ZDNet Australia is proud to bring you a serialised version of Phil Dobbie's novel The Incumbent. A new chapter will be published here as part of his blog each week on Tuesday. You can also buy the entire book by clicking here.
Jimi Jones was finding it very hard to get rid of people. It was clear nothing would happen if it was left to Felicity Bunkle and Jeremy Parsons. Until now, he'd have thought it odd to have an HR department that did nothing, and a consultant that charged lots but did equally little. Now, he realised, that was par for the course. As the two spouted more and more excuses to delay what seemed a relatively simple task, his anger boiled. He calmed himself by switching off from their inane rambling, and started to fire off email messages to random employees, telling them the company no longer needed them.
He probably should have spent a bit more time crafting the wording: 'You are no longer needed. Don't bother showing up any more.' Of those who actually read their email, it came as no surprise that they weren't needed, because they did nothing. They completely failed to understand that Jones was telling them they would no longer be paid for doing nothing. Had they realised, they might have taken a bit more notice.
An HR department that did nothing, and a consultant that charged lots but did equally little, was par for the course.
Not that they needed to be too worried. When Jones forwarded a list of retrenched workers to the payroll office, the manager freaked out. This was a whole new process. Their systems were built around recruitment, and nobody had envisaged the possibility of someone leaving. That meant a new system was needed, and it looked complicated: finding the employee's record on the computer; figuring out how to stop paying them; and making sure they were never paid again. There had been no new processes in payroll since 1966, when the dollar was introduced, and even then, the government had to wait 14 years for VastTel to get its systems in place before making the switch. Now there was the altogether more complex process of making someone redundant. That would require a similar time frame to implement.
Back in his office, Jones was pleased to tell Bunkle and Parsons what he'd been up to. 'Do you realise, while you two have been telling me how hard it is to get rid of people, I have retrenched 147 of them?' he said. He felt a little guilty about how much he was enjoying the power.
Bunkle turned white. The thought had crossed her mind that she might be on the list. Parsons wondered the same. Even though he was a consultant, he managed, through some sort of administrative error, to appear several times on the VastTel payroll register.
Their thoughts were interrupted when Jones' office door flung open and in marched Woodburner.
'What's going on here?' the young heir asked.
Was she so unattractive he wanted to avoid genital contact?
Bunkle recognised him immediately. She wondered if he remembered her. They had slept together a few months ago, when she went after a part in a daytime soap on his dad's TV channel. It had been an unsatisfying experience for both of them. Woodburner had made all the right sort of grunting noises, but, true to form, kept his trousers on. She took it personally. Was she so unattractive he wanted to avoid genital contact? Whatever the reason, it proved to be a turning point. If she couldn't even pass the early part of the audition process, then life as a soap actress seemed unlikely, and, unsure what else to do, she picked a career in human resources instead.
'Hello, Damien,' she said, with a familiarity that disturbed Jones. He was enjoying his newfound power, and didn't want it undermined by personal relationships beyond his control.
'Oh, yes, you,' said Woodburner, forcing a slight smile and remembering, in his mind, some of the best sex he'd ever had, even though he was still struggling to come to terms with what sex actually was and why everyone raved about it so much.
'Shall I leave now?' asked Parsons, not wanting to spend any more time in the room if he wasn't going to be able to charge for it.
'No need,' said Woodburner. 'You might as well all hear this. You're going to find out soon enough.'
This sounds very ominous, thought Jones.
'We're going to find another CEO.'