Vacation throws office into chaos
Ms. Ferguson, my
loyal office manager, had accrued her vacation since the beginning of time
and was about to embark on a five-week odyssey that would take her to
distant and exotic lands.
"Have a wonderful time." I
said as I watched her straighten her desk the afternoon before her
departure. "I hope we’re here when you get back."
"Don’t worry, everything should
be fine," she replied, trying to comfort me. "Tweetie knows just
what to do."
Tweetie was Ms. Ferguson’s assistant
who had recently shifted from full-time to part-time. She knew what to do
all right. Four days after Ms. Ferguson departed, Tweetie quit.
One of my worst nightmares (I have
many) was coming true. Tweetie had found another job and left immediately,
refusing to help train a new person.
One week earlier I had two people in
the office who I could rely on to keep things organized and running
efficiently. Suddenly, there was only me.
The thought made me shudder.
Years ago, it wouldn’t have been a
problem. I did it all, I knew it all. Not because I wanted to, but because
I had to. There was no one else.
Then, like most successful small
businesses, there was growth. Somewhere along the line, I snipped the cord
that tied me to every facet, every detail of the business. Again, not
because I wanted to, but because I had to. There was not enough time,
thankfully, to do it all.
And while I reaped the rewards of my
newfound freedom over the years, I was now about to suffer the
consequences. Tweetie had flown the coop, Ms. Ferguson was somewhere in
the Philippine jungles, and I was all alone, except for 45 restless
employees who still expected to be paid on payday.
How could I make them understand that
payroll was no longer my domain? All the records, the tax tables, the
quarter and year-to-dates – it was all locked in that big intimidating
computer that I had absolutely no clue how to operate.
I thought I had covered myself by
making certain there were at least two people competent to manage every
aspect of the business. Every position had insurance. No one would be
essential to day-to-day operations. Especially me. I had no idea how to do
the automated payroll, nor did anyone else on the staff. The computer was
Ms. Ferguson’s and Tweetie’s toy and no one had ever asked them to
Meanwhile, payday was the next day,
invoices and statements were flooding in, creditors were calling, reports
were due, and I was in charge. Arrrghhh!
Like any good executive, I knew just
what to do – delegate. I sat down with my general manager, Ralph, and
told him that he was to be my savior.
"Who’s going to train me on that
thing, "he asked, pointing to the computer.
I directed his attention to a stack of
operation manuals that Ms. Ferguson referred to from time to time while
developing reports from the computer. "There you go," I said.
"Everything you need to perform a miracle."
He groaned impressively but began his
reading. Ralph was a quick learner. Before dawn, he announced he felt
confident enough to give it a try.
And we (he) got it done. Everyone got
paid, including Maria, who was supposed to receive $9.50 for her overtime
hours but instead received $95.00 for each hour.
I told Maria she was worth every penny
but Ms. Ferguson might want to adjust her pay when she returns. Then I
checked Ralph’s paycheck a second time.
Meanwhile, the office plodded on. I
managed to take care of essentials (i.e. taxes, rent, key creditors etc.)
but bank charges, invoices, statements, adjustments, insurance matters and
much more piled up to frightening heights. And the reports we relied on
each week and at the end of the month never got done.
In essence, we were surviving,
pitifully waiting for Ms. Ferguson to return and get us back on track.
She’ll be back next week. I cringe to
think of her reaction when she walks into the office she had left so clean
and organized only five weeks earlier. The Philippine jungle will look
like a cakewalk in comparison.
I also keep wondering if I could have
planned better for such an unusual chain of events. We all felt pretty
useless, including Ralph, despite his heroics.
In the end, I decided it was just small
business. We muddle through, we survived. That’s what matters.