Sunday, 2 February 2014

The A-Z of Workplace Cynicism

The workplace can be brilliant, an arena for all of us and our needs. From go-getting achievers  who want their own empires to those who just want cash to spend on the things we like, we can all get something out of it.
But for most of us it's no good pretending it's something it isn't. As a PR consultant and freelancer I've seen the incompetents masquerading as entrepreneurs, the business obsessives driving an organisation out of business and the MBAs being taken in by this week's new business mantra, as well as the sexual predators haunting the lives of the vulnerable. I want to show people that they have not lost it, and that somebody else has noticed that all is not as it should be.
Here's just the 'A' section; let me know if I should go ahead and publish the other sections or simply draw a veil over the whole thing.
In 'A' you'll find:
  • Affairs
  • Alcohol
  • Apple vs Microsoft
  • Applying for your own job
  • Appraisals
  • Apprenticeships
  • Awards
If you're the most normal person in world, like me, I hope you enjoy it.

Have them. Those above you are; just make sure that you're not as indiscreet as they are. In a business where inter-office sexual conquest is a key but unstated value you'll notice that there are a lot of off-site meetings to discuss 'progress' and 'plan' for the coming whatever period.

The real reason for this is that your seniors are having flings, or would like to, and a free night or two in a hotel punctuated by booze-fuelled dinners, easy access to bedrooms with husbands and wives miles away are the ideal formula for no-strings (hopefully) shagging.

The only drawback is that the whole company must be taken away to make it look legitimate. This is expensive, and makes getting caught that much more likely. Some years ago an ex-colleague staggered back to his room on one of these occasions after a night on the sauce with the other uglies who hadn't paired off for the humping section. On his way he found the HR director half way through the door of his boss. They both winked at him. He was confused; were they saying: “This is our little secret.”? Or did they want him to join in?


Never trust a man who doesn't drink, unless he’s a recovering alcoholic; chances are that he will have built up far more 'trust' than most of us have ever dreamt of. Non-drinking women need to be treated with suspicion too but give them the benefit of the doubt. 

There is little more disconcerting than going to an event where the hosts aren't drinking or finding that you can't go out with your boss and share a few home truths that neither of you will remember the next day. On the other hand, if you do remember them, due to the bonding that a massive intake of alcohol can induce, they'll more likely be acted upon than if they'd been shared (which they wouldn't have been) at a corporate Presbyterian fizzy water-drinking ceremony.

 Whatever you do though, if you suspect that you cannot have a drink with becoming a mouthy, loud, insulting gobshite then give up drinking. If you can't give it up, retire and go and live away from other people. If a colleague behaves in this way, ostracise them.

 Apple vs Microsoft

This is where passion in the workplace can really boil over. Each has their own devoted supporters, which go around metaphorically 'tooled-up' to tackle anyone who 'disses' their device or operating system (whatever that is) like a sort of office Inter City Firm*.

 Apple devices tend to work in the same way that you would plug in a hair drier and switch it on. However, if you do have an issue, you will come across, if you can find anyone to speak to, a brittle organisation, which doesn't expect its clients should have problems with its equipment. If your Apple device goes wrong you need to make an appointment at one of its shops to speak to a 'Genius' who are trained to ooze disdain, even if they agree to see you. Of course this goes this against the tired old model of going back to the shop with a malfunctioning device and getting it fixed or replaced, but hey, Apple is cool so it can smack you in the face with your device if it wants.

Devices that work on Microsoft operating systems don't just work from the word 'go'. In fact they freeze, lock up and do bizarre things forever. If you want to use them you'll need to adopt the attitude of a classic-car owner; you need to be interested in constantly maintaining the device rather than what it can do for you. From day one, pressing the wrong set-up button as you become acquainted with the device means that you might have to adjust the date and time on the device to Christmas day 1975 before you dispatch each and every email.

*Inter-City Firm: a gang of hooligans associated with West Ham Football Club, which used to travel the UK using British Rail’s then Inter-City service in order to physically rearrange fans of other teams. Firm members used to infamously leave calling cards on victims stating who had provided the beating.

Applying for your own job

Some companies that are very keen on ‘change’, as opposed to doing things their customers want them to do, will go the extra mile to demotivate employees as part of their bid to re-energise and reorganise (yet again) their organisation. You could have been doing your job for 20 years but a little twinkle in the chairman's wife's eye will have you putting your CV together to tell your 'prospective' employer what they have been paying you to do for the last 20 years.

The interview will be a surreal affair with your boss, who could even be a mate, attempting to ask you serious questions about your job. In a less-bad organisation you'll have been given the questions beforehand. In a better organisation you'll have been given the answers too. Then it's the turn of the shell-of-a-person HR human who will ask you if you love your mother and why you would say 'yes' or 'no'. They'll then move on to asking you about a difficult situation you've handled. Just make something up.

If you're lucky you'll get your own job and you'll be asked to go back to your desk/fork-lift truck/till and begin/carry on work immediately. If you're even luckier you won't get it (as it's been lined up for a mate of the finance director's from his last place) and you'll get a large pay-off.



In the old days appraisals were a bit like school reports, they were useful guides to how well you had done and areas in which you excel or could improve. Now though they're carefully crafted works of completely incomprehensible strings of words and numbers and might as well be written in 'Klingon'.

In the modern era, after you've been thoroughly appraised you will have no idea as to whether you're due for the fast track to the top or the Job Centre. HR, which used to be personnel, is now an MBAs' playground; it's no longer enough to reassure employees they're doing a good job, they need to be categorised, compared against corporate values and spat out at the other end with a rating that had been previously decided depending on how little cash the company actually wanted to hand over to the people who had ensured it achieved its objectives.


As a manager, you could be tasked with managing the most difficult resource of all, people. An important part of this is the appraisal, where you confirm what you should have been telling the employee all along. Of course, if you are managing a 'challenging' employee who is utterly convinced that they have the business genes of Lord Sugar and Bill Gates but really have the workplace ability of a labradoodle then it's not surprising that you will have left it until the last minute to tell them the good news. Your only hope is that if you can use the Klingon appraisal system to your advantage, you can give them a shocking report and convince them it's a good one.


In years gone by an apprenticeship was a high-status training scheme with workplace training and day-release and/or evenings at college paid for by a company whose intention was to make its apprentices into its future leaders.

Government and companies thought they could improve on this though. 'Apprenticeships' can now be given to anyone who joins a company. The great benefit of this is that companies get grants for doing this, which means that they can pay someone to be, for example, an apprentice barista (coffee machine operator) less than the Minimum Wage. If they employed someone who wasn't looking for long-term training (around three hours for a barista) they would have to pay them more. However, this can be offset by paying absolutely no tax whatsoever.

Another apprenticeship factor is the 'apprentice agency'. Mainly run by people who were previously engaged in selling non-existent investment schemes to pensioners or phantom conservatories, these agencies have copied some training manuals from the internet and set up websites portraying themselves as 'training experts'. In reality they place young people, desperate for work, in any old company that is willing to take a government grant, pay less than the Minimum Wage and put the youngsters to work dealing with toxic waste (or coffee). These agencies offer 'ongoing support'. However, this really means that they will be cruel to be kind by promising to call back any apprentice who finds they are actually expected to provide 'private dances' for Scandinavian executives after being appointed to train in hospitality, and never, ever call them. They are actually on their own, just like they will be in the real world they are being trained for.


Many organisations and sector media run award schemes. These schemes are run entirely for the benefit of the scheme owner and secondly the scheme's sponsors, and are no indication whatsoever of the quality or otherwise of award winners. The scheme owner lets the 'winner' plaster its name all over the winner's website, materials, etc, thereby ensuring publicity for themselves. Potential winners are offered a table at a phenomenal cost to a terrible award ceremony, hosted by a 'z-list' celebrity who used to be on a local news programme in the 1970s. The 'celeb' neither knows nor cares about the manure processing sector but has to make some sort of meaningful speech about it and tell some awful 'in' jokes whilst nobody at all listens, as they've just met Jason or Julie who used to work in marketing five years ago.

Award judges

Many senior executives love to be chosen as judges of these awards so they can bang on about their expertise to anyone who'll listen and get a tiny photo of themselves in the list of judges in a bit of a sector magazine that nobody but them will ever read. They love even more to get their secretaries to choose the winners as their busy diaries allow no time for them to actually do this themselves. One senior executive I knew did at least make some effort. I was in his office once when he was looking through a load of award entries. He arranged them on his desk and then said: “I just look through who's entered and if there's anyone I think is a c*nt working for any of those companies I ditch them. The secretary then chooses the rest, she probably does it alphabetically or something.”

 If you're thinking of entering an industry award, don't. Though you might miss out on shagging someone who is really drunk during or after the ceremony.
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