5 lessons on how not to manage staff from The Office’s David Brent

In case you haven’t heard, Ricky Gervais’ bumbling boss David Brent returns to our screens this weekend in Gervais’ new film, Life on the Road. David Brent is in many ways the embodiment of poor people management, and the series offers many valuable lessons on how not to manage staff.

Be a boss first and a friend second

The office depicted in the series is a chaotic and dysfunctional workplace, with poorly motivated staff running riot and a complete lack of discipline and authority coming from the management. This is largely down to Brent’s inability to establish professional boundaries and his constant need to be the most popular man in the office. Whilst it’s undoubtedly important to foster relationships and camaraderie between employees, a good manager needs to be respected, and it’s hard to do that without putting your foot down from time to time.

Make sure your staff are motivated and engaged

The main protagonist in the series, and the man most disillusioned with life in the fictional paper company Wernham Hogg, is Tim Canterbury. Tim is quite clearly utterly disengaged and unmotivated by his work, and yet Brent allows this situation to continue unchallenged. A good manager should act quickly when it becomes clear that someone is no longer committed, finding out what the problem is and acting to resolve it – whether that be by changing up their duties, injecting fresh impetus into the role, or deciding that the position may be better suited to someone else.  

Deal with confrontation quickly and diplomatically

Disputes, disagreements and clashes of personality in the workplace can be incredibly damaging to staff morale and productivity, and are obviously best avoided wherever possible. The palpable animosity between Tim and Gareth in the series is a prime example of how petty office disputes can escalate if not dealt with swiftly by a manager. So take note: if one of your staff members ever puts another employee’s stapler in a jelly, it’s time to intervene.

Don’t sugar-coat the truth

The first series of the programme revolves around the impending redundancies in the company, and Brent’s cack-handed attempts to deal with the issue. Though his staff can sense that something’s wrong due to the regular visits from senior management, he continues to assure them that everything is fine and fails to address their fears in a professional manner. Rather than inspiring confidence, this has the undesired effect of exacerbating the sense of uncertainty, hindering productivity in the process.

Hire staff because they’re good, not because you fancy them

One of the most cringe-inducing scenes in the programme is Brent’s interview with Karen, one of the candidates putting herself forward for his newly-instated PA position. Brent is clearly attracted to Karen, and makes no attempt to hide it, instead overtly flirting with her, whilst entirely ignoring the male candidate. Clearly, this is unprofessional in a number of different ways, and is unlikely to lead to a productive business relationship going forward.

Need advice on people management or any other aspect of your business? At Kingsgate, we see ourselves as business partners as well as recruiters, so feel free to contact us for impartial advice. Give us a call on 020 8549 7212, get in touch via our website, or drop us an email at jobs@kingsgaterecruitment.co.uk.