Productivity has bottomed out. Our department is now so far behind on processing claims that the clients who made the claims in the first place have forgotten ever doing so. Coming up with the goods at this remove only seems to annoy them further. Doing nothing actually seems the more prudent course of action. So far, our charismatically-challenged manager Damien (who I caught drinking vodka out of a vase a few months back) has thus far held on to his job through the cunning exploitation of a procedural loophole. Office etiquette holds that we may not speak critically of a colleague when he or she is in the room. So Damien never leaves the room.
He attends team meetings, coffee mornings and going-away lunches for temps he hasn’t met. He’s sat through presentations on breast cancer awareness. He doesn’t give a fuck. But now our parent company is forced to act. Damien shown the door.
His replacement, Gary, has been seconded here from the London office. I have no idea if Gary works hard and plays hard. But that’s certainly the kind of dickish expression a guy like Gary would use. The plan is that he’ll step in, show us what’s what, help us clear the backlog and depart in four months time with an extra bullet point on his CV.
I am essentially bereft of personal ambition and had always just assumed my colleagues felt the same way. (Well, how the fuck else would they have ended up here?) Turns out I’m mistaken. Some of my female co-workers still have dreams of marrying their way out this shithole. And right now Gary is the hottest ticket in town. Hell, he’s the only ticket in town. He’s in his early thirties, single and moderately handsome. More importantly, he’s going places. Hell, his shoes alone probably cost more than our entire entertainments budget.
His goal, he tells us, is to clear the entire backlog of overdue claims, which has built up over the past two years, by the time he leaves on November 19th. That’s four months from now. And how will he accomplish this audacious goal? By ring-fencing the backlog and eliminating it. Our line managers are intoxicated by this turn of phrase. Ring-fence and eliminate. Ring-fence and eliminate. What does it actually mean though, I ask my own supervisor? “Well, first we’ll ring-fence it,” she explains, “then we’ll eliminate it.” Yeah, it’s quite a plan alright.
Gary’s secret weapon, it transpires, is a program of modest performance-related staff bonuses he’s been authorised to offer anyone who agrees to actually to get the finger out and do some work for a change. And for a while, his strategy actually seems to work. For the first time in living memory, the office becomes a hive of activity. Expensive fragrances waft through the corridors. Hemlines rise inexoribly. In one corner of the office there appears to be an orange make-up death match underway – it’s like there’s a team of Oompa-Loompas suddenly pitching in!
The excitement though doesn’t last. At the second or third of Gary’s regular team-building piss-ups, something happens which changes the atmosphere in the office dramatically. I’m not there when it happens and don’t really care enough to ask around. But from what I gather, it would appear one of the girls made a pass at Gary. And he rebuffed her advances in such a manner as to convince her rivals that they would not have fared any better.
The announcement, the following week, that Sarah Cawley – Damien’s buxom former deputy – will be taking over from Gary when his secondment ends fails to improve morale. Sarah has worked her way up through the ranks here and, boy, do the other women hate her for it. Lurid rumours of her supposed ongoing affair with Gary soon sweep the office. He picks up on the change in temperature but doesn’t seem too perturbed. She, inevitably, takes it personally.
Soon things are back to the way they were before Gary arrived. So much so, in fact, that when an email is sent around one day out of the blue, asking us all to congregate outside Gary’s office, I doubt I’m the only one who has forgotten the significance of the date: November 19th. Gary is handing out plastic glasses and pouring drinks. It will later transpire that he has, on some bizarre technicality, just re-designated thousands of outstanding jobs as completed. The remaining backlog has been cleared at the stroke of a pen.
“Congratulations everyone on a job well done,” he beams. “Now if you’ll just gather around we’re going to take a few snaps…” A couple of stooges gather in front of a large, mocked up calender with today’s date circles in red ink. The rest of us look on impassively, sipping what must be just about the world’s crappiest champagne. These photographs are for the company newsletter back in London – nothing surer.
“Sarah, Sarah… come in here, grab the other end of this thing!” This guy is like Goebbels or something. What the hell is he doing now?
They unfurl an enormous banner and hold it up for the camera. In letters three feet high it proclaims:
WE DID IT!
What begins as a few isolated titters soon swells, with the help of a few nudges and discreet whispers, until soon the entire room is convulsed by scarcely contained laughter.
Gary appears perplexed, but he shrugs it off. He’s got a flight to catch. He doesn’t give a shit. Sarah takes another look at the banner and her face turns white. In the published photographs she looks like a rabbit caught in the headlights of a massive oncoming vehicle.