My Week: Smile, Diane, I didn't mean what I said: How Geoffrey Whiteman had to make a clean breast of his mistake to Personnel

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The Independent Online
Monday: I am the manager of a small administration section in a large, enlightened public sector organisation. On arrival, I am struck by the air of gloom and despondency. Is it that Monday morning feeling, or something else? It is part of a manager's job to lift people's spirits in these circumstances, but a succession of crises during the day prevents me from giving any thought to the matter until the evening (a manager's responsibilities are always with him). I resolve that if the problem still exists I will deal with it tomorrow.

Tuesday: The problem does still exist. On inquiring further, I learn that the root cause, as usual, is Diane (family motto: O me miserum). The morning passes in a blur of time-wasting telephone calls, but after lunch I endeavour to restore morale by means of witty remarks and carefully chosen jokes. Some of the other staff respond with polite laughter, but Diane remains downcast as ever.

In the evening I read in a newspaper that this is National Smile Week. The tone of the article is rather toothist, but it does provide me with an idea for tackling the Diane situation.

Wednesday: During the afternoon I ask Diane if she knows what special week it is. Her blank expression indicates that she does not. Without referring to it specifically, I prompt her by mention of National Arthritis Week and other good causes, and eventually something approaching comprehension spreads across her face, rather like a tin of syrup dropped on a supermarket floor. I lean over her gently and whisper conspiratorially: 'I wouldn't mind having a look at yours now and again.'

To my surprise she reacts angrily, and storms off. I am later told that she has 'gone down to Personnel'. I make another witty remark but it falls strangely flat.

Thursday: No sign of Diane, but I am greeted by a mixture of indignation, suppressed sniggers, and minimal eye contact. A terse note on my desk instructs me to report to the Personnel Executive immediately, who promptly accuses me of sexually harassing a member of my staff. As I protest my innocence, he informs me that this is in fact National Breast Feeding Week, and invites me to repeat my last words to Diane. I attempt to explain, but he gives it as his opinion that I do not handle my staff at all well. In view of his accusation, I am at pains to point out that I do not 'handle' them at all.

Friday: I often wish that I were a centre lathe operator. It's the sort of job people write songs about ('Let the Great Big World Keep Turning'), and you don't have to get involved in staff problems. A tense and difficult interview takes place with the Chief Executive.

Fortunately he is familiar with National Smile Week but has obviously decided not to participate. He warns me against a recurrence of my outrageous conduct and tells me Diane is being transferred to another section. Problem solved, but at considerable personal expense.

Saturday: I am the enlightened manager of a somewhat smaller administration section in a large public sector organisation. The day is spent at home, trying to catch up with all the work I should have been doing while I was having jolly chats with Diane and senior management. The unemployed man next door tells my wife that I am lucky to have a job. If only he knew how true that was.

Sunday: The vicar, in his sermon, suggests that National Smile Week should become international and last forever. He makes no mention of breast feeding. His idea is a good one, I suppose, but a lot more complicated to implement than he realises.

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