The Office

A group of researchers from Trinity University and University of Kentucky have carried out an extensive inquiry into workplace bullying at Dunder Mifflin, the fictional Scranton-based paper company featured in the U.S. mockumentary TV show The Office.

And the results, published in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence, are not looking good for Dunder Mifflin.

To learn about workplace bullying at the company, researchers watched all 9 seasons’ worth of episodes. Overall, the researchers catalogued an average of 6.13 instances of workplace bullying per episode, for 331 instancea in total.

In analyzing workplace bullying at Dunder Mifflin, the researchers grouped bullying behavior into five main categories:

  • Sexual jokes
  • Public humiliation
  • Practical jokes
  • Belittlement
  • Misuse of authority

Clearly, Dunder Mifflin is going to have to get its act together.

The study did have a serious point though: treating workplace bullying as a punchline runs the risk of masking the damage bullying behavior can cause, which in turn perpetuates the problem.

Even subtle workplace bullying has serious consequences. Previous research has linked workplace bullying to anxiety and depression and to post-traumatic stress disorder.

On top of that, there’s a reciprocal relationship between workplace bullying and psychological distress. Workplace bullying increases psychological distress, and higher psychological distress makes it more likely that people will be victims of workplace bullying, which can create a vicious circle.

One survey of 1,024 employees at a public transit company in Norway found that those who experienced workplace bullying reported feeling more afraid, upset, angry, guilty, nervous, hostile, frustrated, scared and stressed. Moreover, being bullied in the workplace led people to have more musculoskeletal health problems, with negative emotions being the mediating factor.

In other words, workplace bullying is bad news and it has real consequences. At the same time, research has found significant workplace bullying in occupations as diverse as surgery, athletics training – and, of course, paper sales.

After all, that was part of The Office’s appeal. Many people saw a reflection of their own workplaces in dysfunctional Dunder Mifflin. And when it comes to workplace bullying, that’s a problem that needs to be addressed.

Image: Flickr/Sonny Abesamis under CC BY 2.0