Sunday 17 December 2017

Katie Byrne: 'Maternity paranoia' isn't the only irrational fear in the modern workplace. There are plenty of options

Telly rivals: Paula (Vicky McClure), and Ellen (Morven Christie) in BBC’s The Replacement
Telly rivals: Paula (Vicky McClure), and Ellen (Morven Christie) in BBC’s The Replacement

Last night's The Replacement (BBC One) shone the spotlight on a phenomenon known as 'maternity paranoia': the fear that the younger and cheaper replacement covering your maternity leave is making a claim for your job.

The three-part psychological thriller stars Morven Christie as Ellen, a woman who becomes pregnant after landing a lucrative contract with a Glaswegian firm of architects. She hires Paula (Vicky McClure) to cover for her, but soon has second thoughts when she begins to suspect that her stand-in has career plans of her own.

While The Replacement is a Hitchcockian drama, most women can relate to the thrust of the storyline. The maternity leave handover is always handled with a healthy degree of suspicion - even if it sometimes devolves into full-on 'the Germans are coming!' paranoia.

Of course, the current workplace climate doesn't help matters. Permanent and pensionable jobs are dying a death just as digital-native millennials have started to shake up the office space. It all makes for the perfect storm of workplace paranoia, where employees can feel like their boss, their colleagues and even the vending machine are out to get them. Here's just a few of their fears...


"Well, did you hear the news?" asks the colleague whose job it is to disseminate canteen propaganda and circulate tip-offs from his mole in HR. "Lay-offs. Hundreds of them. Your children may never wear shoes again." You only came into the canteen for a cup of tea. Now you're doing redundancy entitlement arithmetic and considering the possibility of emigrating to Australia. The fear of impending doom pervades the rest of your working week, even though the self-appointed shop steward has since moved on to talking about so-and-so's extra-marital affair.


Of course you know the inherent risk of leaving a four-pack of Müller Light yoghurts in the fridge when there is a phantom sandwich thief in your midst, but you can hardly let them coagulate in the dead heat beneath your desk. Instead you hide them on the bottom shelf, behind an M&S moussaka and some sort of protein shake. Rather than leaving a note, you perform an 'I'm-watching-you' finger gesture towards a group of interns as you walk backwards through the door.


You washed off the nightclub stamp with a nail brush, you used two different types of mouthwash and you ate your jumbo breakfast roll in the safe confines of the meeting room lest anyone got the impression that you were downing shots of tequila less than six hours ago. Even so, your colleagues are definitely looking at you strangely. Maybe you're speaking too loudly. Or maybe you're speaking too slowly. They know. They definitely know. Best to throw them off the scent by pounding extra-hard on the keyboard and answering every phonecall with the sing-song chirpiness of a TV weather forecaster. They'll never guess that you're seeing double.


You didn't join the tag rugby team, you opted out of the table quiz and you're always too busy (watching Netflix) to partake in after-work drinks. While there are no strict rules around anti-social behaviour in the workplace, you can't help but notice that there is a new dynamic emerging - and you're not part of it. When your colleagues start referring to one another using nicknames (O'Brien, Tinkerbell, Flopsy…) you begin to realise that this is a fully-fledged secret society - a Bilderberg-type fellowship whose raison d'etre is your imminent downfall. They probably even have a secret handshake….


He implicitly understands your non-dairy coffee order. He's at your side when the printer cartridge needs to be changed. He is your ever-faithful work husband - and your household chore-free union is a joyous one. Well, until your colleagues start giving you both a funny look. They know your relationship is platonic, don't they? They couldn't possibly think your friendship has extended from the boardroom to the bedroom, could they? Paranoia reaches fever pitch when you are spotted sharing an éclair at the local bakery.


There you are, diligently scrolling through the latest accessories on Asos when you notice that your colleagues are getting up from their desks en masse. They're off to a meeting, apparently. A meeting that you weren't invited to. What are they talking about in there? You, obviously. What are you going to do about it? Absolutely nothing.


Every so often you receive an email from a colleague that even a Stasi cryptographer would have difficulty decoding. Is she being paranoid? In a word: no. Bosses can access the emails you send on personal email. What's more, according to a recent European Court of Human Rights ruling, they can also see emails sent from your personal email if they were sent using the company server. As a general rule, emails that aren't to do with work are NSFW and, as a wise man once said, never send nudes between the hours of 9am and 5pm.

Irish Independent

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