Confessions of a benefits manager: The invisible woman

A new team member has arrived to lighten Candid’s workload, but proves elusive, for an increasingly suspicious variety of reasons

We have a new member in the team, whose name is Scarlet. At least I think we have, because today she isn’t here. She was not here yesterday, either. And she hasn’t even called in. With a name like Scarlet, you would think she would be rather noticeable, but the only thing she is notable for, so far, is her absence. Was it just a figment of my imagination when the workforce planning department said they had an additional person who could help me? And since when did Creepy Caroline from that very department start getting so helpful and concerned about how busy I am? It is fishy – very fishy.

But it turns out I may be being too cynical, because our new team member finally calls to apologise. Scarlet, it seems, has had her house broken into, and has been too busy talking to the police and sorting things out to call in. Gosh, I feel terrible. It must be awful for her. All her jewellery was taken, and much more.

When Scarlet actually gets in, I spend some time showing her a spreadsheet I need sorting out. It is not very exciting work, but perhaps it will take her mind off her worries. A couple of hours later, she comes over and tells me she has to go early because she has a dentist appointment. Ah well, that’s how it is.

The next day, Scarlet calls in sick with a migraine. I find the spreadsheet on her PC and discover she hasn’t done anything with it at all. So much for extra resources. I consider giving it to Lazy Susan to finish, or perhaps I should say start, but I know better. It is very dangerous to give Lazy Susan any actual work. Not only does she make a complete mess of it, but it puts her in a bad mood for weeks. It is easier all round just to do it myself and leave Lazy Susan free to chat to her friends on the phone as usual.

Big Bad Boss

Big Bad Boss, assuming I have extra resources at my command, has been firing off action items like a machine gun. Yet the next day, Scarlet is still not here. The elusive Pimpernel has not called in, so I have to assume she still has a headache. I think I can feel one coming on myself.

In the following weeks, Scarlet, our very own invisible woman, makes it into the office only about every other day, and I decide I really should make a list of her excuses. In the brief time she has been ‘working’ for me, she has had: a burglary, a car accident, two deaths in the family, three doctor’s appointments, a dentist appointment, several migraines, a bad back and a sick cat. Either the woman is skiving, or her life is a complete disaster.

It would not be so bad, but Big Bad Boss keeps giving me extra work. I am beginning to feel I need to throw a sickie myself, just for a little rest. The annoying thing is, I would not get away with it. I would be greeted with suspicious looks, whereas everyone seems to feel sorry for Scarlet and her multiple misfortunes. And though it may seem out of character, I would actually feel too guilty to skive. The only time I ever pretended to be ill, I worked myself up into such a state to call in with a convincingly croaky voice that I spent the day in bed, really feeling terrible.

Dodgy area

When Scarlet calls in again, citing another break-in, this time to her car, I just have to say something. I ask her if she lives in a particularly dodgy area, but she says no, and sounds quite confused by the question. I mutter that she seems to have more than the average number of difficulties, but she still doesn’t seem to get it.

The next day, she struggles in for about half an hour before getting another migraine and going home. This is too much. The woman is a walking headache. No wonder the workforce planning people wanted rid of her. I think we should let Scarlet go from the company altogether, but I guess that is not as easy as it might seem. The company would have to prove she was at fault. Although I have made a list of absences, which now runs to two pages, I have not kept a proper record of all the dates, because I didn’t realise there was an issue to start with. And how would we ever prove it, anyway? Do we pay someone to follow her next time she goes to the vet? I might have to go to court and testify on the accuracy of my list. I am not sure I want all that headache either.

Still pondering the problem, I go into an HR team meeting and have to listen to those dreadful women in the staffing department going on and on about how wonderful they are and what wonderful projects they are working on next. Sometimes I just want to slap them. Well, always I just want to slap them. But then I have a better idea. Their new projects are going to be very time-consuming, aren’t they? And they must be much more important than the stuff I am working on. Perhaps they will need an extra resource? A fine, capable woman like Scarlet would be an asset to their team, I am sure. And, naturally, because it would be for the greater good, I am prepared to offer up her services and manage my own stuff without her. Just call me self-sacrificing.

Next time…Candid gets involved in the Christmas party.