The evening was descending into pure vaudeville. It was the shiny face as much as his lack of stature that made him seem to appear as a ventriloquist’s dummy, something to which he had often been cruelly compared. Stood there on an upturned beer crate in the middle of a half-empty dance floor appealing for the crowd’s attention through an ill-functioning microphone, one had even started to feel pity.
It had not been a good year for the enterprise. Its parent organisation couldn’t decide whether to shut the company down, keep it going or sell it altogether. Morale was low amongst both the full-time and contract staff. Given the economic climate, nobody was prepared to jump ship without another job to go on to, and there were no other jobs to go to. The management had done little to quell unrest, which was probably fair enough given that they too were being kept in the dark by the executive. There was a feeling amongst the workers that there were machinations that were not being divulged. As the year came round to November, finally some decisions were taken: massive cutbacks and redundancies.
The run-up to Christmas is not a great time to announce to people that their jobs have disappeared and it’s a very bad idea to invite staff, who have recently been told that they were losing their jobs, to the company Christmas party as a small token of recompense. Magnanimous as it might seem this was to prove another in a long line of poor ideas by the management. If you’ve made up your mind to do something then you should probably just do it.
The venue for the Christmas party was indicative of the organisation’s fortunes. One year previously, an entire museum had been hired to accommodate all the staff for a sumptuous umpteen course meal with free-flowing champagne. This year, the cellar of a run-of-the-mill bar would suffice, with only the first drink being paid for by the hosts.
And so it was that the chief executive stood, barely elevated to regular head height, in the middle of a tiny discotheque, attempting to give a pep-talk to the condemned. It required craning of necks but once the crowd realised who was talking its drunken conversations turned to heckling. “Stand up”, was the immediate jibe at the speaker’s height; the first stone had been cast. There followed an increasing barrage of abuse. The more abuse that was dished out, the more desperate and high-pitched our little-big boss’ warblings became. I swear I saw his pride exit, a la a cartoon’s spirit leaving its dead body, when he half-shouted a demand for pride: “you have built something that will last forever”. In reality all we’d built was a web site with somewhat disappointing usage stats.