Of all the animals of prey, man is the only sociable one.
Every one of us preys upon his neighbour, and yet we herd together.
The Beggar's Opera: John Gay

Saturday 21 January 2023

WFH: Won’t F***ing Help

Over the past few weeks, some of the older members of Clan Macheath have had occasion to contact a variety of organisations by phone, including banks, boiler manufacturers and electricity suppliers.

By choice or necessity, our elders eschewed the internet and called the customer service telephone numbers provided by the organisations only to receive a variety of unhelpful responses from staff who, as far as they can ascertain, were working from home.

There were several helpful clues to indicate this, from the background sounds of of televisions, washing machines and noisy children to “I’m just putting you on hold while I let the dog out”, followed by a five minute silence. One caller was baffled by an irregular repeated pinging noise until, with the help of speakerphone, a visiting younger relative identified it as social media notifications and ‘likes’ from a nearby phone, which presumably explained the operator’s frequent lapses of attention during the conversation.

All of this suggests an environment less than conducive to concentration and focus on the customer’s needs and a lack of responsibility, an impression which is borne out by the repeated abrupt ending of calls mid-conversation. After calling back - and giving her details in full - for the third tIme, one of our tribal elders asked the operator point blank whether they were paid and assessed by the number of calls they took rather than whether the issue was resolved; the answer was yet another hang-up.

All in all, the overall feeling is that these home-workers, freed from the supervision of the office, are simply time-serving; nominally putting in the hours while paying very little attention to the requirements or needs of the customer - how else could one explain the cheerful complacency of the representative of a heating firm who, during last week’s cold snap, happily told an eighty-four year old with no heating or hot water that she would send someone to look at the boiler in two weeks’ time? 

It looks as if the practice of ‘driving customers online’ continues to permeate the business world; in any other circumstances, would employers be willing to allow their customer-facing staff to behave like this? (In the private sector, that is; the phenomenon of the self-indulgent time waster is sadly all too alive and kicking in hospital administration, social services and local government). Even when a call has been referred upwards, the managers seem unwilling to make much effort to help.

These days, customers who seek help via a phone line rather than online are likely to be elderly or unable to use a computer for reasons such as visual impairment or arthritis; to provide them with a second-rate service at the whim of inefficient and unhelpful home workers seems more than a little cruel.


  1. I'm a keen admirer of WFH for many reasons. But it has to be assessed and overseen, and there have to be penalties for those who 'time serve'. It's more difficult to do than when office based, but it's not impossible...

    1. I suppose the main barrier to monitoring is ‘quis custodiet...’; the road to management being paved with diversity awareness, pronoun obsession and positive discrimination, supervision is likely to be in the hands of people I wouldn’t trust to run a whelk stall. While I met the same lackadaisical attitude to work among office clerks 30 years ago, there was once an abrupt change as you climbed the hierarchical ladder; as a graduate temp, I often found myself at the interface between the hostilely glacial pace of the filing department and the conscientious work ethic of those dealing with the public or clients. I suspect that the same decline in self-discipline I’ve observed over decades in the classroom has now fed, unchecked, into the organisations I’ve described above and, aided and abetted by the obsession with identity politics and diversity, is working its way upwards at speed.


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