The story of a day in the life of an unsuccessful office worker

2:47pm The highlight of my career

“Robertson, I need that right now!”  

As a Certified Practising Accountant (CPA), making photocopies for my supervisor is not a highlight of my career.  

Neither is what’s about to happen. 

“Move over, Robertson. I need this machine right now,” a commanding voice bellows at me from behind. I do not need to look around to identify the owner of the voice. It’s Malcolm Kennedy, manager of the Business Solutions department.  

I am now confronted with an interesting predicament. I’m in deep trouble if I don’t get these reports copied before the meeting, but Mr. Kennedy has considerable influence over my performance review, and any confrontation with him is simply bad news. 

Survival instincts dictate that I swoop up my half copied papers and step out his way. He steps straight up to the machine and commences to make his copies. 

I make a desperate plea to his backside. “I’m sorry, Malcolm. I’ve just got this meeting in ..” 

“I don’t care about your bloody problems or your bloody meeting, Robertson!” he spins around to confront me, with a menacing look on his face.  “I need these copies now. And it’s Mr. Kennedy to you – alright?” 

“Sure, no problem. Sorry Mr. Kennedy,” a feeble, pathetic apology sputters out of my mouth.  

As a Certified Practising Accountant (CPA), being handed a photocopying task was not a highlight of my career. 

But now, I have experienced the ultimate low point of corporate life – being kicked off a photocopier. 

2:41pm The queue for the photocopier

Whether at work or at home, one thing is for certain – you always get stuck in long queues when you can least afford it.  

I have twenty minutes before the audit meeting to copy and staple together ten copies of a twelve page report. I must get cracking, so I grab the pages I need and hurry toward the photocopier.   

But, as I round the corner, an unpromising picture comes into view. Four people, with faces indicating impatience and frustration, are lined up behind the photocopier. Less promising still is that two of them are holding many pages.   

Both of the other machines on our floor are out of order. Great! 

C’mon, c’mon hurry up!  I try to be patient, but anger and frustration are simmering inside me. 

Two forty-seven. Finally, I reach the front of the queue. At long last!  

If I hurry, I can still copy the reports before the meeting. 

Long queues are inevitable when you have no time to wait. It’s when you run late for work that you get stuck in a traffic jam or are affected by train delays. It’s when you need to get things done that you wait on the end of the phone line for fifteen minutes, all the while being comforted that ‘your call is important to us’ and that ‘your call has progressed in the queue.’ And it’s when you have an urgent need to compile reports for a meeting that a queue develops at the photocopier. 

Long waits in queues when you can least afford them are one of the certainties in life.

2:40pm Ten Copies Now!


Bill’s deep, commanding voice bellows in my direction. He marches toward me and slaps a file down on my desk.  

“Give me ten copies of this report before the meeting. Copy each page and staple them together, one for each person.”   

“No problem,” I turn around and say to Bill’s backside, which is already half way back to his desk.  

No problem at all.  This is why I put in three years at university - this is why I strove to achieve the status of Certified Practicing Accountant - so that I could make photocopies for Bill Mathers.  

The report contains a preliminary version of the financial statements for our company. The auditors want to use it to identify the key areas which they will focus on during the audit process.  

It’s twelve pages long, so to make ten copies, I must copy one hundred and twenty sheets of paper. 

Don’t you just love the degree of forward notice I am given for these things? They were in his ‘out’ tray only yesterday morning and he has kindly given them to me a full twenty minutes before the start of the meeting.  

No problem. As Bill’s humble servant, I will gladly drop everything, sweep aside all other priorities and copy one hundred and twenty sheets of paper in twenty minutes.  

No problem at all.

2:12pm Calling Technical Support

In today’s corporate world, information technology promises to help us maximize our productivity and effectiveness. 

Unfortunately, it rarely lives up to this promise. 

Computers are, however, extremely reliable - I can rely on something going wrong when I can least afford it.  

Today is no exception. I need to run off some reports and enter the figures into the accounting system. Predictably, I receive an incomprehensible error message, something about a “system error #_/#404” or something like that.  

It is not clear what the message is saying, but it is clear that the message was purposefully designed to be indecipherable to normal people. 

I shoot off a request by email to Helpdesk. I receive an automated reply, indicating that an “incident” has been created and that my ‘task’ has been logged into the system. I have been allocated a priority number – 00438.  

This does not sound too promising, so I call them to get an idea of how long it might take. According to the help desk operator, someone will be up in around five minutes. When asked if I should try simply rebooting the system, I am told not to take any action until the technician arrives.  

Twelve minutes later, Sarah Dykes arrives at my desk. She spends the next eight to ten minutes thoroughly analyzing my operating system. 

Finally, she turns and says to me, “Stewie, I don’t know what’s causing the problem. I’m just going to try and reboot the system to see if that fixes it.” 

Success! Upon starting up again, the system starts up normally and the problem has gone away. I can now continue with my work. 

But there is an important lesson here. 

Whenever you encounter problems on your computer – do not try to reboot the system yourself. This procedure, which involves pressing the restart button, is a very delicate procedure. It should be undertaken only by a suitably qualified technician.  

Even then, it should only be done after he or she has taken at least ten minutes to conclude that they have no idea what is causing the problem.

2:05pm Should I cook the books?

As a professional accountant, I believe that the monthly financial reports should reflect the true financial performance of the company. 

Some managers do not agree. The figures in the report influence both their performance evaluation and remuneration. Accordingly, they want the numbers to paint their department in the best possible light.  

Last month, we mistakenly overcharged Terrific Telecom, one of our largest customers, to the tune of $1.3 million. Accordingly, the accounts require a negative adjustment.  

The only question is the timing. The correct accounting treatment would be to process the adjustment in the current month, meaning that it would be reflected in the figures that I am now preparing. 

However, this is not convenient for Geoff Bretton, manager of the department concerned. His department is performing poorly and is currently under review. He therefore wishes to delay the adjustment until next month, after which time the review of his department will be complete.  

That is why I am in his office now. 

“Look, Stewie, I know we have to make an adjustment,” he reasons. “It’s just that, well, as you know, things are a little difficult right now. I just don’t want such a big adjustment in this month, if you know what I mean.” 

“I understand this is difficult for you,” I reply. “But I’m afraid the adjustment has to be processed this month. 

“C’mon Stewie,” he adopts a whispering tone. “Help me out just this once. Remember all the times I’ve helped you out of a tight spot?” 

“H’mm…When exactly are you referring to, Geoff?” 

“You know I’ll always help you when you need it. Go on. Help me out just this once.” 

With a wry smile, I get up and leave his office. “Nice try, Geoff. I’ll talk to Bill, but I wouldn’t get my hopes up.” 

“Ha ha ha!” Back at Bill’s office, an evil laugh ensues on my boss’s face as I describe Mr. Bretton’s predicament.    

“Good old, Geoff, eh?” he reminisces. “Some things never change. On his last leg’s and he’s still trying to play tricks.” 

“Robertson,” he continues, “you’re a young man - still a bit wet behind the ears. Let me clue you in on a few things. Geoff Bretton is on his way out, as is his department. Manipulate the accounts for him and you’ll join him. 

We’re accountants, not politicians or lawyers. We make sure that the numbers are right. We don’t play tricks just to please managers.” 

Bill is right. Monthly financial reports must reflect true financial performance, not whatever makes sleazy line managers look good. 

Cooking the books to suit management might have earned you a raise at Enron, but anywhere else, it will get you canned

1:58pm Caught in the act

In today’s corporate world, if you have a problem, you should discuss it with the people involved. 

I have a problem right now. Last month, I made an accounting mistake and I have to put through a negative adjustment of $5.9 million to correct the mistake.  

The adjustment will adversely affect the performance of the Technology Solutions department and will be the third such adjustment in the last six months.  

Needless to say, Alan Donnelly, head of the Technology Solutions department, will not be happy. This will not be fun. 

I reach his office – the door is almost closed. I’m not sure what this means. I can hear sounds coming from within his office but I cannot hear talking.  

Should I enter? He may be busy, and may not appreciate the interruption. On the other hand, I need to get this over with. 

I knock and stick my head in – big mistake. He is alone with Vanessa Carlson, head of Applications Development.  

There have been rumors about these two for some time. Not that they actually like each other – he is desperate and she will do anything with anyone in order to get ahead. 

I can now confirm these rumors. They are having – how can I put it - an ‘employee relationship building’ session. No, perhaps a ‘bonding session of an intimate nature’ is a more accurate description.  

They are not happy to see me. Perhaps they feel that three is a crowd. 

“What do you want, Robertson?” Mr. Donnelly growls. “Can’t you see that my door is closed?” 

Oh dear. How do I get out of this one? 

“I’m terribly sorry, Mr. Donnelly. Your door was partly open. I didn’t realize that you were in a ….meeting.’ 

“Yeah well, what do you want?” he snaps back. 

“Nothing urgent. I can see that you are … well … busy. I’m very sorry, I can see the two of you…well… have a lot to do. I’ll come back later.” 

I turn to leave. I cannot get out of there fast enough. But Alan has something to say. 



“If anyone finds out about this, there will be hell to pay!” 

“Oh, yes of course. I understand. What happens in a meeting stays within that meeting, particularly when … well…sensitive issues are dealt with.” 

Mortified, I close the door and stumble meekly back toward my desk. 

Tempting as it is, I must not tell anyone about what I have seen. It’s simple corporate etiquette – what is said behind closed doors stays behind closed doors. 

The same applies to what is done behind closed doors.

1:50pm Professional Office Etiquette

In today’s corporate world, it is essential to follow a few basic rules of professional etiquette. 

In particular, your cell phone must never be on whilst you are in a meeting. 

Paul Brodwick always observes this rule. Paul, the assistant manager for procurement, sits in the cubicle opposite me. 

Paul is a nice guy, and I admire his professional etiquette in not taking his cell phone to a meeting. But I disagree with his approach toward managing his cell phone whilst absent from his desk. 

I switch my phone to vibrate - apparently, my colleagues do not share my passion for Westlife.  

But Paul prefers instead to leave his phone at his desk and switched on. He feels it would be wrong to deprive his colleagues of the pleasure of listening to his automated ring tone. 

It’s early afternoon. I am now focused on the monthly management reports. The drafts are due tomorrow and I have no time to lose. I cannot afford distractions.   

And then it happens: 

“Dum, dum dum, dum dum dum dum dum dum dum, dum dum dum, dum dum, dum d d d d d d dum. Wheee!  

Dum, dum dum, ………….” 

There it goes again – why does that bloody ring tone always go off when I’m in the middle of something?  

I try to maintain concentration. Things could be worse – it could an old Michael Bolton tune from the eighties. 

It continues “Dum, dum dum …..” 

SHUT THAT BLOODY THING UP!!! Please, someone give me a sledgehammer. 

“Dum dum d.”  It stops. Quiet. Yes - I can focus again. 

Alas, after a short pause, it starts again. “Dum, dum dum, dum dum …..”  

Apparently, the caller thinks he or she dialed the wrong number. 


1:42pm Understanding your place

In modern corporate life, understanding one’s place is essential for survival. 

Upon returning to the office, I bump into three of my colleagues, Geoff Timms, Brad Bolton and Simon Haynes. We have a quick chat and a few laughs as we pass the reception area, turn right and head toward the security door.  

The door opens in front of us. Out bursts Ted Grundy, the managing director, having an intense conversation on his mobile.  

We each part to the side, allowing him ample space to walk through the middle. He storms through, finishes his phone call and barks an instruction for the receptionist to call him a taxi. 

Barely one of us notices. We don’t think about making way for him - it’s an automatic response. 

Likewise, our act of courtesy fails to register with him. He is accustomed to staff making way for him in office corridors. He simply doesn’t notice anymore. 

But what’s really going on here? Geoff, Simon, Brad and I are all highly qualified professionals on respectable salaries. Ted Grundy is far less qualified than any of us. 

But he is the boss. We work for him, not the other way around. Our future at the company is at his mercy.  

Yes, we are highly skilled professionals. Yes, Ted Grundy is arrogant. We show him professional courtesy whilst he storms through and shows no respect to us.  

But, it is not worth jeopardizing our careers by disputing who has ‘right of way’ in the corridor. Accordingly, we kindly make way for him. 

Understanding one’s place is essential for survival in modern corporate life.

December Blog Review

Dear Readers, 

Happy new year! 

I would like to wish you all a happy and successful year in 2008. 

Today, I would like to take a brief look at some of the interesting blogs which I have been reading in December. I will look first at some of the new blogs which I discovered in December and then two other blogs which I read on a regular basis. 


Blogs which I discovered in December 

Dumb Little Man  

I love this blog. 

A wonderful resource of interesting tips on how to save money, increase your productivity or simply keep you sane. It features interesting and sensible discussion on a whole range of issues relating to work, success, money, health or life in general.  

In December, Dumb Little Man discusses how to improve your skills at office politics (Dec 17), kick your motivation into gear (Dec 27) and get a better sleep (also Dec 27). 

Back in October, Dumb Little Man discussed how to do the impossible – give up coffee – a post which I read very happily with a small carton of delicious ice latte by my side! 


The Road to Madness  (moderate course language) 

In this blog, “Iron Pugilist,” a Filipino who lives in

Australia and works as a bar tender, shares many of his daily experiences and deep thoughts about life.  

This site also contains some poems and a fictional story which he has recently commenced. 

I am particularly intrigued by his fictional story, the first entry of which was posted on December 23. The story is about a young man who struck up an interesting friendship with a young lady as a result of spilling coffee on her in the coffee shop (I bet it was a deliberate act). Will this blossom into romance?  


Abstract Art Information Inspiration  

Turning to a completely different theme, this site was recently created by a good friend of mine. It’s not really a conventional blog, more of a resource on the subject of abstract art.  

On this site, Joanna, a teacher of English through creative art, has compiled an impressive range of pictures by well known abstract artists. In addition, Joanna provides an informative description on movements within the field as well as early pioneers, famous pioneers and different techniques. 

This site is somewhat like visiting a small museum in abstract art and fully reflects Joanna’s passion for and depth of knowledge of the topic. 


Blogs which I visit regularly 

Word Sell Inc.  

A blog dedicated to expert advice about sales and marketing, customer relationships and building businesses, punctuated with a degree of humor. 

In December, marketing consultant Brad Shorr completed an eight part series on building business relationships. I particularly like Brad’s posts on keeping it simple and about being pound wise as well as penny wise. 

Also, on December 06, Brad discusses the lessons he learnt from being a bad wrestler. (Brad focuses on life lessons, I would personally add a few lessons about personal health as well!) 

I was very pleased to be included in Brad’s “Nice Matters” awards on December 13. Thanks Brad! 


Change Therapy  

Happy birthday, Change Therapy! 

This blog, dedicated to ‘making lives better and making better lives,’ celebrated it’s second birthday on December 20.   

On December 22, professional councilor Isabella Mori posted the latest in her series on recovering from bad work experiences. Having had my own fair share of these, I am finding this discussion particularly interesting.  


The office worker story will resume on Friday, January 04, when our office worker friend describes how he knows his place within the company. During January, Stewie gets down to an afternoon of solid work, but finds that there are many frustrating and irritating aspects of life at the office when you are trying to meet tight deadlines.