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

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