A Story of Human Error and Revenge

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I am going to tell you a little story about a young Irish woman with long pitch-black hair and green eyes. At 22, a liaison with a Greek god with brown muscles with shiny brown hair resulted in a short love affair in Kefalonia that summer. She never expected him to block her calls. Nine months later she gave birth to a baby boy with olive skin.

A sympathetic manager at the bank supported her to develop her career, even though she was a single mum. Her career became the perfect distraction and the tonic that would heal wounds of the past. During the day she laughed with colleagues and in the evenings, she cradled her baby while they cried their way through teething, colic and sleepless nights. Somehow, she got through it, and was promoted at work, and her son settled down. 

She worked as a personal advisor for a global financial institution, taking care of VIP clients in the private banking department in Bloomsbury. Her meticulous attention to detail and ability to nurture her relationships with the wealthiest clients facilitated several promotions, however, she knew that her claim to fame was due to the support of her boss. She was able to leave early to collect her son from nursery and work from home when she needed to. She was trusted to do her job and her clients trusted her to take care of their financial needs, with extraordinary sophistication. She exceeded the expectations of her boss, while trying to be the best mother she could be to a growing boy. It was a difficult juggling act, but she managed. That was until her manager went off on maternity leave one day last November.

The first time she met her new boss, her heart sank. A man who preferred to discuss the contents of spreadsheets rather than engage in polite chit chat. He wore small round glasses, and, peering over them, looked her in her almond-shaped green eyes and told her sternly that things would be different now. He warned her that he intended to make some ‘improvements’ and expected her to support his efforts, or he would be reporting her to his ‘mate’ in the senior leadership team for being obstructive to progress. In one fell swoop her confidence was shot. Her voice trembled when she uttered the almost silent ‘okay’. Her new boss leered at her as she hastily coughed a ‘goodbye’ and ended the call.

The work-life balance she had managed to maintain for six years crumbled, eroding into salty cliffs. Her son was playing up, constantly fighting for her attention, and she wasn’t able to sleep at night. She was now responsible for her previous manager’s responsibilities, as well as her own, without any additional support, reward, or benefit while her new manager focused on ‘strategy,’ and analyzed spreadsheets. The monthly newsletters in her inbox listed the casualties who had been ‘let go,’ ‘made redundant,’ or fired and were a stark reminder of what would happen if she didn’t do what she was told. What if she was next?

She didn’t understand why, but her clients were far more demanding than usual and the relationship she had with them was quickly deteriorating. She knew she had made some mistakes, only minor ones, but most notably, she had no confidence in her work anymore, and her clients could feel it. Her boss, however, was completely oblivious.

With things deteriorating at work and at home, she didn’t know where to turn for help, drowning in a sea of dark matter. She could no longer cope with the demands on her, both at home and at work, and was often tearful at home, and resentful and angry at work. It was her against the world and one Tuesday evening, in a mix of exhaustion and exasperation, she opened a bottle of red wine a friend had brought her several months ago. An instant relief washed over her shaking limbs with every gulp and before she knew it, she was drunk and asleep on the sofa. Her son draped a blanket over her before he fell asleep on the floor next to her.

She managed to find a strange new balance in her life in that she would drink an amount of wine equal to the amount of stress she had endured at work during the day. She was able to hide her new habit from her boss but seemed to be spending her days feverishly apologising to her best clients, until one day, in a split second, things took a turn for the worse. She had meant to send a brand-new client a blank form but instead sent a previously filled form, which included personal details from one of her wealthiest clients. She had given the new client, without due diligence, key information including passport number, national insurance number, home address, bank account number and precise details of investments.

If this got into the wrong hands, her life would be over. She would lose her job, her apartment and perhaps even her son. In a desperate sobering panic, she picked up the phone and called the new client, apologizing, pleading with them to delete the form and hoped she had got away with one more mistake without anyone noticing.

Three days later her boss called an urgent meeting. Her body shook with fear and her heart pounded as she heard the dreaded words come from his thin red lips ‘you’re fired.’ When the call ended, she let her head drop down onto her desk and wept. The strain hit her in one fell swoop, and as she tried to get up her knees buckled, and she fell to the floor. Eventually she managed to stand, and with Bambi like legs, headed to the kitchen to grab a box of tissues and a couple of paracetamols for her banging headache, washing them down with a large glass of wine.

The next day, on a cold morning in March, a little six-year-old boy found his mother on the living room floor surrounded by vomit. He tried to wake her, but she wouldn’t. He watched as she was carried away by men in green with a sheet covering her face. Now he was all alone in the world, and all he knew was that mummy’s new boss made her cry, but he didn’t understand why.

What will that little boy want to do when he grows up? Work for a FTSE100 financial institution like his mother? Will he grow up to be a hard-working man seeking appreciation and respect from his boss like his mother did? Or will he choose a different path, one where he revenges the death of his young mother? Will he take care to adopt good cybersecurity hygiene, for the good of his employer?

When employees are under pressure it can have detrimental effects on their wellbeing and severely affect their work-life balance. Similarly, changes, especially when not managed effectively, like new leadership or a move to remote working in the case of the recent pandemic, can result in a psychological contract breach, the consequences of which can be critical to both the employer and the employee. When things go wrong at work they can result in a multitude of minor errors, which, according to research into global catastrophes of the past, can result in major destruction. Mutual trust between employer and employee, with the psychological safety of safe discourse can make the difference between life and death.

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