Dear Dave

Wednesday 25 July 2007

Maternity madness

Dear Dave,

How's Liz getting on at work now her maternity leave is fast approaching? Sarah had some pretty strange treatment at LBO as her own waist-line expanded. By the time there was three months to go, she wasn't being given any work to do on the basis of her 'imminent' departure. All the good stuff went to one of her male colleagues. He spent about six months doing two-thirds of the analysis badly and then got another job and handed in his notice. He had so much holiday and flexi-time accumulated, he was gone two days later. Sarah ended up redoing the entire project from scratch in three weeks when she got back. It was insane.

Her manager, Steve, really didn't appreciate how much the enhanced maternity benefits and their tie-in clauses enforced her loyalty to LBO. From the moment she was pregnant until the day she had been back at work for a year after maternity leave, it was financial foolishness for her to change job. Of course, by the time she had been back a year, Marie's teething ensured we were all too tired for Sarah to go looking for anything else then either. Her incompetent male colleague, however, had meanwhile changed jobs twice more, doubled his salary and come back to LBO in order to oversee a monumental disaster in another department. (Remember that weekend last year when half the ATMs died, a few started spitting out cash and one in Stoke kept challenging passersby to a game of tic-tac-toe while threatening intercontinental thermonuclear war? His references didn't look so good after that. He's now head of business development in Ulan Bator).

Anyway, it was really Steve I was meaning to write about. The conspiracy centering around him is not entirely progressing according to plan. His wife, Deborah, isn't really succeeding in making him a better manager; I'm not really succeeding in making him a better dad. We're both just trying to hold up our end of the bargain in whatever way we can.

I keep inviting him and his kids to the park and such-like so Deborah has some space to work on her interior design business but somehow I always end up doing nearly all the child-care while he has a conference call on his mobile or re-organises his schedule on his PDA in order to fit in an extra round of golf.

Deborah keeps trying to persuade him to run his department better but her suggestions aren't sinking in. He arranged a discussion on transparent decision-making but then changed the time and location and wouldn't say why. He sent out a memo encouraging openness in communication but only to half the department. He was sympathetic to the concept of treating those who worked for him as human beings but just couldn't create a suitable spreadsheet in order to facilitate the process.


The upshot is that, most of the time, Deborah simply tells Sarah when that extra round of golf is going to be. Sarah then knows when she can organise her team without interference. Anything which needs clearance is passed back to Deborah, who slips it to Steve and convinces him it's his own idea. Thus, when he suggests it to Sarah and it's already done, she looks scarily efficient rather than like a treacherous usurper.

Obviously, this isn't ideal. Basically, everyone is taking up the slack for him. In the short-term this is making all our lives easier but it's going to be hard to maintain. We really need him to get a clue and I've no idea how that's going to happen. I'm kind of hoping he'll suddenly have some revelation of his own uselessness and come begging to us all for forgiveness. Like St Paul on the road to Damascus, he will be blinded by the light and his foolishness will be swept away. In a single moment of realisation, all our problems will be gone.

More likely, one of us just needs to sit him down and tell him straight that he's an idiot. It should probably be Deborah but that's not really in her nature. He has too much power over Sarah for her to do it and I'm not good with conflict...

Any chance you could make it up here for the day? I'm sure we could arrange for the two of you to get trapped in a lift together or something...

Hmmm... Thought not.

You wouldn't get here in time to save me from Thursday anyway. That's when I'm going with him and his friends to the soft-play. I haven't dreaded anything so much since Scary Karen persuaded me to invigilate the sponsored breastfeed she and her mates held to raise money for Children in Need. (With hindsight, I guess I was naive to think she'd mentioned what we were up to when applying for tickets to the public gallery at the Scottish Parliament. It was almost worth it, though, just to see the astonished looks on the faces of the armed response team... Also, thanks to a bus load of tourists with cameras I'm apparently now a cult hero in Japan).

I'll let you know how it goes in my next letter.

Yours in a woman's world,


PS Due to some technical difficulties, I'm going to be using pay-as-you-go dial-up for the next couple of weeks. This is somewhat akin to writing using an old-fashioned typewriter immersed in treacle, the keyboard of which is illuminated solely by the flames from a stack of burning money. Bear with me.

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