Productivity & Effectiveness

Looking for signs of life

By 11/10/2022 No Comments

His job was to check for signs of life, to merely observe the office space for anything that could signify a sign of life.

There didn’t even need to be a person at the desk to constitute a sign of life.

Signs such as coats, bottles, food – anything that signified life – that all counted.

Watch a short video about Leroy – continue reading below.

What has this great company come to?

Where once there was fun and laughter, now there is someone checking for life.

Believe it or not, this was a job. And it was the job that Leroy was paid to do.

For the first month he enjoyed it. He wandered the vast complex of corporate HQ, looking for signs of life. If he saw a sign of life he’d place a tick in the appropriate box on the map. If he saw no signs of life he’d place a cross.

At the end of every day he would answer a phone at 5pm in an old office. Has was expected to answer it within three rings. The voice on the end offered no pleasantries but merely asked a straight forward question; how many signs today?

Leroy would give his observations. 360. 400. 335. 478. Yada Yada Yada.

After a month though, he was starting to wonder whether this really was a job at all. Two months in and he started to fudge the numbers. He spent longer hiding from the security cameras than he did looking for signs of life.

He’d memorised the entire office HQ floorplan and security camera location. He was on autopilot. Some days he’d wake up rejuvenated and full of verve and he’d take his job seriously. Other days he contemplated the meaning of this role.

He didn’t even know why he was doing this. Nobody had explained what this activity was for. But he continued, day after day, looking for signs of life.

A can of coke on a desk, a sign of life.
A coat on a chair, a sign of life.
A laptop on a desk, a sign of life.
A pair of glasses on a desk, a sign of life.

As he wandered the HQ people would stop him and ask what he was doing. This inevitably led to the question of why he was doing this? He didn’t have a solid answer.

After a month of saying “just because”, he would make up stories to amuse himself. They became more outlandish as the months went past.

He told stories of anti-corruption, office close downs and redundancies. He spoke of government surveillance and anti-protest planning. He talked of alien invasions and Presidential visits. He led people to believe they were removing all the desks in a forthcoming experiment.

He had a lot of fun. That was until his latest story lead to mass rumours and panic – he’d told people that the office was being closed down. Panic set in. Escalations happened.

That evening, in the old office, the phone rang. Only this time Leroy was “let go”.

That was it for Leroy. Back to the job market. The rumours had become too much.

The following week Nimisha started looking for signs of life. And the cycle began again. No clear purpose. No Why. More rumours.

Leroy secured a job as an office manager for a company where there was already plenty of life and a clear purpose to his role.

Nimisha was, after a few months, let go.

Cultivated Management Pocket Reminder:

Avoid starting or taking part in rumours. Avoid saying something you will regret or have to say “sorry” for. These things have a way of coming back on you.

If you’re a manager – explain to people what their work is for and what it leads to – and why they are doing it. And if you don’t know yourself why work is being done, why are people doing it? Meaningless work drives people mad. Pointless work is a waste of a human life. Without meaning and purpose, people will find their own, and it might not be right.

And if you’re planning secret squirrel activities don’t be surprised if rumours do start – the best way to counter the rumours is to understand them, listen and provide clarity where you can. I always say there’s no such thing as a secret at work, rumours will happen and the truth will come out – it makes sense to be pre-emptive where you can.

And yes. This story is based on real life events.

Rob