Secret Agent: 'Our manager has a new mantra – we need to strategise, not catastrophise'

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The Independent Online

With the dawn of a new quarter in the estate-agency calendar comes the inevitable post-mortem of the last one. This involves something akin to an A level maths paper, with pages of statistics, percentages and league tables, followed by a fascinating analysis that rivals the shipping forecast.

The only highlight is a photo of the demonically grinning negotiator-of-the-month who thinks it terribly cool to have "won" a week's loan of a Porsche, until he crashes it and finds that the insurance excess is twice his monthly salary. But this time round, things were a little different.

"You'll notice no prizes have been awarded," my manager said; then, looking at us in a way that was clearly supposed to be mysterious, he added the word "yet".

Justin and Gavin pricked up their ears, chins glistening with Pavlovian drool. "What do we have to do, boss?" Justin asked, so eager that I hoped the task involved jumping off a very high building.

Head office, keen as ever to put poor sales figures down to poor staff, wanted us to re-evaluate the way we work. Our manager even had a new mantra. "You need to strategise – not catastrophise! We want minimum inadequacy, maximum productivity!"

I assumed that everyone would dismiss this as twaddle, and was taken aback when the office reduced itself to a crowd of cheerleaders. "We need more viewings – more viewings!" Justin chanted. "We need more properties!" Kelly shouted, shaking her chest. "We need more... keys!" was Gavin's useful contribution.

There's nothing that makes one feel less enthusiastic about one's job than being surrounded by people who think it's such fun. "I think," I interrupted, with the joie de vivre of Eeyore, "we'd be more efficient by closing the office during the afternoon." A gasp punctured the air. "Let's face it," I continued, "anyone likely to buy a property isn't fannying around in the day: they're at work earning the cash to pay for it."

I didn't expect to be taken seriously, and wasn't prepared for my manager peering at me as if I might be Einstein. "You could be on to something!" he exclaimed. "Let me pass this by HO."

Thrilled at the sudden prospect of free afternoons, I started planning whether I'd use the time to learn a foreign language or enrol on a property-developing course. Before long, I'd be speaking fluent Italian, sipping prosecco with my guests on a veranda in my self-built villa in Tuscany. "HO is willing to trial the idea," my manager announced the following day. I beamed, barely able to contain my excitement.

"As long as we reopen from 5pm till 10pm." So much for a new life. Or any life, for that matter.