Confessions of a benefits manager: Candid rues poor technology

This is it. I have had enough. I cannot work with this fat, grumbling lump of uselessness any more. No, I don’t mean my colleague Lazy Susan, at least not this time. I mean my laptop.

Let me tell you what is wrong with it. The battery no longer holds a charge for more than 30 seconds, so, in a meeting room, I have to sit wherever my power cable will reach, even if that is in a corner on my own. My laptop, a computing antique, is as thick as a brick and as heavy as three. Worst of all, it takes half an hour (half an hour!) to power up these days.

I bring the subject up in my next one-to-one with Big Bad Boss. As usual, he is loath to add any cost to our budget that would eat into his corporate lunches account, so he sends me off to talk to the boys in IT to see if they can fix it. I am annoyed because he has just convinced someone he needs a company tablet for demonstrations. Demonstrations? The only thing he demonstrates is a bad temper. If we were to demonstrate any of our online tools, I’d have to do it anyway. On my ancient laptop. Grr.

I have to have a stiff coffee before venturing upstairs, because going to IT is like walking onto the set of the Muppets. Our IT people are either extraordinarily skinny, or very hairy and fat. They wear special T-shirts, which smell faintly of musty water and rather more strongly of underarms. If you could still read the text, you might be surprised to note that all T-shirts sport pithy comments about various science fiction characters, to whom the wearer bears an alarming resemblance. I guess it is a sort of unofficial uniform. Despite their wizened, hobbit-like features, the guys all look about 12.

There is one quite cute guy, though. He has dark hair in a sort of Clark Kent quiff, and piercing blue eyes. His T-shirt is clean and refers to the sex life of a superhero. I go straight up to him and ask for a new laptop. Despite the fact he is sat behind teetering piles of new shiny laptops, he says they are not allowed give out new ones until the old one is, er, finished.

Symptoms of its demise

That’s OK, mine is finished, I assure him, and I describe the symptoms of its demise. He purses his lips rather cutely, and pushes his heavy glasses higher up his nose. Inexplicably, I want to ruffle his hair. He says he will see what he can do. I explain about the battery and, quick as a flash, he finds a replacement battery in a drawer and inserts it. I explain about the booting up time. He says he will run some diagnostics and get back to me.

It is nearly lunchtime, and there is not much I can do without a computer, so I head off to the high street for some coffee and sushi. After a nice relaxing lunch, I venture upstairs to find a beaming Clark Kent. He tells me, rather proudly, that the machine now boots up in just under five minutes. Yippee. Five minutes is still interminable to someone who has a Macbook at home.

I give him my best smile, explaining that I can’t go on carrying that brick around; I am getting a bad back. He is very sorry, and he really looks like he is, as he repeats that they are not allowed to give out a new one until the old one is completely, er, finished. However, he says, looking me meaningfully in the eye, if I were to drop it on the bottom edge, just where he is pointing, that would probably be the end of it.

I don’t really understand. If he wants to help me, he could just do something technical to render it useless and be done with it. Why not just scupper the damn thing and give me a new one? Why give me hints on how to do it? I have to assume this is some sort of fair-play gaming approach to corporate rules. If it is actually broken when he gets it, however deliberately, that’s OK. Such scruples are simply not found in HR. I take the laptop back disappointedly.

Drop it several times

That evening, I make sure everything important is copied to the shared drive, and put all my private stuff onto a flash drive. Then I take the laptop home and drop it several times on my concrete back step, aiming carefully for the spot Clark had pointed out. After that, the laptop won’t even power on. Brilliant.

Back at work, Clark hands me a shiny new ultra-slim ultra-light laptop, happily declaring that accidents will happen.

Mind you, we do find ways to bend the rules in HR. I have been known to tip off a manager on how to redistribute his merit budget so as to reward his favourites and still not go over the limit. Big Bad Boss is a master of recharging costs to other departments to avoid cost centre overspending.

Lazy Susan has broken new ground in avoiding work, to the point that people don’t even expect it from her any more. And Creepy Caroline is queen of taking credit for other people’s work. But these nasty little cheats seem coarse and demeaning compared to the lofty Tolkien ideals upheld by my new friend in IT. How refreshing.

Could one tempt a superhero to a thank-you lunch, I wonder? I have a horrible feeling he would just say: ”Thank you, ma’am, but that it what we are here for”, and fly off into the distance. Sigh.

Next time…Candid reviews flexible working.