Confessions of a benefits manager

Blogs confessions imageCandid: I come up with my own relaxation methods to retain my weekend serenity at work and help stave off a nervous breakdown by turning to meditation and turning conference rooms into chill-out-zones

 I devise my own relaxation methods to retain my weekend serenity at work and help stave off a nervous breakdown by turning to meditation and turning conference rooms into chill-out-zones

I’ve always thought of myself as pretty relaxed and easy going, but now I’m not so sure. You see, I’ve been reading this book called Chill at work. It’s one of those reads you pick up at the airport when your duty-free shopping is done and you’ve got nothing better to do. For a tiny little book, it’s made a big impact on me. Now that I have taken the quiz in the first chapter, I realise I am on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

Now, to some extent that is understandable, after all, I work for a company which treats employees rather like inventory: a commodity to be bought and sold at a whim, and certainly kept as low as possible. I also have in Big Bad Boss the manager from hell. He gives me about as much support as going braless in a baggy t-shirt. Some people get help and encouragement from their colleagues, but I only have Lazy Susan: a peer to fear. They say a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, well, Susan is positively lethal.

As suggested by the book, I have been keeping a journal to analyse peak stress zones, so I can work out when I begin to lose my cool, when I get a bit uptight, and what triggers a full-scale panic attack. I’m not sure what all this is supposed to tell me, other than it’s clear that I’m in the wrong job; panic attacks are pretty much part of the job description.

Scoring high on my stress-o-meter are team meetings. The problem is they happen first thing on a Monday morning. I’ve been away from the office all weekend, happy in my pursuit of hedonistic pleasures and a new pair of shoes, and before I’ve had a chance to get used to the idea of being back at work, I am required to talk intelligently about pensions. It’s a bit of a shock to the system, I can tell you.

The second problem is just Big Bad Boss. He doesn’t go for any preamble like asking if we had a nice weekend, or commenting on the weather. No, he gets straight to the point: do more work, and do it quickly. Lazy Susan is completely untroubled by any of this. Her main concern is whether or not somebody in last night’s soap opera is going to get off with that dodgy bloke who used to be in a boy band (like any of us care).

Most of what Big Bad Boss says goes over her head, and anyway she knows no one would dare give her anything too difficult to do. If we did, she would make such a hash of it, we’d have to take it back and re-do it. I know I keep knocking her, but I really envy Susan’s natural serenity. As it is, I am the only one in the team compelled to do any work, and I get very stressed by the mounting pile being dished out to me.

My Chill at work book gives handy tips to manage all this stress. I am supposed to get up from my desk every twenty minutes and do five minutes of yoga stretches. Yeah, right. Can you imagine what kind of looks I would get if I started doing downward-facing dog poses in the middle of the office? Bear in mind I’ve got ten IT guys within sight of my desk. The writer also suggests burning scented candles or incense to create a calmer atmosphere. Please. Has he ever worked in a real office? Does he really think anyone wafting incense about would get taken seriously ever again? Besides, it would very likely set off the fire alarm and drench the office.

Some things I have put into practice though. The book advocates taking breaks away from the desk to clear the mind. Lazy Susan, of course, has got this down to a fine art; her mind is pretty much clear from the minute she walks into the building. For my part, I need a bit more peace and quiet.

I have found an excellent solution: conference chill-out rooms. What I do is this: I book a conference room on another floor, and I ensconce myself in there with a nice cup of herbal tea, and a magazine disguised within a thick pensions report. It’s like a sort of mini spa. If anyone looks in, I start talking earnestly to the speakerphone about pensions, as if I am on a telephone conference. They soon go away. No one wants to hear about pensions for very long.

I’ve also been trying meditation. It’s a great way to get through boring meetings. You can meditate by focusing on anything: a spot on the wall, your breath, a word, and all sorts of things. I’m not very good at breathing meditation as concentrating on the air going in and out of my nose makes it tickle, and Lazy Susan keeps asking me if I have hay fever. Staring at a spot is a bit dodgy too, especially if you choose one on the sales director’s chin. He must have thought I was mesmerised by his (non-existent) good looks, because he has been leering at me in a most unpleasant way ever since.

My favourite meditation method is using a mantra. What you do is repeat any word or phrase in your head over and over again, until all other irritating thoughts recede. Just make sure you don’t get startled into saying it out loud, particularly, if like me, you’ve been silently chanting: “Big Bad Boss is a buffoon”. Maybe I should stick to something more innocuous next time. Om.

  • Next time…Candid negotiates a penalty clause.

Confessions of a benefits manager – July 2007