Office politics: the horrors of the workplace

Most of us have far worse anecdotes from the front line of gainful employment than the recent leaks from the office of Ségolène Royal

A friend worked for a brief stint in a Dublin firm for a man he described as like ‘a cross between Fran from Love/Hate and David Brent’

A friend worked for a brief stint in a Dublin firm for a man he described as like ‘a cross between Fran from Love/Hate and David Brent’

Wed, Apr 30, 2014, 01:00

Bof. That’s a big, Gallic shrug in response to reports that French ecology minister Ségolène Royal is a tough boss.

If recent leaks are to be believed, she runs a regime so totalitarian she makes the president of Turkmenistan look about as forbidding as Bosco. Included in her diktats is a ban on her employees kissing her in greeting. She also expects them to stand in her presence. She has also forbidden them from using the canteen while she is eating in her private dining room, in case the pitter-patter of hungry feet on the corridor puts her off her salad. She even banned low-cut tops, reports suggested. (She denies the décolletage ban, but not the rest of it.)

Incroyable, non? Well, not really. I’m willing to bet most of us have far worse anecdotes from the front line of gainful employment. I once got sent home from a job because I was wearing open-toed sandals, and was told off in another – in Paris, as it happens – because my top was too baggy (the implication being that it wasn’t actually my non-existent waitressing skills I was being paid for, which at least cleared up one mystery).

A friend worked for a brief stint in a Dublin firm for a man he described as like “a cross between Fran from Love/Hate and David Brent”. Company rules included a ban on staff sporting facial hair or putting their coffee cups on the boss’s desk. Fran Brent announced one morning that he would no longer pay them a salary, and instead would pay them quarterly on commission. If they didn’t like it, they could leave. My friend took him up on the offer, and embarked on a new, much more successful, career path. Still, he looks back on his time there fondly. “Ah, he was a decent old psychopath,” he says.

I currently work for a boss who oscillates between appallingly autocratic and downright slatternly, has no idea how to work the printer, and spends all day giving running commentaries to no one in particular on her doomed interactions with the office IT system. But that’s self-employment for you.

I sometimes miss having a real boss to breathe down my neck – the other employees not so much, however. In fact, I suspect that in Royal’s case, it may not be the boss who’s the problem, but her whingeing, entitled staff. I have no plans to return to an office job any time soon, but if I did, I might be inclined to suggest a few modest restrictions on personal freedoms to make life better for everyone. I’m not referring to small-fry matters such as bullying, absenteeism or taking credit for your colleagues’ ideas – I mean things that could actually drive your co-workers to the brink of a breakdown.

Top of the list would be a ban on nose-blowing; audible mastication; all meals involving tuna or egg, or which give off that distinctive, just-microwaved smell; spraying deodorant or perfume in the office; coming to work sick and complaining about how ill you feel all day; writing passive-aggressive emails to the person sitting next to you; occupying the office fridge with unidentified, gently decaying foodstuffs in Tupperware; having a “favourite mug” that you are fiercely proprietorial about, and using expressions such as “let’s schedule a deskside” or “go after the low-hanging fruit” in an unironic fashion.

Using any of the following expressions would lead to dismissal: “reaching out” (just call, email or meet); “pre-planning” (what other kind is there?); “going forward” (go away, ghost of Brian Cowen); “from the get-go” (just no); “actioning” (it is not a verb); “granularity” (the word is “detail”) and “issues around” (I have issues with this).

Most irritating of all, of course, are co-workers who spend their time moaning about the annoying habits of co-workers. Just as well I work alone.

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