The Temp

Carol is nice to everyone. She doesn't wear power suits, doesn't pass the buck, says thank you. In other words, she is the ideal boss. Except for one thing: she makes your hackles rise

Carol heads across the room, like a ship in full floral sail. She has a file in her hand, and I know she's going to ask me to do something. This is fine, because doing something is what I am paid for. Carol bobs and weaves among the shirt-sleeved men, smiling at everyone. She gets within gesticulating distance of me, and the smile spreads further: a broad mix of sympathy and all-girls-togetherness. I smile back.

She reaches my desk and says "Hi". Hi, in Carol-speak, is a three-syllable word, played out on two notes: "Ha-aaah-ay". "Hello," I say. "How are you today?" says Carol. "I'm fine, thanks. How are you?" "Very well," she sparkles, "Verr-y well indeed. Up to my eyes in it, as usual". "Oh, poor you." She puts her head on one side, comes closer, sweeps her summer hemline round my dustbin, smiles again. "I was wondering," she says, "if you could do something for me?" "Sure, Carol. That's what I'm here for".

Carol looks thrilled. "Oh, thank you. It's not huge. Well, it is, actually, but if you could possibly..."

I reach out for the file. "Let's see what it is". "Ooh," says Carol again, "Thank you sooo much". The file contains a bunch of letters, one page each, standard except for a couple of sentences. "It's a lot, I know," she says. I glance them over. "No, it's fine. I can get those done in about half an hour. As long as the printer's not playing up." "Half an hour?" says Carol, steps backward, rolls her eyes with joy. "Are you sure? You're amazing. Are you sure you don't mind?" "Yes. I'll bring them over to you." "Thank you," she says. "Thanks a million." "That's okay." She begins to retreat. "Thanks." "You're welcome." "Thank you." I keep smiling until she finally turns her back, then hit the keyboard.

Carol is nice to everyone. She doesn't wear power suits, doesn't make people go on massive drinking sessions if they want promotion. She says please, praises work well done, doesn't pass bucks, gives people credit for their ideas, never asks them to do more work than she is doing herself, listens, says thank you. She has never asked any of her juniors to sort out family gifts, never imposes fad-led ideas such as no-gos on personal phone calls.

Carol, in other words, is an ideal boss. Except for one thing: she makes your hackles rise. All that nicey-nicey are you sure there's nothing you'd like to talk to me about, gosh you look nice today Sandra, puce really suits you, caringness that makes your skin crawl. There is something slightly sweaty about Carol, something that makes you think she tortures puppies in her executive flat of an evening.

It's not just me. As she walks through her domain - Carol is a successful woman and has 23 people working under her - you see people cringe closer to their desks. They all seem to have difficulty meeting her eye, conduct conversations with their gaze fixed firmly on their screens, avoid those accidental touches that are an accepted part of a normal office. And Carol is obviously aware of this, tries to compensate. The more her employees shun her, the nicer she gets, and the nicer she gets, the more intrusive she gets. It's like watching that fat kid at school that everyone bullied, who carried on believing they could make it all better by liberal dissemination of their sweet ration.

The letters, it turns out, take less time than I'd predicted, as all the addresses are in the database. I knock them off in 20 minutes, sneak off to the loo. When I get back, Carol is hovering behind the potted plants, leaping out when I return to my seat. "Ha-aaah-ay", she says. "I was wondering if you might have had a chance to do those letters yet?" "Yes. I was just about to bring them over." "You've done them? Already? I don't know how you do it! Thank you!" Carol takes the file from my hand and sails back across the room, beaming. I shiver and go back to checking the gross of green pens my predecessor has left in her top drawer to see if any of them work

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Urgent Requirement - Central Manchester

£20000 - £23000 per annum + 20 days holidays & pension: Ashdown Group: Marketi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Guru Careers: Social Media Executive / SEO Executive

£20 - 25K + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Social Media...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions