Friday, 28 September 2012

A Day at the Office ~ When People Test You

Now, I’ve been fortunate. I’ve worked in a variety of environments. I’ve been a games tester; I’ve been in retail; I’ve worked with people from all walks of life – your standard geeks, your office jockeys and your speakers of other languages – and in very different areas – the suburbs, the city…etc. Now, I currently work in the ghetto – there’s no point sugar coating it; it is what it is - of which I’ve been working in for the past year. I’m an administrator and in my honest opinion, it’s not at all as rewarding as it once might have been – not since I completed my TESOL course anyway. TESOL introduced me to a new world and I’m desperate to get stuck in but at the same time, I owe my current place of work a great debt because no other place in their right mind would have granted me four weeks off to do a course. So for that I am very grateful.

But I have to be honest with myself as well. Because I remember stepping back into the office on that Wednesday morning and thinking to myself:

Why am I still here?
Because I’m reminded of the life that I was so desperately trying to leave behind. University was supposed to have helped me get into counselling, which was my original career choice, but after a scuffle with said choice and being told that I lacked empathy, I was pretty much at a loss. I was working in a coffee shop at the time and no longer found it enjoyable. I, therefore, considered that office work was the way forward, but the office I work in is far from ordinary and I’m pretty sure it’s because of the area.

You see, I work on the high street so anybody can walk in and out as they please and the people in this area definitely indulge the opportunity. While some people are relatively normal, others just make you want to tear your hair out, but in the interest of business and maintaining customer service, I have no choice but to endure. I am however, 90% certain that if I were working in the city, where business etiquette is bustling, I wouldn’t encounter even half of these people:


General Description: The timewaster is the person with nothing else better to do. For the most part, they are male, but I have encountered the odd female from time to time. They often have no purpose for being there other than to kill some time and bombard you with useless and sometimes senseless questions.

Example: A man came in asking about obtaining a National Insurance Number (NI). I’m pretty sure that the NI is local to the UK only, but I think it’s similar to a Social Security Number or a method of National Identification in general. Either way, the company I work for specialises in training but we are frequently mistaken for a job centre. As NI’s can only be obtained from job centres, I gave him the benefit of the doubt and tried to direct him to a job centre. He then went on to ask if we were a Citizen’s Advice Bureau because he’d had an accident on a construction site. I declined. He then went on to ask if we were a charity. I declined. He asked what we did here and I told him and then he reverted back to his question about the Citizen’s Advice Bureau. He danced in this circle for the better part of fifteen minutes to which I nearly lost my rag because I really wanted him to leave. Eventually, he did, but not before dragging a good slice of my patience with him.

Conclusion: These people are generally infuriating and have no real purpose but to get on your nerves. They are usually harmless nevertheless and if you demonstrate slight irritation, they usually get the message and leave. Don’t loose your top completely though. It’s not worth it.


General Description: The mouth is usually a previous enquirer or even a customer that feels the world owes them a bag of chips. More than that, however, they want the whole world to know about it and so usually they come into the office looking to start a fight.

Example: A colleague of mine dealt with a customer, who I’d initially spoken with, when I was away. She told me that this woman had brought her friend and would frequently make loud snide remarks as if she didn’t trust what she had been told on the previous occasion.

On a separate occasion, a man came in shouting the odds because he hadn’t received his Criminal Record disclosure in the post*. We tell all customers that it can take up to 8 weeks. As he needed his disclosure for something or other, he came in guns blazing even though he’d only completed his application with us a week before.

Further still, this happened to me again with a guy who had completed an application with us last year. He materialised several months later stating that he had yet to receive his disclosure – I always find these cases strange because if it was generally that important to him, he would have appeared sooner. Ultimately, however, his mouth was silenced when we discovered that his disclosure had been dispatched eons ago and that he needed to get onto the Criminal Record Bureau (CRB) or better still, his postman as to why he hadn’t received it.

Conclusion: These people are highly unpredictable and sometimes it’s really difficult not to lose your cool because these people might try to verbally attack you personally. A lot of the time, they’ll request to speak to the manager, but ultimately the easiest thing to do is to dissect the problem if it is a previous customer, and deal with it. If it’s a previous enquirer, I find myself trying to be smart with them. It’s probably bad for business, but if they role up with a bad attitude, would you genuinely even want their business?


General Description: These people are very easy to spot once you’ve been in the game for some time. They come into the office with an ulterior motive and it usually involves trying to get something for less than the price – or better still – for free. There are usually shady high jinks and red flags firing off around them, such as a fake passport. These people are always looking for handouts.

Example: I kid you not when I say I’ve seen a CRB application being completed where someone had to look at their own passport to write their signature.

On other excursions, people have actually come in to speak to my boss and ask for a reduced fee for certain courses. Additionally, as part of some courses, we also, give references for people who’ve trained with us and more often than not, ex-clients will ask us to lie for them. One woman wanted us to lie for her and state that she’d been working at a supervisory level. She’d already put it in her CV and submitted it, having assumed that we would lie for her. I really don’t know what she was thinking, but this was swiftly nipped in the bud.

On another occasion, a woman spent the entire day spilling her life story to my boss in order to get us to help her find work. We sent her for interviews which she failed and then she came back again for more help. Once again, our ties to her were swiftly eradicated.

I can always tell when this is happening nevertheless, because their tone is often hushed and my boss will frequently lose her temper and usher them from the office. I find it amusing sometimes because I’m a strong believer in karma. If you have to craft a serious lie to get somewhere, I’m sure it’ll bite you in the ass later on down the line.

Conclusion: It’s very rare that I deal with these people because they usually wish to speak to the manager, but I have had guy attempt to haggle with me. I’m quite no-nonsense about this nevertheless as I’ve never gotten anything for a “specially reduced price” in my life. If it’s thirty-five pounds, it’s thirty-five pounds! I’m not dropping anything to twenty just because someone’s supposedly skint and neither should you.


General Description: I have the unfortunate role of dealing with funding. What this means is that we have access to funding so that customers can do certain courses for free as long as they meet a certain criteria. Of course, when something is free, people jump on it like wild animals. Everyone wants a piece, but when it gets too hard or it takes too long, they lose interest and this is because to these people, the value of “free” is worth about as much as fertiliser. It’s like gold for growing props and saving the future, but all it really is, is just shit.

95% of Unreliables are female. Why? Because the courses offered attract more females than anyone else. Sometimes their even paying customers who, like the Mouth, feel like the world revives around them and will schedule to come in one day and then not show up. These people won’t even call to let us know what’s up so we’ve booked the room and set it up for them, and low and behold, no trainee.

The non-paying clients (or clients that have qualified for funded course are worse) however because they don’t seem to understand that coming to classes is important and that they’re being monitored by the funders who have so graciously released money so that they can do the course. Now I understand that it may not be possible to come to every class – emergencies and illness happens – but these people generally take the biscuit. They don’t do their assignments. They disappear. No manner of telephone calls, emails or text messages seem to get through to them and then they materialise several months down the line demanding to know why they haven’t been contacted.

Conclusion: If I had my own way, I would lock these people into a contract. Whenever I’ve done a course, I’ve had to sign something dictating my responsibilities as a student. TESOL demanded I attend 90% of the course or I fail. Unfortunately, I don’t have that kind of power and so I have to grin and bare it. What I do however, is keep a record of everything because if someone contacts me several months down the line, I regularly find myself telling them straight that there have been several attempts made to contact them, that they’ve missed classes (we keep attendance records) and that generally, it’s their own fault for not telling us they’d changed their contact details.


General Description: The name is as the name does. Randoms are the pinnacle of je ne sais quoi. Remember when I said that the Mouth was unpredictable? Well, Randoms are ten times worse because these people come in all shapes and sizes and while on occasion, you can spot one a mile off, others will appear to look relatively normal and these are the ones to watch.

Example: It isn’t uncommon to have someone come in off the street and ask for directions. Seems harmless enough, but when you’re in the middle of dealing with a customer and Mr. Random comes bounding in desperate to know where Northcote Road is, you start to question their sense of awareness because a) you’re not even paying for my time and b) you’re stepping in on someone who is. On a separate occasion, a man had a job interview and couldn’t find the location. My logic siren was roaring loudly at that point because I thought it was common knowledge that you research the hell out of a company before you head to an interview – address included.

I’ve had people come in and ask to borrow a pen. I’ve even had people come in asking to use the toilet despite the fact that there’s a Tesco not four blocks away from our office.

The kicker however, was the rather cheerful looking woman who came in one afternoon. She was dressed well and appeared to be seriously interested in dealing with us, until I realised that she had a rather overactive imagination and just would NOT stop talking. According to this woman, she’d been everywhere and done everything. In fact, she was so into herself that she didn’t even see me switch the forms she was filling out because there was no way in my right mind that I could have the company deal with this woman and she wasn’t in her right mind either.

Conclusion: Randoms are fairly harmless, although they might get a little antsy if you don’t submit to their whim straight away. Dependant on my mood or level of tolerance, I might indulge them, but if I feel that something isn’t right, I’m going to steer them clear of our services and point them elsewhere. You never know what to expect with these people and it really isn’t your job to be looking on Google Maps for directions when you’ve got actual work to be getting on with. An office isn’t a public toilet either.


General Description: This person is right up there with the Randoms, only he’s got to have his own special category and yes, he is always male. The office I work in is inundated with posters in the window meaning that it’s difficult to see inside the building from the outside. I, therefore, expect that when I’ve forgotten to turn the lights on in the morning, we’re gonna get the odd person peering in through the window to see if anyone’s about.

The Window Cleaner goes that extra mile, however, and will press his face into the glass and linger there. And he will just stare at you like a stalker in the night – breath on glass included – and sometimes, like today, he will move between posters with innate purpose. The consensus seems to be:

a) seek window
b) move into window
c) position face
d) stare
e) remove face from glass
f) repeat.

And I’ll admit, initially, it used to freak me out, but I realise that if you indulge them, they will continually try to get your attention. So:

Conclusion: Don’t freak out. These people may not be generally all there, but 9 times out of 10, they don’t come in. If they do come in, and it’s clear their not all there, fob them off. If you fear for your life, call the police.


So this is just some of the things I face when I’m at work. I’ll admit that some of these are extraordinary cases, but they’re more common than I would like and they all seem to be specific to this area I’m afraid. The rules of business just don’t seem to exist here and I feel that if any of this took place in the city – at any corporate bank or skyscraper – the culprit would be financially reprimanded or escorted off the premises. If only I was so lucky.

What I can say, however, is that this has definitely made me stronger. In all of my other jobs combined, I don’t think I’ve ever dealt with quite a variety of people before and each situation presented something different.

I feel like I’ve become a bit more perceptive and a bit more aware as well so if you ever encounter someone difficult and they make you wish they would die, when you’ve managed to calm yourself down, think about it.

You’ll definitely be prepared for it next time.

*We do CRB/police checks. Enquire within for details. =D

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