Office Politics; or The Curious Incident of the Kettle in the Morning

November 10, 2010

A colleague of mine, a lady from our accounts team, came in this morning and went to make herself a cup of tea. Our marketing director walked in and, noticing the kettle appeared to be leaking, declared that the kettle was not safe to use. The lady from accounts put the kettle in the sink (because it was leaking) and sent out a text message to everyone saying “kettle broken, might be worth grabbing a coffee on your way into work.”

The HR manager arrived shortly afterward, took the lady from accounts to one side and gave her a dressing down. It was explained to her that: a) the kettle is not broken, it is simply leaking, these are two very different things; b) her text message to other members of staff was inappropriate.

The lady from accounts countered that she had only been acting on instructions from one of the directors. Meanwhile, the marketing director had contacted the managing director – who had not yet arrived into the office and so was assumed to be en route – to advise him that the kettle was broken, and ask if he could pick up a replacement kettle on his way into the office.

The HR manager continued to reproach the lady from accounts, who had now been joined by her boss, the head of finance, to see what was going on. At this point, the office intern arrived. The intern is responsible for certain areas of office management, which it was felt might encompass kitchen equipment, and so she was asked to involve herself in the discussion. She advised that the kettle did indeed have a fault, that she had noted this fault the previous day, but it was not felt that the fault was a health and safety issue, and therefore the kettle did not need replacing and could continue to be used.

The managing director then turned up and was asked by the operations assistant if he had picked up a replacement kettle. The marketing director explained that he had received a text message from the HR manager superseding the earlier message by the marketing director – to wit, that the kettle was NOT in need of replacement – and hence had not purchased a new kettle.

A short while ago, having seen the kettle back in service, I walked over to make myself a cup of tea. The lady from accounts (who had earlier been admonished by the HR manager) was stood by the kettle, conversing with a colleague (also from accounts) in hushed tones. As I picked up the kettle, I could feel two pairs of eyes burning into me.

“Wouldn’t touch that if I were you,” said one, quietly.

“We’ve been told by one of the directors,” whispered the other.

“It’s dangerous.”

“They’re too cheap to buy a new one.”

“They’re just waiting for one of us to get an electric shock. Then they’ll have to do something about it.”

TBM

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