Charity ends at work

Ah well, a bank holiday instead of a day at work on Monday. Thank goodness for that.

Because it is so bad at The Unpleasantness that most days I never know whether to take instruction from one of our perpetually multiplying “line managers” or check if their nappies are full. The saying “Too many chiefs and not enough Indians” hardly covers it. Everyone around me seems to be (mis)managing like their lives depend upon it.

The most worrying thing is that somebody else’s might. Though as nobody is encouraged (or even allowed) to be aware of a world beyond the spread-sheet they currently check we will never know about that. They probably think Myopia is one of the lesser known offshore tax havens.

But I shouldn’t be so disparaging of these lovely folk. Why, only yesterday they proudly announced their latest corporate charity scheme.

In a nutshell, this is that people should walk or run about more, monitor themselves and ask others to sponsor them for doing so, and the most prolific over-exercisers (rather than fund-raisers) will get prizes. For an office overrun by sharp-elbowed, cretinously competitive sports nazis, turning the need to appear charitable into a competition was seen as the perfect solution.

It got even sillier when one of the jocks suggested that, in order to get the miles up, the company should hire an exercise bike so that the numpties can pedal in their lunch hour. This will cost in the region of £100 per week, plus there is the logistic problem of what every other lycra-clad lummock does for the hour once the first has nabbed the bike.

Neither was it explained how a finite number of people in a workforce can each sponsor the other or (more importantly) how anybody knows that the exercisers aren’t just lying. Be honest, if your profession is accountancy – and specifically hiding income from tax authorities – would you ever be capable of NOT lying, or of accepting any figure a workmate quoted you as true?

Anyway, in due time we can be sure that a number of smug faces will be photographed holding one of those massive cheques with a figure plucked out of thin air written on it. That happy picture will then appear in the local press, discreetly distanced from the advertisement for our services, thus negating the idea that offshore finance ruins lives.


Wasting away the moments that make up a dull day….

Hmm, I see it’s two weeks since I last posted. This blog gets more Bernardian by the day.

Maybe in future, in tongue-in-cheek homage to Saint Jeff, each time I go a week without posting I should enter right onto the spirit of the thing and put a small message up saying “Manx Gent is unwell”.

It wouldn’t be true, but then neither was it the case all those times The Spectator editor gave up trying to get blood from the stoned and just placed the infamous message “Jeffrey Bernard is unwell” where the weekly Low Life column should have gone.

Look, there are just times (far too many) when the creative spirit looks out of the window, back at his or her “tripewriter”, then out the window and back at the tripewriter again and thinks….. “Why bother?”

On the other hand, why not?

Anyway, another week amongst the living dead in what passes for a hive of industry and what do I have to report?

Not a lot.

This week I realised that the combined ages of any of the several pointless management clusters nominally supervising my (equally nominal) work hardly adds up to my actual age. In addition, I doubt if the combined IQ of these myriad ( and I sometimes suspect self-replicating) power groupings would surpass that of, say, someone at the higher end of the special needs spectrum. Other than the fact that they cannot communicate with anyone outside their world, or register anything that does not appear as a “stat” on any of their spread-sheets, I really cannot understand how such idiocy continues.

Watching business management in action is like watching those cartoon figures who pedal air after running off a cliff. You know they should fall, you wait for them to fall, but they just pedal, and pedal, and pedal…..

The crash surely has to come any second now… wait, wait…. Oh, never mind, might as well wander off for another cup of tea.

Bureaucracy, it is becoming increasingly clear to me, seems to spread like plastic detritus on beaches. To someone who comes across it by chance, it is baffling where it all comes from. And neither logic nor imagination can stop the increasing proliferation of either phenomenon.

It may be true, as a research organisation I quietly help from time to time says, that those faceless figures behind the corporations wrecking the world are actual people, and have names and addresses. But just tracking them down is a full time job, never mind tackling the mess they cause. And neither task gets a mortgage paid unless you were born into the right race and class.

On the other hand, a figure I have admired for years, but unfortunately never met in person, died this week.

Gustav Metzger was not an artist the general public knew about. Far more radical than Tracey Emin or Damian Hirst, or Banksy, but because of his own principles never destined for their fame or economic fortune. In fact, outside a tiny, truly experimental and radical art community to whom he was one of the 20th century’s most important figures, hardly anyone within the highly incestuous and private art world did either.

Metzger arrived in Britain courtesy of the kinder-transport, went on to study art almost by accident, and unlike most art world enfant terribles actually lived life like he made art, including a spell in jail for crimes against militarism. For some 75 years – right up until the week before he died in fact – he was at war with capitalism, consumerism and the waste-makers of the world.

Discover him at , and .

Now THAT is not a wasted life.

The film set Cronenberg forgot

A week on from my report of dumb goings on in our spanking new smart workplace, and no improvement. But why would there be?

All the managers in my workplace are aged about 10, and you wouldn’t trust them to cross the road on their own. “Manager” just seems to be a generic term for anyone with the authority to request a box of paper clips. It is a vanity position, invented by some sly HR officer who discovered that people “promoted” to a job with “manager” in the title would not demand a pay rise. Since the tax rules changed, such berks don’t even get a company car to crash on the way home from the office party.

But then, many white collar workers are arrogant and thick as two short planks, and always have been. Three decades ago, before the finance sector took off, most of the current crop would be making beds or humping suitcases around boarding houses, or if bright enough to hold a job all year round serving in Woolworths. Islanders may have picked up a new vocabulary since thousands of office filing jobs appeared in the 1980’s and there was nobody to do it, but mentally…well, best to just not go there.

Also, these days what anyone who hasn’t worked in a large company for over a decade would know as a manager is a company director, and even they have no authority to turn the heating up or down. Twiddling the knob on the thermostat is a job for……well, nobody knows. Perhaps none of the management actually know where the plumber they paid a six figure sum put the damn control box anyway, and are too embarrassed to ask.

Another bone of contention for colleagues old enough to remember when office blocks were more civilised places is the tinted windows. Somebody involved in the “resettlement project” may have had a reason for ordering them. I doubt if they remember what it was (unless it was triple glazing or a conservatory at home for a vastly reduced price).

From outside it may be meant to give the building the mystery and menace of, say, the MI5 HQ. Actually it doesn’t. If anything it looks like the bricks and mortar equivalent of some 19 year old’s knackered hatchback with a spray-painted tint on the windows. If our windows could open (which, of course, they can’t) you’d expect to hear bad techno being pumped out.

Probably the rationale was that passing pedestrians could not see in, or that on sunny days those inside would not be blinded by the sun’s glare. In practice, it just makes it very hard for delivering van-drivers to tell if the place is open. Meanwhile, looking out from inside, the office-fodder are greeted with a monochrome grey view of the world, and no practical hint as to whether it is warm, cold, sunny, overcast….. or five minutes after a nuclear device has gone off.

All in all, then, a relief to be shut of the film-set Cronenberg forgot for a few days thanks to the Bank Holiday. Who knows what will have malfunctioned or what fresh hell the planners will have installed by next Tuesday. It is almost worth going back to work just to find out.

Funnily enough, recently I’ve been reading a lot of J.G. Ballard, author of “Hi-Rise”, and his heir Iain Sinclair, who has chronicled the minutae of suburban UK industrial redevelopments since the 1990’s. And oddly enough, well before the company acquired it, I’d idly wondered about a pyscho-geographical survey of the area around the development.

There is definitely something odd and disturbing there. The scene of some BCE pagan blood-letting to make the crops grow or fish gather, or a Lovecraftian gateway for creatures from before the dawn of time perhaps?

Who knows? But there has to be a more interesting explanation of those Antartic chills running through the ventilating system than simple 21st century incompetence.

(Not-so-) smart buildings

At the time I was so anxious to get away on holiday a few weeks back, one of the problems I was hoping would resolve itself while away was my new workplace.

The thing is, the very week I went away my source of income and daily unpleasantness moved to a new building – which we were assured was one of these “smart buildings” you hear so much about. Humungous sums were spent refitting premises which were not more than 20 years old anyway with “state-of-the-art” kit. Management sent around almost daily e-mails with photos and video reels to prepare us. Over a million, we were told, had been spent on the heating and air conditioning alone.

Maybe we should have twigged all was not as it seemed when promised tours of the building failed to happen due to a “tight deadline”. Because the truth is, if this building was a person, it would be in special needs.

Take, for example, the refreshment facilities. As any office worker knows, all you need is a kettle, a sink to fill said kettle and wash the cups, some dish towels and/or a paper towel dispenser, a fridge, and maybe a water cooler for fresh drinking water.

The new premises has kitchen areas on two floors and very little of the above. Instead of a kettle or a water cooler there’s a fancy tap which dispenses not-quite-boiling or not-quite-cold water according to which button you hit. While each kitchen area serves at least 50 staff, the fridge is about the size of one of those jobs you get in hotel rooms. There are no towels of either paper or cloth variety. The microwave broke within a week and has not been replaced.

Then there are the washrooms.

Oh yes, they have a shower facility to please the junior management morning cyclists and lunchtime joggers, and the cubicles are adequate. But, there are no taps on the washbasins (just one of those automatic things that recognises when you put your hands under the faucet, but only squirts water for about two seconds) and no towels, just an air hand-dryer which makes a racket like a 747 taking off and can be heard two rooms away – as numerous people have pointed out. There might as well be a brass band waiting to sound a fanfare every time you void your bowels.

And these are not even the worst mental and physical health hazards. Oh no, because that would be the infamous (and wildly expensive) air conditioning and heating system. Regardless of the weather outside, or number of people, volume and nature of work or physical conditions inside, this is presently pumping out air at near Arctic temperatures. One suspects that it has been set to a computer program for the entire year, which knows that the average temperature in W on the Xth of Y should be Z, and therefore that is what we get.

We have asked (politely and increasingly not-so-politely) for the temperature to be set according to the actual conditions, but have been told this is not possible. When asked why, we are simply told that because of the seven figure investment on the system we should put up with it until it teaches and adjusts itself. In practice, this has led to staff working in winter coats on days when the temperature outside is in the upper 20’s, and outbreaks of ‘flu. I, for example, spent yesterday croaking like Lee Marvin singing “Wandering Star” and this morning coughing up enough phlegm to fill a whiskey glass.

So, dumb building, or just dumb planners? It is tempting to get caught up in some David Cronenberg scenario of a malevolent building which has logically decided that the staff are dispensable, but I suspect the failings are more human than mechanical.

It could simply be that they are inflexible bolt-necks who cannot admit that they made unwise choices or got some details wrong. Such dolts reproduce themselves; this is the built-in design flaw of management.

But I idly wonder if certain local households have just had posh new kitchens, bathrooms and perhaps heating systems. If so, I just hope that they malfunction too, and that the owners enjoy paying out extravagant repair fees.

We are not respectful

As I have already mentioned, the management of my daily unpleasantness is riddled with those who sincerely believe six impossible things before breakfast. A steady flow of evidence of such intellectual shortcomings (as opposed to the twaddle they accept as ‘fact’) continues to alarm, while their earnest espousal of flat earth crank methodology masquerading as contemporary business theory causes – at best – an ironically raised eyebrow but more often helpless fits of the giggles.

I have got used to improving slogans being splattered across the walls of the building like a Victorian Sunday School or Eastern Bloc countries at the height of Stalinism. Once noted and sniggered at, I can ignore them as easily as advertising hoardings for products I  have no intention, ever, of buying. Because, frankly, I have no interest in buying into such a moronic lifestyle either. It is simply not interesting, aesthetically pleasing or necessary.

But an invasion of the very personal workspace is a different matter. For example, until the inevitable IT glitch put paid to it, I was being made sick by screen-savers with corporate maxims which appeared every time I left my computer for more than a nanosecond. There have also been ‘personalised’ corporate T-shirts which don’t fit (and which even a family pet would refuse as a blanket), corporate mugs big enough to use as plant holders and one compulsory ‘informal get-together’ after another with sub-Lidl junk food ‘nibbles’ in small rooms reeking of sweaty armpits.

Recently we entered work to find small plastic attachments to our computer monitors with yet more inspiring slogans. Mine read ‘We are respectful’. In truth, any slight respect for the company management team which I ever had vanished immediately upon seeing it.

It beggars belief that those who dream up such guff can be well paid enough to drive large, late model top of the range German cars, live in equally large, new, over-priced and tasteless houses and dress in equally expensive and tasteless clothing.

According to the myth perpetuated by its exponents, 21st century business management is as complicated as brain surgery and centred on an exact understanding of what people want or need. Why, then, is it inevitably practised by people who appear never to have read a word by the better known psychologists on how to inspire respect from their employees (rather than a stunned disbelief at their antics which is reinforced daily)? And more seriously, why is there a class of corporate investors above that apparently so ill informed that they not only fall for such nonsense but compete to throw more money at the worst practitioners?

The 21st century corporate environment truly is a working display of junk science in practice, managed by the exhibits from a carnival freak-show. But as long as it pays well perhaps we lowlife should just smile at the freaks and take their money.