101. What We Love About This Company

WE SHUFFLED INTO THE board room, which had been cleared of all furniture except for a circle of orange plastic bucket seats in the middle. A man in an ill-fitting polyester suit stood next to an overhead projector, fiddling with a transparency that projected the words, 'What we love about this company' onto a whiteboard - the human development consultant. Once we were seated he made us write our names on cards we pinned to our chests. He told us we shouldn't treat today as a day off, that it was a staff development day that the company had committed to at considerable expense for our own benefit. He asked us to take off our shoes, and told the men they could loosen their ties, which all of them did except for Ian, our manager, who probably wore ties on the weekend. Then, in a clockwise direction, each of us had to say in a voice loud enough to be heard by everybody what they loved about this company. I think Stephanie went first. She mumbled a few platitudes that earned an approving smile from the human development consultant, who turned to Aziz next. Aziz mumbled some more platitudes. Chris was third cab off the rank, by which the most obvious platitudes had been already taken by Stephanie and Aziz, so Chris said, What Stephanie and Aziz said, which was repeated by the next two speakers, to the point that the human development consultant began prodding us for original contributions. Come on, he said, is that the best you can do? Surely there must be something you love about this company that someone hasn't mentioned yet. Then he looked at George. George ummed and ahhed before replying, in his deep, slow mumble, Well, it’ll probably sound corny but what I love the most about this company is that they care about our problems, at least our work problems, and when we have a problem we can bring it up with management and they’ll listen and try to come up with a solution. I could feel myself begin to blush, and the atmosphere was suddenly prickly, as everybody other than the human development consultant knew exactly what he was referring to. But the human development consultant then asked him to be more specific, What kind of problems?, he asked, and George replied, Well, recently a sexual harrassment complaint was made against me, and the company investigated it and found that I'd done nothing wrong, that if anything it was the plaintiff who was in the wrong, and my reputation had been dragged in the mud for no good reason, and the company was really positive about it. And then he looked at me. He looked directly at me and everybody in the room saw him look directly at me and everybody in the room looked at me and everybody in the room saw me look down at the carpet, blushing crimson, and you could hear throats being cleared nervously and chairs scraping on the floor, and time seemed to stand still until Will, kind-hearted Will, unprompted by the human development consultant, said, all in a rush, What-I-love-about-this-company is that…, except I didn’t hear what he said, because my mind was racing and my heart was thumping and I couldn't concentrate on anything. Once Will had finished, I was the only staff member in the room who hadn't spoken. The human development consultant must have twigged, because there was a trace of nervous hesitation in his voice when he called out my name. What about you, Juanita, what do you love about this company? I tried to speak but the words wouldn’t come out. I stuttered incoherently for a few seconds, or minutes, I could hardly tell as time had ceased to exist, and then my mind simply froze, and I sat there clasping the armrests with my mouth opening and closing silently until I could stand it no longer. I rushed out of the room and to the women’s toilet, and locked myself in a cubicle to cry - barefoot, of course, as I'd left my shoes under my bucket seat in the board room.