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

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.

1:40pm Keeping my shoulder to the wheel

In modern corporate life, you have to keep your shoulder to the wheel, your nose to the grindstone and your ear to the ground. 

Taken literally, this means working in a very uncomfortable position. 

Figuratively, it means working doggedly and persistently – putting in a solid day of work every day. 

I return to the office building after a long lunch. The huge glass doors on slide open. I step out of the sunshine and back into prison.  

Thus far today, I have enjoyed coffee with Arnie and Geoff, spent quality time with the ladies in the credit department, and had a time of daydreaming and reflection during the logistics department meeting. 

But there is a problem. These things are not what I am paid to do.  

I am employed to prepare monthly financial reports and forecasts, undertake financial modeling relating to project expansion, and resolve outstanding issues relating to the year-end audit. Such necessary evils are less exciting than watching grass grow.  

Nevertheless, the draft financial report is due tomorrow night. Non completion may adversely impact my career prospects. Accordingly, I need to hunker down and work solidly this afternoon. 

Factory workers who aspire to greatness must keep their shoulder to the wheel, their nose to the grindstone and their ear to the ground. 

As an office worker who aspires to greatness, I must keep my bottom to the chair, my eyes to the screen (away from colleagues) and my fingers to the keyboard or mouse.  

My right ear, where appropriate, must be kept to the telephone receiver.

12:15pm How to take a long lunch break without being noticed

Working excessive hours can cause stress, fatigue and eventually, burnout. 

Accordingly, it’s important to take a long lunch occasionally. 

You have to know how to work the system. My methods are risk free. Here are my tips: 

·        Don’t take a long lunch every day. Save it for the best sunny days, so as not to attract attention. 

·        Leave shortly after twelve and be back before two.  

Regular lunch hours are between twelve and two. Absence outside these hours may arouse suspicion.  

·        Leave at a time when your boss is away from his desk.  

That way, he won’t see you leave or have any idea what time you left. Moreover, it will probably be thirty minutes before he even realizes you have gone.  

·        Create the impression of going to another department. 

If your company occupies more than one floor, you can create the impression that you are following up a work related issue on another floor.  

Do not take your briefcase, jacket or coat. Instead, take a work related file or folder with you.  

Upon leaving your floor, walk briskly and appear to be pre-occupied with your file. Look like you mean business.  

In a similar fashion, reenact the façade of preoccupation with your file upon your return. 

·        Upon returning to your desk, continue the façade of preoccupation with your file.  

Hurry back to your desk, take your seat quickly, have your file open on your desk and start working away madly at the computer.   

If your cubicle is positioned in such a way that no one can see your screen, you need not actually do any real work at this point. You can type away feverishly whilst emailing your friends or playing computer games.  

However, if your cubicle is positioned in such a way that your boss or others can see your screen, you may actually have to do five minutes of real work at this point. 

·        Finally, external meetings provide a wonderful opportunity for long lunches.  Try to schedule your external meetings to start at around eleven o’clock (depending on the expected duration of the meeting). Indicate to your supervisor that you expect to be back at around two o’clock.  

If possible, politely wrap up the meeting or otherwise excuse yourself at about eleven forty-five. This will give you plenty of time for a long lunch before you are expected back at your office. 

Never feel guilty about taking long lunch breaks. Employees who take time out occasionally are less susceptible to burnout and more productive in the long run. 

Your long lunch break is a favor to your employer. You have a responsibility to take it.

11:16am Empathy for colleagues who suffer misfortune

In the preceding posts, I discussed the importance of adopting a gracious attitude toward the success of your colleagues. 

Equally important is showing empathy toward colleagues who suffer misfortune. 

I have two more invoices which I ‘need’ to follow up with the women in the Credit Department. For one of these invoices, I am directed to Stacey Thompson, the – the tall, slender, brown-haired thirty-one year old who handles dealings with the client from a collections perspective. 

Stacey’s boyfriend is a karate instructor, so she is not a candidate for office romance. 

Nevertheless, I strike up a conversation - and soon learn that their relationship ended after he was seen with another woman. 

“Really? That’s terrible.”  

My response assumes a sympathetic tone, but in fact, there is nothing ‘terrible’ about this at all. Stacey is back in the field – this is great news! 

But now is not the time to show excitement. Appropriate sensitivity will go a long way toward winning her heart. 

I have an opportunity, but I must conceal my delight. 

“I’m really sorry to hear that,” I lie. 

“I saw them together,” she explains. “She looks about twenty for crying out loud. She’s ugly and she’s fat as anything. Why he cheated on me for her – I don’t know.” 

Actually, I think it’s his cousin. But Stacey need not know this. 

I need not interfere. I should mind my own business, cross my fingers and hope that luck is on my side. 

“You did the right thing to break it off,” I assure her. “You deserve better. You deserve someone you can trust. 

“That’s exactly right, Stewie. I do deserve better – and I’m glad I caught him when I did.” 

Great! I am saying all the right things. Keep it up Stewie. 

“You know, Stewie, next time, I’ll choose someone I can trust. Someone more like – well, like you for instance, who is honest and trustworthy.” 

Did I hear that correctly? Someone like me?  Baby, I’m in the game here! Way to go, Stewie!  

Shall I wait a couple of weeks or should I strike now and catch her on the rebound?  

“But you know what?” she continues. “I think I’ve had enough of guys for the time being. Yeah, I think I’ll take a break from the whole relationship thing if you know what I mean.” 

OK, the rebound idea is out of the question.  

Nevertheless, this episode demonstrates the importance of showing empathy toward colleagues who suffer misfortune.  

In all cases, it helps to build harmony and strengthen workplace relationships. In the case of managers, it may have a positive impact on your performance review. 

And you never know. You might just catch a vulnerable colleague on the rebound. 

11:10am I’m so happy for you

Jane is just copying the cheque for me and the conversation is going well. But then the bombshell is dropped. 

“Yeah,” continues Jane (refer previous post). My new boyfriend is really into arts and culture.” 

New Boyfriend. What? Did she say new boyfriend?  

I am instantaneously shattered. But my disappointment must be concealed at all costs.   

“Oh, did I tell you?” she whispers, her tone indicating bubbling excitement. “I’ve got a new boyfriend.” 

“Really? No you didn’t. Wow! That’s exciting.” I attempt to fake matching excitement.  

“Please tell me more. (rub it in) Who’s the lucky guy?” (Who’s the prick who I want to punch out?) 

“Ok. His name’s Rick. He’s in his thirties. He’s just become a partner at the top law firm in the state. He drives a BMW convertible and he’s just bought a lovely new house on one acre with a swimming pool.” 

“Really? Sound’s like a good catch.” I knew it – a rich bastard. Bet he’s not even good looking. 

“Oh, and he’s gorgeous too! He looks so handsome in a tuxedo. He gave me this lovely ring last week.” 

“Can I see? … Wow, that’s so nice!” I want to puke on it. 

“Oh Stewie, I just can’t tell you how happy I am.”  

Please don’t. 

“That’s great. I’m really happy for you. (yeah, right!) I really hope it works out for you.” 

“Oh, thanks Stewie. You know, you’re such a good friend.” 

A good friend. Great! Some lucky rich guy snatches her up and I get to be the good friend. Wonderful, I’m so happy for them. 

Think positive – it could all end in two weeks.

11:08am Delighting in the success of others

In corporate life, it’s difficult to delight in the success of others. 

Some people experience mixed emotions upon hearing about the success of others.  

I don’t. I just feel pure envy and jealousy. But I have learned to apply a façade of graciousness. 


What I say (with manufactured smiles and enthusiasm): 

·        “Congratulations on your promotion, you deserve it.” 

·        “Wow. Love your new car. A convertible. That’s really cool.” 

·        “I’m so happy for you both. You two are made for each other.” 


How I really feel 

·        “Who’d you sleep with to get your third promotion this year while I’m stuck in mediocrity going nowhere.” 

·        “Why do you get to cruise around with the stereo pumping and the top down while I’m stuck in my old Volkswagen which won’t start half the time?”                                                                                                     ·        “Why do you two get to be smiling lovebirds while I wallow endlessly in desperate solitude?” 

Little do I know, I am about to be hit by a bombshell - some ‘great’ news from a colleague which will cause extreme disappointment for me. (details next post) 

Once again, I will need to conceal envy with a manufactured facade of graciousness.

11:05am The Phantom of the Opera

Friendly interactions with colleagues whilst dealing with work related issues are essential for building cooperative workplace relationships. 

But for the relationship to become more intimate, less superficial interactions are required. 

Accordingly, as Jane is copying the check for me, I need to find out about her hobbies and interests. 

“What did you do last weekend?” I ask. 

“I saw a musical at the Arts Centre. It was great. The singing was wonderful.” 

“Really, I like the theatre as well,” I reply.  

Actually, I don’t know anything about performing arts. Nor do I particularly care.  But Jane obviously does, so I need to create the impression of sophistication.  

Think…Think…What’s one musical I at least know the name of….Think…I know….The Phantom of the Opera…That was by some guy…Webber, wasn’t it? 

“I really like the Phantom of the Opera.” I lie. Never seen it - never will. “His music is wonderful.” 

“Really, I love Phantom of the Opera.”  

OK. Good choice. But this is dangerous ground. Follow up conversation may expose my ignorance. Switch topic ASAP. 

But she continues before I can do so. “What did you think of Christine Day’s disappearance?”   

Oh dear - trouble. Who is the bloody hell is Christian Day? I’ve never heard of the man. Is he an actor or a character? 

From what Jane said, obviously he disappeared. What - is he like Elvis or something? What can I say here? 

“I thought…it was a real mystery,” I manage to blurt. Good response under pressure. 

“Yeah, I thought so, too. You know Stewie, it’s great to see guy like you who’s interested in arts and culture. I’m very impressed.” 

Yes! Did I hear that correctly – yes! I’ve got her fooled.  

She thinks I am refined and culturally aware. Better yet – she is impressed with me! 

It must obviously be Christine Day, not Christian Day. But never mind that. 

Sophistication and cultural awareness are not prerequisites for attracting women – the ability to fake them is.

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