by CareerActually contributor, Peter Luscombe


Part 4 of the five-part series. 

‘People Skills! Indeed!’ Jan’s indignation resounded through her mind. She took the Gamut file from its appropriately positioned tray and opened it squarely on her desk to begin reviewing. ‘I give others help! I’m more than willing to give advice!’ Jan flipped over the first page without really reading. ‘I know I’m a team player.’ Jan flipped another page over. ‘The ingratitude! The show of ambition!’ Jan flipped another page over. ‘Damn! Damn! Damn!’ Another page flipped over.

Recognizing that she had flipped pages without due attention, Jan decided to go for a coffee. She neatly stacked the pages in their folder, placed it in the appropriate tray, looked to see if there was anything else which needed neatening, and finding nothing out of order, Jan rose and walked to the office’s communal space. Unaware that her heels tapped her progress, Jan self-absorbedly progressed.

‘Did you see the Dragon’s face after her interview with Murdoch?’ Jan first heard. She hung back from entering the communal space where tea and coffee was made, and in her books, needless gossip exchanged.

‘Was that Mark speaking?’ she wondered as she tried her best to pin the voice.

‘Ha! I did! That woman must buy heels to resound. You can’t but hear her passage. I reckon she tests them out in the store before buying. I wonder what Murdoch had to say to purse her mouth like a persimmon?’ Simon opined. Jan all too well recognized Simon’s voice.

‘Like a persimmon? Indeed! Go on, Simple Simon!’

‘Well, it would have been about her Review, right? She’s all proficient like a machine so no doubt Murdoch noted that. Gawd, but that woman gives me the chills with the way she looks at you. Poor Geoff does his best but frankly he’s right put off by her. Even good-hearted Sophie is intimidated by her. She’s aptly known around the coffee as the Dragon …’

Feeling shocked by the revelation, Jan decided against coffee. Before she heard any more vile criticism, she walked away to the Ladies’ room. Looking at herself in the mirror, Jan saw a crease in her brows and a slightly haunted look in her eyes. ‘Dragon!? How dare they judge me! I always suspected Simon was small minded; petty. I do my job well! Mr Murdoch declared my work as exemplary. Who am I to make-up for the inadequacies of others? Really!’

Jan smoothed the crease in her brow with a finger; gently rubbing away what felt like the first twinge of a headache. A slight qualm crossed her mind: ‘People Skills?’ Jan quashed that thought. Not for her fruitless self-examination. Recognizing in surprise that she’d taken refuge in the Ladies’ room which was out of character, Jan smoothed her hair, assured herself that she was well-presented, noted a slight crease in her jacket which had previously been immaculate and sharp, then made her way to her work station.

Resolutely, Jan proceeded through file after file. Her work PC quietly hummed away to herself, her stack of files were efficiently diminished and filed according to her system, and that first sign of a headache had abated. Jan  heard the tone signalling the arrival of a new e-mail. With satisfaction she noted it was from ‘Your Plants.’ She read the message first in surprise then amusement. Four brusque words – New plants – Thursday.  ‘Really! No apology. No word accepting responsibility,’ Ms Worthington thought in criticism. ‘So much for customer service!’ She ticked that To-Do off in her mind as she wondered about the vulgarity of some businesses.

‘Damn!’ Ms Worthington thought, as she surveyed the offending piece of paper. ‘I’ll have to ask Geoff about this. How inconvenient.’ Unexpectedly, she felt a wave of tiredness; a bit dragged down. Shrugging this off she stood, smooth down her shirt, brushed a piece of lint from her jacket, picked up the relevant, single sheet, then advanced to Geoff’s work station. Thankfully, Sophie, Simon’s and Brad’s work stations were each vacant. No one to note her tapped progression.

‘Geoff? May I have a moment?’

Geoff had already heard Jan’s approach and was half turned in his chair. ‘Ummm … surely, Ms Worthington. How … how can I assist?’ As usual, Geoff struggled to meet Ms Worthington’s steely gaze. He’d wondered in the past if she even realized how forbidding she looked, or if it was like some ‘armour’ people wear to ward off ‘attackers’; unconsciously donned each work day; not even thought about.

Jan placed the sheet firmly and squarely on Geoff’s desk. Geoff turned to look as she remained standing, navy blue business suited, tapped a finger against one line of text. ‘Here! The Reference No is missing.’ Her straight index finger travelled down. ‘Here!’ She continued in a clipped voice. ‘I would have expected an out-lay of costs incurred in greater detail.’ Geoff cringed inside. He knew he’d included such separately, however, felt no gumption to say anything; words deserted him as usual. Having tapped her finger against this short-coming, Ms Worthington’s finger continued on in its progress down the page. ‘As for this? Did you not read Mr Murdoch’s memo about the need to list all past records for easy reference?’ Geoff cringed inside again. He had read and noted the memo. He even stuck them up on his noticeboard. That particular memo was pinned plainly in Geoff’s sight just beyond Ms Worthington’s looming figure. Again he’d included such separately. Geoff remained speechless.

People skills …

Ms Worthington filled the gap in dialogue, ‘I know you do your best, Geoff.’ She gave him a slight smile, just the usual quirk of her lips, which Geoff saw as one of her wintery smiles.

‘Yes, Ms Worthington. I work hard. I want to do better. I appreciate your advice.’

‘Exactly. I give advice to simply help.’ Another wintery smile. ‘I’m certain you can sort this out and have it on my desk by the end of the day.’

‘Yes, Ms Worthington.’

Feeling she’d accredited herself well, Jan advanced along the office to her work station.

Opening the relevant work file again, she placed the offending paper in place then proceeded to read the others beneath.

Shock! Disorientation!

Beneath lay all set out according to expectations.  Jan Worthington flipped over the first page of the expected costing, then the next which was a summary of business transactions to-date. Her face flushed. The next page was a list of referencing as set out according to Mr Murdoch’s latest memo. It was all there!  Jan Worthington felt the disorientation of humiliation. She’d upbraided Geoff for not doing the best job when all the while he had.

Jan turned back to the first page, expecting that what she’d read wasn’t the case. Flip! She ran a manicured finger down the page. Flip. Again. Onwards … running her finger down. It was all there! Flip of a page. The Reference No wasn’t where she’d expect, however, even that was there! Jan Worthington sat wondering.

On any other day Jan Worthington would have dismissed the incident as an honest mistake. Anyone could make an error of judgement. ‘To err is human,’ she thought to herself. Today though, today that didn’t sit so well with her. The incident with Geoff ran through her mind. ‘Why hadn’t he said something? Why not speak up?’ Baffled at first, it slowing dawned on her that she hadn’t given much opportunity. Indeed, she uncomfortably realized her tone had been somewhat clipped and brusque. With her heart racing and a sour feeling in her mouth, Jan Worthington realized that she had been dismissive. The statement: ‘I give advice to simply help,’ now struck her as ironic.

Jan Worthington felt she was trying to stand on shifting sand. Her world, her view of herself, felt shaky, then snapped into clarity. ‘Damn! Damn! Damn! It’s true! I can be a dragon.’ She cringed inside, however, not one to dodge the harshness of reality, she let the realization sink in. Suspended in the moment, all the ways she could be draconian swept through her mind. Small ways and big ways amassed as clear evidence that she had indeed earned the sobriquet. She felt like crying … felt a need to talk to someone … felt a wish to get from under this damning realization … however, mostly she felt trapped. ‘Entrapment of my own making,’ she bitterly thought, as she knew there was no one at the office she could talk to. No one to share with this moment of self-doubt, despair and acrid self-appraisal. Jan Worthington felt a desolate moment of aloneness.

Her day lay in ruins.



Look out for the final part of the Story of Ms Jan Worthington, to be published on Wednesday March 25.