The Short Humour Site

Home : Writers' Showcase : Submission Guidelines : A Man of a Few More Words : Links

A Man of Few Words - by Swan Morrison

Stress at Work

Bill Higgins stood alone in the emptied office. The street door opened, and a stranger entered. ‘Hello. Can I speak to the manager, please?’

‘She’s resigned.’


‘Yes. One of her employees went off sick with stress. The chap blamed the job and demanded that the manager quit, so she did.’

‘What was the name of the employee?’

‘George Thompson.’

‘I’m George Thompson.’

‘Sorry, I didn’t know.’

‘Can I speak to a middle manager?’

‘No. They accepted collective responsibility for your stress, and went with her.’

‘When will they be replaced?’

‘They won’t. The personnel department all felt culpable for employing someone so psychologically vulnerable. They thought the only honourable thing was to leave too.’

‘Who’s dealing with my massive compensation claim, then?’

‘No-one. All the legal section felt really awful and have gone. Other staff tried to console them, but it was no use. It’s sad though because, before you, all the employees had really enjoyed their work. Legal section never thought to write watertight health and safety procedures to cover stress in the workplace.’

‘If management, personnel and legal have gone, what about the other staff?’

‘They all blamed themselves. They thought that if they had, somehow, taken better care of you, you wouldn’t have suddenly become ill. They were a really caring, sensitive bunch. They were so upset that they did the decent thing and handed in their notices. I gather Mavis in supplies took it all particularly badly.’

‘She was my supervisor.’

‘So I gather. She thought that putting you in charge of paperclips and pencils would be a nice little job to start you off. She never dreamed that asking you to unpack a new consignment would lead to a nervous breakdown.’

‘Who’s left?’

‘Nobody. The organisation’s closed down. They’re all trying, in their own ways, to deal with their guilt about causing your mental health problems. That’s why I’m joining the French Foreign Legion.’

‘Who are you?’

‘I’m Bill, the cleaner. It’s my last night. I’d always done my best to keep the office smart and bright. Perhaps if I’d dusted just a little more, it might have cheered you up. Just maybe you wouldn’t have become so miserable and depressed. I feel it’s all my fault, really. I’m so terribly, terribly sorry.’

‘Look Bill, it’s not your fault. There’s nothing wrong with me. So many of my friends have retired early due to non-existent stress related illnesses, that I felt I was missing out. My doctor was more than willing to sign me off for no reason. It seemed so simple to play the system for all I could get. I never thought it would hurt anyone.’

‘Oh, I see.... Well, it’s too late now. I have to be locking-up.’

George Thompson returned to the street door, deep in thought.

In an adjacent office, a video tape recorder was switched off.