There are some other true stories I'd really like to tell, even though I can't use them as a starting point for a PlayPenOffice story. These are the stories from the dark side of the office desk - from the boardroom or from the manager's viewpoint. They're good stories though, so I'm going to tell one every time I take a vacation.
I'll start off with a little cautionary tale for managers called always find out who your visitors are.
Once upon a time long, long ago in a far-away land called Pacific Coast U.S.A., there was a small Regional office that was having problems. They'd been taken over very recently by a National company, had several financial embarrassments, a supplier was complaining about unpaid bills, three key employees had left very suddenly, and the reasons given by the Manager in charge weren't quite believable. The National company's Head Office noticed the hiccups and wondered at it. They paid the company I was working for at the time to do their hiring, firing and investigation work for them, so we got a call to go in and 'just sort it out'. I cut for it with my colleagues (and lost) so I went out with a team, visiting.
It was a team of three - two other guys and me. I'll call them Ted and Bill. Ted was a distinguished forty-five year old business law specialist, with management-style silvering hair. Bill was an accountancy specialist, about forty, thin and tall and hawk-like. I was a twenty-four year old skinny young general 'everything else' guy. I guess I have to admit there was genuine potential for misunderstanding.
I arranged a date and time for us to visit but we arrived about ten minutes early, so we were left sitting in the lobby for about forty minutes. Ted read their brochure, Bill played with his new laptop, and I took the opportunity to have a real nice talk with the receptionist. I like talking with receptionists, as most bosses forget just how much they get to know, and you can always get some idea of what you're getting in to from them. Finally the Manager came over and introduced himself to Ted, acknowledged Bill's presence, and ignored me totally when I came over to introduce myself. He obviously thought Ted was our leader, Bill was the expert, and I was the junior gofer they'd let tag along with them so not even worth bothering to notice. He rushed us all through to the main office where five employees were working (two male, three female) said a couple things to Ted, and just left us there for a moment to go check whether their Accounts staff were ready. Ted pulled me over to one side and told me the Manager had said Bill could come in to the meeting, but they wouldn't need me in as well as they already had someone to take notes - what should he say to him? I said don't say anything, and I'll stay out and try to get a better idea as to why the key employees left. Bill asked if I was sure, and I said yes. Then the Manager came over to say they were ready to go in to the meeting and rushed Ted and Bill away, leaving me standing in the office with the five employees. So I sat down at an empty desk and watched as four of the five workers decided to take advantage of the Manager being out to have a coffee break and a real good gossip about some of their internal stuff.
The fifth employee stayed working at her desk rather than joining in the conversation. She smiled at me when she looked up and caught my eye, so I got up and drifted over, and started talking about what she was working on. I'll call her Jean. The other four just carried on talking amongst themselves and ignoring us.
About forty minutes after he'd gone out with Ted and Bill, the Manager wandered back in - to see me talking to what was obviously the wrong employee. He came over and interrupted Jean in mid-sentence to tell her to go get him more coffee - and get me and the rest of them coffee while she was out there too. He then very kindly told me my boss had nearly finished up and I could carry on waiting in there for him, so I said thank you and sat down to write up my notes - and listen in while he talked about the previous night's TV shows with the four more favored employees. Jean came back in with the coffee, handed it around (I checked, and I was the only one that said thank you) and went back to work. She didn't try to join in the conversation, even though by then they were talking about how much there was to do and deciding how much overtime she'd have to do to get it done - I guess she knew better than to try.
After about ten more minutes the Manager remembered I was there, and came over to ask me if the coffee was OK. I said yes thank you, and he said he was surprised as Jean always made lousy coffee, but then you can't get her to do anything right. The other four employees laughed along with him at that, and she blushed hard and pretended not to hear. The coffee was fine - at least, mine was. I don't know if she'd spit in his cup but if that moron was my boss I'd be tempted to.
Just at that point there was a call to say the financial stuff was through, so he told Jean to tidy away his coffee cup and went out to the lobby to say goodbye to my colleagues, kindly waiting at the door for me to grab my stuff and hurry after him. On the way out to the car Bill said it had been 'surprising' accountancy (his normal code for 'creative' accountancy) and Ted said there were a few things he'd picked up too about the Manager, and were we going back to the office now because he wanted to talk to me about it. I said hold on a minute. We sat in the car until I saw the Manager leave the lobby, then I went back in to the receptionist. She relaxed when she saw it was only me and I did the Bambi-eyes thing and said I was so stupid but I didn't get all the names of the office people I'd been talking to - please would she help me so I wouldn't get in trouble. She said of course and told me the names of several of the office employees, so I said there'd been this other real nice lady in the office too. She smiled and said oh that's Jean, then described her and told me her name. I thanked her, and we left.
We finished up our report two days later. Ted and Bill had some strong comments to make and some of their remarks weren't pretty - my summing up wasn't all that favorable either. The whole report went up to the National company's Head Office and I gave Ted and Bill the rest of the week off because they'd worked hard and gotten it done so quickly. Three days later the National company's Head Office called up to tell us to go do just two more little things on their behalf, so I stopped by the Regional office to arrange a meeting with the Manager - by pure chance it was just as Jean was going home so I said hello and stopped to talk to her before going on in to make the appointment to do the second little thing in two days time.
The next day Jean handed in her resignation and confirmed her acceptance of another position at the National company's Head Office - the first little thing. She's doing very well there too.
The meeting I had with the Manager the following day was to do the second little thing - give him his pink slip.
And the moral of the story is - don't let your employees go home, or they might be kidnapped in the parking lot.