Office politics: The survival of the fittest


In my hi-tech, hi-spec office, on the plains of the industrial wastelands of county Dublin, we have an instant messaging system to communicate with our colleagues. We can thereby ping each other with questions and messages, without cluttering each other’s email inbox.

As I am paranoid, I tend to be quite discreet whenever using this system – on a computer everything you say is traceable. I don’t want to get caught issuing pronouncements like ‘The STATE of ****** today, looks like a bowl of reheated vomit.’ Actually I wouldn’t speak that out loud either. My external filter works on occasion, and I know that a thought like this is for internal mental use only.

I don’t engage in workplace gossip if and when it can get traced back to me. In other words very rarely indeed.

As a result people seem to trust me. And confide in me. Which is always a boon. Anything that assists with the drear of the working day is welcome. I’ll take refuge where I can find it.

This morning I received an instant message.

‘I have a question for you,’ it read.

‘Fire ahead,’ I replied.

‘I don’t really want to ask on here.’



At the coffee dock I stared at my colleague as he recounted his woes. The previous day he had brought his personal tablet to work. During a quiet spell in the afternoon he had switched it on to browse the net for a few minutes.

This morning when he arrived at work he was called into a meeting room by his boss to be informed that his previous day’s activities on the tablet had been reported. When he asked by whom he was told that this was irrelevant. The issue was his behaviour.

I sit on the other side of the office to him so I had no idea who the grass had been. He wanted to check to see if I’d any idea who had made the complaint. I answered truthfully that I didn’t.

Now clearly you are not supposed to bring personal computers to work to loll about on the internet. Why would you? You have a work computer to do that. The secret is to open the web browser but minimise it to a small square in the bottom left hand corner of the screen, and have some serious document that screams ‘WORK’ visible behind it. I didn’t explain this to my woebegone colleague. This is taught in the Office Survival 101 course. If he hasn’t learned these basics then there’s little advice I can offer.

What bugged me about the sorry tale is the pettiness of the complainant. What kind of person would do such a thing?

I know that office life can be dull for many people. I also know that if asked by anyone at work, if you are busy, you have to pretend to be actually drowning in work – regardless of whether this is true or not.

Clearly the person who made the complaint was not swamped with tasks – having the time to monitor their colleagues means that you are not glued to your own screen. Their complaint may have been valid, but it was also mean-spirited and petty. Wouldn’t a better response have been to say out loud ‘What are you doing on your tablet?’

I offered my sympathy, told him I hadn’t a clue who had ratted on him and told him he’d best be careful.

After all this is an office where a subtle culture of bullying is encouraged, from the management down.

Being vile on emails and the phone, is seen as a positive character trait.

Whispering to people to avoid being overheard is perfectly normal.

Claiming ‘concern’ for the business as an excuse to belittle people is seen as strength of character.

It’s like Charles Darwin’s ‘On the origin of species’ out here in the industrial wastelands. It’s the survival of the fittest.

Although the primates fighting for survival tend to be pasty, suburbanites with 2.1 children and a killer competitive edge when it comes to home-made lemon-drizzle cake.




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