Table of Contents



Pains—a catalyst for change
Who would have believed it? Pains on Trains was a great success, a bestseller and of course a great read. But wait a minute, there’s more to this Pain-Spotting business than meets the eye. It has actually changed the way we commute. No sooner had the Broadsheet been exposed than the quality newspaper publishers started to ditch their broadsheet formats in favour of tabloids. First the Independent, then The Times. There’s only three left – the Guardian, the Financial Times and the Telegraph, but I am sure it won’t be long before they succumb to the power of Pains. Then a student at Chichester University, Hannah Watts, decided to base her dissertation on my book and staged a play in a mocked-up tube carriage. All your favourites were there, the Pervert, the Broadsheet, the Sleeper and the Traveller. I have also heard of avid Pain Spotters identifying and ticking off the Pains as they journey to and from work.
The phenomenon of Pains is changing the way we think and they way we behave. So it’s time to turn our attention to the next environment which needs some drastic surgery – work. Pains in the Office will explore the dark side of the work environment and expose many of your colleagues who have been put on earth to upset, depress and annoy you. It’s the perfect antidote to nightmarish co-workers everywhere!

Like any book, there are always people who provide invaluable input. I would like to highlight a small number of these observant ladies and gentlemen. James McColl, Martin Luther, Linda Latham, Elton Mayo, Andy Smith, Frederick Taylor, Nick Birks, Alistair Kett, Eric Cornish, Godert Van Der Poel, Sarah Tripp, Donna Peters and the host of people who would rather remain nameless. I would also like to thank Dan Wilson, the new illustrator who has made a fantastic job of injecting some additional and, at times, much needed humour; John Moseley, my editor at Capstone who helped to lighten the entries and of course Sally, who added her usual vital input. Boy, is she glad she doesn’t have to work anymore.

The Joy of work
“My father taught me to work; he did not teach me to love it.”
– Abraham Lincoln
I wonder just how many of us, given half a chance, would work. And by work I mean the standard scrape yourself out of bed on a Monday morning sort of work, not the vocational sort of stuff which really excites some, but by no means all. From the straw poll of the 2,872 workers I took whilst writing this book, it would be very few indeed. In fact, a paltry 14. The majority of us are economic refugees washed up on the shores of some unsuspecting company. Of course we all delude ourselves that the jobs we have are very interesting, immensely satisfying and are things that we had always wanted to do. In reality our current employers were probably the only people to offer us work. And we needed the cash… Such working lives fall way short of fulfilment, irrespective of what the management theorists might have us believe. This lack of fulfilment is reflected in the increasing trend within the working population to downshift in order to get a more satisfying life. One in four people over the age of 30 has voluntarily taken a job with lower pay because they want an easier life in exchange for a drop in income of around 40 per cent. Another survey of the over-forties found that 65 per cent felt they were in the wrong job. And, finally, a survey which investigated how happy people were at work found that, for the most part, very few of us were extremely happy in our jobs. And it seems the more swanky the job (accountants, architects, pharmacists and IT experts), the lower the happiness. The converse was true, with hairdressers being far happier. Interestingly only 4 per cent of estate agents were extremely happy in their work (they probably deserve it though, don’t they, after all they don’t make us particularly happy either). Such surveys suggest that many of us have had enough of the testosterone-fuelled workplace where we are treated worse than slaves. We would rather be digging up rotten potatoes and eating stale bread. Another fascinating trend is the high-powered executive giving it all up to become a teacher. Apparently these people want to give something back to society. If only the toerags on the receiving end were a bit more appreciative…
I occasionally muse on why all the fat cat and celebrity CEOs, who are extraordinarily wealthy, continue to work. Out of the entire working population, these are the lucky few; they have the opportunity to give it all up and pursue an amazing portfolio of other interests. But they don’t. All I can imagine is that they are scared of growing old, losing the only source of self-worth they have and having nothing to look forward to but infirmity and incontinence pants. But the thing I find most odd are those lottery winners who proclaim that winning two million quid will make no difference to their life and that they will be turning up to work next Monday. Just who are they kidding? Having won that sort of money, no one will want to talk to them anyway, so they would be better off at home watching daytime TV and thinking how to occupy their incredibly small and unimaginative minds.
Of course, work is a necessity and one which the majority of us must endure for 30-40 years if only to keep the roofs over our heads, feed and clothe our families and put what little aside we can to survive old age. But why has the workplace become such a nightmare? And why do so many of our workmates drive us round the twist?


I have three theories about work which shed some light on why there are so many Pains in the work setting. The first is the work is war theory, the second is the survival of the fittest (in essence, Darwinism) and the third is workstrology or star signs in the workplace. Of course, it is the third that people find the most interesting; everyone wants to believe that somehow their destiny is all mapped out by the stars and the fact that their boss is treating them like excrement is down to the fact that they are a Virgo and their boss a Taurus. Try telling that to a toilet attendant who has just slipped in some diarrhoea. Then, maybe, the diarrhoea is a Capricorn. Let’s explore these three theories in a little more detail.


There can be no doubt that the collective experience of the Second World War had a profound effect on everyone touched by it. Irrespective of whether those involved were frontline troops, the parents of those who lost their lives, or displaced and destitute civilians, the outcome was the same: a belief that the world deserved more humanity and that people should treat their fellow human beings with greater compassion and respect. The post-war world of work seemed to offer a wealth of opportunity that everyone was happy with. Employers were glad to get back (well, at least some) of the means of production and returning troops were glad to work in an environment where they didn’t have to dodge bullets. Both employer and employee were conjoined in a happy and productive union. The work setting was benevolent, with the majority of people being treated with respect and having a reasonably good time of it. No long hours, no autocratic bosses, no backstabbing or infighting. This was the Harold Macmillan “you’ve never had it so good” era. For example, my father-in-law, who was an evacuee during the Blitz, spent his working life as a chemist with a major UK company. From the stories he has me told over the years, he had a fantastic time. There was a wonderful mix of focus, fun, excitement and camaraderie. The company would hold parties for staff, Christmas parties for their children and ship families to parts of Europe for social events. Contrasting this with the modern working environment highlights just how much has changed. Work has become more brutal, people have become more unfriendly and self-serving, and employers have become less bothered about treating staff with a modicum of respect. A significant minority have also become morally corrupt. There is a simple reason for this. As the collective experience of the horrors of the last war has attenuated, so has the way we treat our colleagues. Work is the new battlefield with the lead replaced by politics, the enemy by backstabbing and bullying workmates and the generals by oppressive, self-serving executives. It is just like war, with the Germans replaced by our colleagues – desperate for promotion, trying to deflect blame and generally looking out for numero uno.


Darwin was right, we’re all a bunch of animals (and this is nowhere more so than in the workplace). Evolution is a force that drives the male of the species and, increasingly, females, who seem to be becoming more masculine by the day. The basis of evolution lies in its ability to promote the fittest and weed out the weakest. The strong survive by passing on their genes to their progeny whilst the weak are generally left on the shelf to wither and die or are literally wiped out by the strong. We are driven by powerful forces that we find difficult to control; our primitive minds cannot be managed that well despite the emergence of the frontal lobes. Although society places controls over us so that we don’t go round actually killing the weak and our enemies, don’t be fooled into a false sense of security. They are out to get you, of that you can be certain. Therefore, we shouldn’t be at all surprised at the some of the behavioural displays we see at work. Men (and women) will fight tooth and nail, using all their resources to become the top dog. They will eliminate anyone in their way. The strong and paranoid survive, destined to climb the greasy pole and protect their patch. The weak will fail to get promoted, may be asked to leave and will be the victims in the office. Those who aspire to great things will use a wealth of techniques to achieve what they desire: politics, blame, claiming to have done things they haven’t and brown-nosing. The weak are just nice and get nowhere. It’s a sad fact, but no one likes the nice guy. Well, not at work anyway. Recent research into equality suggests that those who fare worse in the world of work are likely to die sooner than those who do better. This is backed up by experiments with macaque monkeys. The researchers manipulated the social status of the monkeys whilst keeping other factors the same. Highstatus macaques from different troupes were put together to ensure some of them lost their status. The affected monkeys became ill and died prematurely. So there you have it, survival of the fittest is where it is at.


There are those amongst the population who live under the false impression that the stars guide their destiny. They read their star signs every day in the belief this will somehow shed light on why their bosses are treating them like dirt or why someone has made an inhuman stench in the toilets. I’m sure they do this because it places the responsibility for their actions onto some celestial being rather than themselves. And what better place to do this than at work: “I’m sorry I haven’t met that critical deadline, but my stars said I would be crap at work today.” The whole basis of Workstrology lies in the fact that how we perform, how we are treated and how we relate to our colleagues lies in the stars. It is preordained and there is nothing we can do about it. So the next time you are called to account because of your non-compliance to the clean desk policy, it is highly likely that the person bawling you out is a Virgo. In a similar vein when you are getting a drubbing from some trumped-up little Hitler you can bet your bottom dollar that they are an Aries. Each star sign has certain characteristics and in order to both cope with them, and get the best out of them, you need to understand how the thousands of combinations of the fire, earth, air and water signs impact on the way work is executed. So chill out, the fact that your working life is so utterly futile has nothing to do with the inability of your current employer to use your latent capabilities, it’s down to your mother and father and your ill-timed conception. Shit happens.


So what do these theories mean? In simple terms they mean that you will spend the majority of your day dealing with a succession of Ball-Breakers, Bullies, Egotists, Butt Lickers, Control Freaks, Gossips and Competitors, to name but a few. We are thrown together in this false environment which we call work because of economic necessity and although we may come to like (or indeed love) some of our colleagues, there are plenty who will annoy us. They are our bosses, peers and subordinates. Each and every one of them has certain characteristics that we need to understand, become sensitive to and avoid at all costs. There is little point in discussing the relative merits of Taylorism (Scientific Management), Human Relations, Socio-Technical Theory or whatever our friends in Human Resources (HR) would like us to believe, because it makes not one jot of difference. Instead what I offer you is a new nomenclature, a new way of describing and discussing your work colleagues. This book will either transform the HR department or, ideally, eliminate it and it will change the way you are appraised and rewarded. So be warned, if you can see yourself in this book it might be time to change. So just as Pains on Trains has changed the nature of train travel, Pains in the Office will change how we approach work.


This book is all about those people who aggravate you at work. You may have already come across those people that annoy you on your journey into work (see Pains on Trains), and now it’s time to witness how they make your life a misery in work. Taken together this means that for between 9-14 hours of your working day you are surrounded by people you would rather see swimming with concrete boots than working alongside you. The experienced Pain Spotters amongst you will know how to use this book, but for those who don’t, it is designed in a way that allows you to spot your most hated colleagues, whilst at the same time expressing your own inner feelings in an accessible way. I am writing what you are thinking. Thus, in the same way that bird spotters identify the Lesser Spotted Warbler, this book helps you to spot the Corrupt Bastard, the Company Bike and the Bowel Mover. But it goes beyond that. It identifies how you can avoid them and seek your revenge – if you are brave enough. Each entry includes:
• The general characteristics of the Pain (including anecdotes and stories from fellow
• wage slaves).
• Their annoyance rating, which rates the Pain from 1 (limited annoyance) to 10 (extreme annoyance).
• Their rarity, which rates the Pain from 1 (exceptionally rare) to 10 (very common).
• Any seasonal variations, which will identify any seasonal changes to the Pain’s behaviour.
• A range of avoidance/revenge strategies (with suitable escalation).
At the end of each entry I have also given you an opportunity to record that you have spotted the Pain and add your own annoyance rating. Like any “spotting” pastime, it has to be interactive, fun and have a sense of purpose. You might choose to swap entries with your friends and families and, god forbid, your fellow workmates (at least those you tolerate). This volume, when taken together with Pains on Trains and Pains in Public, provides you with 150 painful people who make your life less satisfying than it could be. Who needs self-help books, as when armed with the three Pains volumes, you can just avoid the jerks, muppets and morons who make life such a drag?

The Arse Coverer


There is a very simple theory for protecting your arse at work: the fan theory. The size of the fan you are permitted to have on your desk is proportional to your grade. So the higher up you are in the organisation, the bigger the fan. Whenever the shit hits the fan, everyone reaches out for the “on” button. The simple laws of physics then come into play, with the larger fans dispersing all of the shit, and the smaller ones scattering virtually none. So, you’ve guessed it, if you happen to be quite low down in the company you will be the one who ends up being covered in shit. Fans aside, in the world of work we increasingly have to protect ourselves against unscrupulous colleagues who will seek to blame us for anything that goes wrong, even if it wasn’t our fault. Moreover, there are plenty of bosses who will ball us out if we so much as smile. For example, one poor chap, who worked as a fettler in an iron foundry, had to suffer regular drubbings from the charge-hand. Apparently he would stand behind this guy patiently waiting for him to cock something up and when he did, would shout at him (he had to, really, given all the noise). He would then move on to someone else, only to return a few minutes later to repeat the exercise. Eventually, the victim would leave a couple of perfect flanges hidden next to his workstation, so that when the charge-hand was on his way back he could whip out the pristine examples and pretend to work on them. Fortunately, the charge-hand was such a moron that he never quite worked out what was going on. It seems that fear rules all too many workplaces and keeping our heads down and avoiding the crossfire is now an occupation in its own right. So as the theatre of war has shifted from the battlefields of France to the battlefields of the office, the number of Arse Coverers has increased dramatically. The Arse Coverer is characterised by an unhealthy obsession with process, paperwork and procedure. They are the bureaucrats who give bureaucracy a bad name. They will ensure that every base is covered before committing to anything, which inevitably slows down the pace of any task, especially the urgent ones. They are so well-versed in the specific rules, regulations and legalities of their work that when something does go awry there is no way they are going to carry the can. They are masters of record keeping so that, when the time comes, their backsides are well and truly titanium coated. They will come back with such statements as:
• “I’m so sorry, but you did not follow the correct procedure.”
• “Yes, I know this is not perfect, but you really should have read the small print.”
• “The job isn’t finished until the paperwork is done.” I fully suspect they say this to themselves when on the toilet.
Recently we heard of the untimely deaths of an elderly couple whose gas was cut off. The company who supplied the fuel blamed the fact that they had not informed Social Services of the poor couple’s increased vulnerability on the Data Protection Act. Typical arse-covering behaviour. Arse Coverers love to hold positions allowing them to laud it over everyone else. So jobs like Quality Manager, Health and Safety Officer, Auditor, Risk Manager and Security Guard are perfect for them. In such roles they not only cover their own arses, but attempt to cover everyone else’s too. There’s a thought. One women informed me of her role as a quality guru. She helped to develop a monstrous quality management system for her IT department. During a six-month period she produced tons of procedures and instructions which were nothing short of impenetrable. Once complete, she had to police the whole thing, identifying defects and grassing people up for non-compliance. It wasn’t long before everyone was up in arms and developing a whole variety of excuses to cover their arses. In the end, the whole thing was dropped because staff were spending more time covering themselves than actually working.
10 – Arse Coverers are annoying because they insist on doing everything by the book with no shortcuts: no cutting corners, nothing. They also do little by way of work. They give the appearance of being very busy, but if you asked them what they had actually delivered, they would probably stare at you with a blank face. Even they don’t know.
7 – Apparently no one wants to take risks these days. Everyone is so obsessed about slipping up and getting the sack that most people have arse-covering tendencies. I guess that in the world of the risk averse the Arse Coverer is king. A close ally of the Arse Coverer is the Jobsworth. When faced with a simple course of action that anyone with an ounce of common sense would follow, they will say with a sharp intake of breath: “That’s more than my job’s worth, mate!” The Jobsworth lives in a world of petty officialdom and loves every clause and sub-clause: “The Queen of Sheba may be visiting today, but parking her car in a space reserved for a director just ain’t on; rules is rules!”
There are two seasonal variations that the Pain Spotter should be aware of. The first is the year-end Arse Coverer who will be typically involved in the end of year accounting processes. These fellows are expert at covering their tracks so that not even the most experienced auditor can spot them. The second is the project-based Arse Coverer, who appears near the end of a failing project. These are the people who will refer you to a long list of risks that you should have managed and, in essence, are blaming you for the failed project when they should be carrying the can.
1. Always work for people who are willing to take a risk or two and aren’t fanatical about processes or paperwork.
2. Give the Arse Coverers some toilet roll so they can clean their arse, not just cover it.
3. Get hold of the rule book and smash them over the head with it.
4. Phone Crimewatch and report them for making everyone’s life a misery. Include a mug shot for good measure.
5. Pose as Winston Churchill and say: “Never, in the field of human officialdom, have so many had so much value extracted by so few”.
007 Tick here when you have spotted the Arse Coverer

The Ball-Breaker


The received wisdom is that having women in the workplace is a wonderful thing. They bring a degree of calm and softness to the office, thereby reducing the levels of testosterone and competitiveness. This can make work a truly rewarding experience. This is true, so long as they are not obsessed with becoming men. Sure, there are many more women in the workplace these days and the glass ceiling is gradually being chipped away, but those women who insist on becoming more like men than the real thing are surely missing the point. The Ball-Breaker is someone who wants to emulate the male attributes of the office, including bullying, macho positioning and competitiveness. A recent survey showed that, among the under 35s, women outstrip men in their determination and commitment to succeed. Distorting Professor Higgins’ question from My Fair Lady – why does a woman want to be more like a man? Is it that they want the increased weight, reduced life expectancy, thinner hair and shorter temper that men have? It seems they do. They’ll be wanting female urinals next (for those interested, there was one attempt to market just these by the Urinette Company, who despite their best efforts to promote the She-Inal, failed abysmally). There are some interesting varieties of Ball-Breaker around, including:
The Testosterone Tarts, who will use gels, patches, injections and implants to fuel their rooster-like behaviour. Apparently women MPs have been prescribed the hormone to help them compete in the debating chamber and there have been cases of high-achieving women taking testosterone supplements to enhance their work-based performance. If the dose is too high the user can end up with increased body hair, acne and a deeper voice. So the next time you notice a female colleague wearing a red suit, sporting a rather fancy moustache and booming in an excellent baritone, you might ask if she has overdosed on testosterone.
The Red-Suited Witches who pride themselves on wearing the best tailored suits in the most vibrant of colours, often coupled with deep red lipstick, nail varnish and stiletto heels with which to crush the men beneath them. These women are fearsome men-haters.
The Superficial Supermums who like to portray the image that they can do everything. This notion that there are such things as supermums out there is, of course, bunkum. Ball-Breakers who purport to hold down incredibly important and stressful jobs and yet still be capable of bringing up their three children single-handed are fake. The press loves to emphasise such superhuman abilities, but in reality such high-powered women employ a host of servants including live-in nannies, child minders, personal shoppers, cooks, cleaners, gardeners and probably the odd gigolo or two. And the rest. Let’s face it, many of these Ball-Breakers probably didn’t want children in the first place. It was their biological clock that forced them to have them (or so I have been told by a number of such women). So the next time you hear or read about some highflying female executive who looks after her seventeen children under the age of five, works fifty hours a week for a local charity and runs a scout group, just spare a thought for her band of helpers.
I was told of one Ball-Breaker who was fearsome and would destroy anyone in her path. Men and women alike would quake before her and do all they could to keep her happy – which was, as you’d expect, difficult. Over the years, she discredited those around her so that she could reach a senior management position (typical of the Competitor). Then it went too far. She attempted to bully a member of staff into a role she wasn’t prepared to do and when the poor lady refused to move, she got the sack. Things got out of hand with the union getting involved and before long the Ball-Breaker was on “long term sick”. Eventually she resigned. Then there are the Ball-Breakers who abuse their power by offering sex to the younger male employees – why? Because they can. But what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.
6 – It’s a shame that Ball-Breakers have to be so masculine. But then, in a male dominated workplace, you can’t blame them. In the end it is a sad reflection on both parties, not just the women. But why do they have to adopt all of the male traits which are considered so bad? Surely they are better than that. The last thing anyone wants to see is some highly strung woman behaving like a man. If we wanted that we’d have blokes dressing up in skirts all the time.
7 – As the Y chromosome, and the men to whom it belongs, gradually fades away, the world of work will become dominated by Ball-Breakers, where women can run around like reincarnated Amazons, not needing men for anything. Well, maybe one thing – but with medical science speeding this evolutionary path along, it won’t be long before men can be completely discarded. This is the ultimate fantasy of the Ball-Breaker who has little time for men and considers them weak, superfluous and idle. Perhaps a thousand years from now we can look forward to legislation that prevents discrimination against men who are paid less than women in the workplace, are slaves in the home and are generally treated as sex objects.
None. I don’t believe there are many seasonal variations in the Ball-Breaker’s behaviour. Once they are hooked on the testosterone-driven environment they cannot stop. You may find a monthly cycle, though, as the Ball-Breakers will gear themselves up for the regular board meetings in which they must dominate and prove yet again that they are worthy of their position of über bitch.
1. Ask the Ball-Breakers if they are suffering from adrenal hyperplasia.
2. Offer them an oestrogen patch to help reduce the excessive amounts of testosterone in their bloodstream.
3. Set up a self-help group called Testosterone Anonymous and invite them along to sit in a circle and talk about their testosterone addiction and how badly they were treated as children.
4. Leave articles lying around about famous Ball-Breakers who have thrown in the towel to spend more time with their families.
5. Do your best to make them cry so that they can, at last, show their feminine side.
014 Tick here when you have spotted the Ball-Breaker

The Body Beautiful


Stop press. Your looks will make a difference to your career. Like it or not, if you’re ugly, short, obese, bald or just plain weird you may as well forget any notion of having a high-powered career and sweep the streets. Depressing though this might sound to the average ugly git, it is backed up by academic research. The penalty for being hideous is not insignificant, but what’s surprising is that it is greater in men than women. Apparently a bloke who looks more like the Hunchback of Notre Dame than Brad Pitt earns around 10 per cent less than the standard-looking chap, whilst the more attractive ones amongst us earn 5 per cent more. The differential in women’s income is less pronounced, with the Plain Janes bringing home 5 per cent less than average and the Miss Worlds 4 per cent more. Then, of course, there is baldness. The poor tappers amongst the working population suffer quite badly. Baldness sends out a message of decay. It is well known, for example, that those United States presidential candidates sporting a full head of hair tend to win elections. And what about make-up? Employers take women more seriously if they wear make-up. Those who don’t are considered to be uninterested in their careers and not team players, and it is female bosses who believe this more strongly. What’s more, those who do wear it earn 30 per cent more than those who don’t. So unless you look the part, you won’t cut it, no matter how clever you are or how much you suck up to the boss.