‘Office’ Lessons

If you want to know exactly what not to do on the job, spend a half hour watching "The Office," the popular television sitcom that satirizes the 9-to-5 work world. Part of the show’s appeal is that almost everyone can relate to it. For instance, you may have worked with your own version of Dwight Schrute, an assistant at the fictional Dunder Mifflin Paper Co., who is frequently petty, obnoxious and offensive, but always entertaining.

However, "The Office" has more to offer than simply laughs. While your creative team may be a far cry from the crew from "The Office," the show is a cautionary tale of unprofessional behavior to avoid. With the misfits of "The Office" in mind, use the following tips to avoid becoming the person your colleagues steer clear of.

Joke with care. Creative professionals often are hired for their humor and irreverence, which can make it even trickier to assess what’s appropriate and what’s not. It’s important to exercise caution. Keep in mind that most people can easily identify jokes that fall into the "absolutely acceptable" and "clearly inappropriate" categories—it’s the gray area in between that can be troublesome to navigate. Unsure of whether you should tell a certain joke or forward a slightly risque e-mail? Don’t. In both cases, it’s better to be safe than sorry. And unless you want to be known as the inappropriate jokester of your office (think manager Michael Scott from "The Office"), refrain from joking about age, race, religion, gender or other sensitive subjects. Also steer clear of making sarcastic remarks, which can be easily misconstrued.

That said, levity does have a place in the office environment, particularly a creative one. Having the ability to laugh at yourself—and difficult situations—goes a long way toward maintaining perspective, reducing stress and building rapport with co-workers.

Exercise courtesy across the board. There’s nothing wrong with trying to impress your creative director, but do so by creating outstanding design and making smart decisions—not by playing politics or becoming a tattletale, like Dwight, who thrives on reporting his colleagues’ most minor misdeeds to management. The most respected and well-liked professionals treat everyone with the same level of courtesy—from the creative director to the production assistant. Otherwise, you’re likely to burn bridges and breed contempt among your co-workers.

Avoid the gossip grapevine. On "The Office," Michael goes out of his way to feed the grapevine, such as when he e-mails racy photographs of his boss to others—and quickly finds the pictures have made their way around the entire office. While workplace whispering can make gossiping an easy pastime to adopt, skip the opportunities to share juicy rumors about an art director’s pending departure or the copywriter’s covert affair. Talking behind someone’s back or passing along highly sensitive or unsubstantiated information as fact will only undermine your credibility. Though it can be beneficial to be aware of what’s being said by the water cooler chit-chatters, it’s wise to keep the information to yourself.

Don’t get too comfortable. It’s nice to feel at ease in your work environment, but avoid letting this relaxed attitude go too far. In one episode of "The Office," Michael calls everyone into the conference room to watch a movie. When his boss makes an unexpected visit, she isn’t happy with what she encounters. While occasional breaks can fuel creativity, it’s easy to have too much of a good thing. Don’t let your work suffer because you’re more interested in perusing the blogosphere or playing foozball than creating the collateral you’ve been tasked with.

"The Office" may be farcical, but it does shine a spotlight on the many pitfalls of exercising poor judgment on the job. While creative professionals often aren’t required to be as "buttoned up" as their colleagues in other departments, it’s important to act appropriately. And always remember that people will collaborate more effectively with individuals they like. By showing respect to both your boss and your co-workers, you’ll build camaraderie—and a solid reputation.

The Creative Group is a specialized staffing service placing creative, advertising, marketing and web professionals on a project basis with a variety of firms.