Yorkshire Times
Weekend Edition
Kevin Wood
10:04 AM 3rd May 2024


“Bunch of idiots!”

“If they’d been any good at their jobs, we wouldn’t have to worry about ours!”

“Yeah, they screw up, and then cut our jobs to save theirs!”

As the employees of Bromson Software Services returned to their desks, they vented the usual frustrations of people faced with redundancy. They had done their jobs, hadn’t they? They had done everything that was asked of them and more - so why was the company entering a thirty day consultation period before making twenty people redundant across the company.

“Three from our area”, thought Jeff, “Who’s that going to be?”

The HR Director had been quite clear on the criteria for redundancy. First there would be anyone with a disciplinary measure against their name, then anyone with excessive sick leave. After the low hanging fruit were gone, it would be down to a “Skills Matrix”, to determine who would be the most useful staff “going forward to embrace the dynamic synergies of the restructured company, working smarter, not harder to fulfil the bold strategic road-map”.

“Even the management-speak is out-of-date”, commented Matt, as he dumped himself at his desk. He was someone who worried Jeff. He was good. Very good. The kind of person who could not only do their job well, but managed to catch the boss’ eye. Despite his eating habits, he’d be safe.

Unlike Jeff. Jeff just didn’t know if he’d make it or not. He did a decent job, he knew, but he never excelled. A good, steady worker was how he saw himself, but good and steady might not cut it.

Not when he had to worry about people like Neil. Neil embraced the “Agile development methodology” currently beloved of management. Everyone knew that the reason management liked “Agile” was because it gave them pretty graphs to look at. Everyone also knew – at least, the ones who did the work - the reality was it slowed things down. Still, Neil had the knack of accumulating “story points” in a way that covered his mediocre ability and made him a golden boy.

Then there was Mick, who had a way of explaining things in a way that fitted into management’s thick skulls, whether it was the right or not. More often not, in Jeff’s opinion.

The meeting had been scheduled for just before lunch, presumably so that people would spend lunchtime bitching instead of work time. Not one to be phased, Matt had his microwaved ready-meal in front of him. Always the same, a Tesco own-brand Beef Lasagne scoffed so fast it barely touched his mouth.

These were the people he was up against. The rest of the team were much like himself, he guessed.

He tried to focus his mind on his work – or at least look productive – but the whole prospect of redundancy made it difficult to handle static code analysis. His mind went back to what Jonathan from Dev-Ops had said.

“There are three ways we can use this consultation period to fight redundancy. We can show them alternative ways to save money. We can show that the company can’t operate with the reduced head count. Or we can demonstrate that it will cost them more money than they’ll save.”

“Sounds like you know a lot about it.”

“Been through it before, mate.”

“What happened?”

“Got made redundant.”

Somehow, he made it through to five o-clock, and headed down to the car park. He waved vaguely to Neil, who was getting into his old, worn out car. Why he didn’t get a new one was beyond Jeff. But he kept it going, paying out more for getting it through the MOT each year than it would cost for a loan on a new car. The MOT was coming up soon, and Neil had spent the afternoon worrying about how he’d sort that out if he was made redundant. The sound of a car door being slammed made Jeff look over. Neil was stomping away from his car.

“What’s up?”

“Car won’t start. Going to get the train.”

Mick looked over from where he was getting into his MOT-exempt Triumph Stag. Clearly not wanting to risk letting someone with oily hands spoil the pristine finish of his baby, Mick started it up and pulled away.

“Need a hand?” asked Jeff.

To be honest, he really didn’t want to help Neil out, but he felt that he should make the offer. To his relief, Neil replied, “Nah, it’s OK mate. I’ll get the train.”

After a restless night, Jeff got into work five minutes late. The last thing he’d wanted was to draw attention to himself, but he’d set off at the last minute, and the traffic had been against him all the way.

“You’d better check your e-mail,” said Matt as he walked into the office.

“Don’t tell me they’re calling another meeting.”

“Just read it, ok?”

Shrugging, Jeff turned his computer on and logged in.

There was an e-mail from Human Resource. The subject was “Neil Percival”. It did not look good.

He opened it.

“It is with deep regret that we must inform all employees that Neil Percival died last night as the result of falling beneath a train.”

There was more, something about informing people when the funeral arrangements were known, but Jeff didn’t bother reading it. He slumped back in his chair.

“I was there when it happened,” said Matt. “I was right behind him. Fell straight in front of the train. Guess he must have slipped or something.”

Matt kept talking, rattling on about how CCTV footage might show how it happened, but Jeff wasn’t listening.

“It’s an ill wind,” said Mick.

“What do you mean?” asked Jeff.

“Isn’t it obvious?”

Jeff shook his head.

“Yesterday, we were told that they want to cut our department’s headcount from twelve to nine. Three redundancies. Well, now there’s only eleven of us. That means two redundancies, not three.”

That night, Mick started up an anonymous web browser. He’d originally got it so he could surf for porn without being traced, but it was also pretty good for a certain kind of research. Within half an hour, he had the information he wanted. He headed over to a 24-hour Tesco a few miles away, and loaded up with ready-meals and two bottles of cheap, white wine.

The rest of the evening was spent with a hair dryer and ready-meal packs. By the end of the evening, he could open and reseal the film lid as if it had never been touched. Perfect.

The wine went down the sink, and the empty bottles were crushed in an old towel. That was the important part. If crushed too fine, the glass wouldn’t do enough damage. Too large, and even a greedy fool would know their food was contaminated. Experiments showed that the glass couldn’t be seen amidst the frosting of ice crystals on the béchamel sauce, and sank into the sauce when cooked. Perfect.

“Another day, another dollar,” thought Jeff in a dispirited fashion, as he trudged into the office, wondering how much longer he would be making this observation. An email from HR was requesting employees to volunteer for the employee consultation group. The original request hadn’t produced enough bodies, it seemed. He considered joining, to show that he was willing – perhaps it might be worth a few brownie points. But then, he just couldn’t be bothered. Besides, he reasoned, if they thought he had enough time to be on a consultation group, maybe they’d think he wasn’t busy enough with his real work. If he wasn’t busy, then he wouldn’t be needed. Plus he was back-logged in his work as it was, and the last thing he needed was to be behind.

The morning continued as it ever did. At 09:30, there was the daily “Stand-up” meeting, where they all had to say how they were doing on the current two-week “Agile sprint”, reporting if their progress was green (good), amber (dodgy) or red (bad). Then there was a technical meeting where people tried to get noticed as being good contributors to the project. It took longer than the allotted hour because everyone was trying to prove how indispensable their knowledge was. Finally, around elevenish he was able to get on with his real work for an hour before lunch. Perhaps if there were a few less meetings, people would get more work done and the company wouldn’t be in the mess that is currently was.

At lunchtime, he popped out to the nearby sandwich shop and bought himself a coronation chicken sandwich and two packets of crisps. Maybe he ought to start making his own sandwiches, save a bit of money – after all, that had to be a good idea at the moment, didn’t it? Yet he still took the sandwiches back to the office.

To his surprise, there was a commotion at Matt’s desk. People were clustering around, and he saw Jim, one of the first aiders, talking quietly to someone lying on the floor.

“Ambulance will be here in ten minutes,” someone called.

“Thanks,” said Jim. “Get down to reception and be ready to bring them straight here. The rest of you lot, get out. I don’t care where, but Matt doesn’t need you hanging around watching.”

“But what about our work?” objected someone.

“You’re not going to get any work done while this is going on, and if the boss don’t like it, that’s tough. I’ll explain to him how the whole health and safety thing is supposed to work.”

People filed out, and, for the want of anything better to do, hung around in the corridor.

“What happened?” ask Jeff.

“Dunno,” said Mick. “Matt just gobbled his lunch the way he always does, and then started puking blood.”

The next day, Mick had more information.

“Saw it on the news last night. Tesco have discovered a batch of beef lasagne contaminated with glass. Emergency recall, full refund, the works. Course, the way Matt gobbles his food, he never realised until it was too late.”

“Do we know how Matt is?”

“Not yet. Not really. But it’s likely he’ll be off sick for a while. You know what that means, don’t you?”


Mick sighed. “It’s one of the redundancy criteria, isn’t it? Anyone with excessive sick leave goes to the bottom of the pile. Matt will probably recover, but he won’t have a job to come back to.”


“And that means we’re down to ten. Only one person is going to be made redundant now.”

“That’s cold.”

“That’s reality. I’m an engineer. I deal with what works.”

Another trudge through morning meetings and work that he was finding increasingly difficult to be enthusiastic about brought Jeff to lunch. He wondered vaguely if he was depressed, but didn’t dare mention it to anyone. The last thing he needed now was to be signed off sick by the doctor. That would put him on the list with Neil and Matt.

He returned from the sandwich shop with a tuna mayo sandwich and two packets of crisps. He’d considered a corn beef sandwich, but right now beef wasn’t top of his list. Not after Matt’s beef lasagne. On his desk he saw a spanner. Quite a small one, with some fluid on it. Curious, he picked it up. Odd – it was an Imperial size, not metric.

His musings were interrupted as Mick’s fist hit the side of his jaw at high speed. He spun around from the impact and collapsed to the floor. Vaguely he was aware of people dragging Mick off him. He tried to say something, but his mouth didn’t seem to be working properly.

“Tried to kill me!” Mick was yelling. “My Stag’s wrecked, thousands of pounds of damage! He was just stood there, holding the spanner!”

The HR Director and the CEO watched as the police took Mick away, arrested for assault.

“Gross misconduct, automatic dismissal, and another redundancy payment saved.” said the HR Director with satisfaction.

“Yes, I really didn’t think they’d eliminate themselves so effectively.”

“There’s a reason why we do the psychometric tests before taking on new staff. It means we know which way they’ll jump.”

“We haven’t had auto-redundification in the other departments yet.”

“We will. They’ll soon realise that everyone who’s going from the software department has already gone, and then they’ll become thoughtful.”

“Within the thirty day consultation period?”

“Yes… yes, I should think so. It’s Darwin in action.”

The CEO nodded, thoughtfully. “Drink?” he asked.

“Yes, why not?”