearly communicating with employees about what they can expect from their job, and what is expected from them, can avoid problems down the road.

Jolly Holly season? The end of summer is drawing near (how can it be August already?), which means the last season of The Office with Steve Carell as a cast member. To those who are skeptical that the show can survive, I felt the same way when David Caruso left NYPD Blue, and the show did just fine without him.  The producers will have to come up with the right character(s) and actor(s), however, and that will be a tricky endeavor. Me? I’m just hoping that Holly re-enters the picture sometime during the season. Michael deserves some happiness!