FICTION: Piranha in the Fishbowl

‘So, Amy, what have you achieved in the last twelve months?’

In the meeting room, a glass pod in the centre of the open-plan office, Veronica thumbs through her phone and waits for an answer. She doesn’t even glance at the document on the table, the self-evaluation form that took me hours to prepare.

Determined to be more assertive this year, I begin, ‘I made no mistakes, incurred no losses, received no complaints.’

Stop, I tell myself. Stop speaking in negatives. Be positive. Be specific. Quantify. The quantify part is possible, at least; my performance, like everyone else’s below management grade, is constantly monitored. Regardless of Veronica’s response, the chance to turn the litany of activity reports and delivery statistics to my advantage already feels like a victory.

Reciting the lines I memorised after converting my life into numbers, I list out the figures for emails, calls, queries and transactions handled. One figure I repeat for emphasis. ‘22,963 transactions processed.’

Clearly surprised, Veronica puts her phone down and studies me with new interest. ‘Okay then, you’ve been busy. Noted. What else? How did you contribute to the success of the company?’

Apart from doing my job, I want to ask, but I stick to the spiel I’ve rehearsed.

‘I was never late, never sick. I rearranged my holidays to deconflict with yours, came back early to help when the system crashed, worked three bank holidays, including Stephen’s Day.’ Veronica is bursting to interrupt but I don’t give her the chance. I know what she’s going to say. Irish holidays don’t match financial markets around the world. Get over it. ‘I participated in a mentoring project, volunteered for the energy saving committee, did the company’s charity run, worked overtime—’

Now she does interrupt, tapping the table with her manicured hand. ‘Amy, you never put in more than an extra half hour.’

‘But in the morning I’m always at my desk before eight.’

‘That doesn’t count! We all come in early.’ She points behind me to where the rest of my team is beavering away. ‘But most people stay late too. The day is almost over but no one out there is packing up. You, though… most days you dive for the door at five thirty.’

We both know that’s because I’m doing a Business Masters at night, but she isn’t a woman to make allowances.

The questions keep coming but Veronica loses interest in my pre-prepared answers. In fact, after a few minutes her eyes fix on a spot behind me. I look over my shoulder but can’t see what’s so fascinating. There’s no breaking story on the business channels playing on the mounted, muted television screens. So what’s she watching? The clocks? 12:25 in New York, 17:25 in London, 18:25 in Paris, 01:25 in Tokyo.

‘No issues came up in the peer-to-peer reviews.’ Veronica’s crisp voice makes my head snap back around. With the way she frowns, I half expect the next word to be a drawn out but. Instead she quotes, ‘“Amy is always ready to chip in.” “Amy makes others feel welcome and valued.” “Amy knows her stuff.” “Amy is really nice.” I could go on but the rest of the comments are much the same. All good.’

This is pointless. I’m a model employee, the only team member with a record of 100% accuracy. If that’s just good then I might as well give up now.

‘Your communication skills, however,’ she muses, ‘could be better.’

I agree: I’ve never found a way to tell her she’s a wagon.

This whole assessment process is a waste of time—an annual box-ticking exercise. Nothing I can do or say will raise my score from Good to Excellent. I thought I might have a chance this time, a chance to show how I’ve developed since my last review when Veronica told me not to be so shy about pushing myself forward.

‘I’ve put your name down for a leadership course,’ she announces.

‘But there’s a leadership module in my Masters.’

Veronica smiles, more to herself than at me. ‘Have you done it yet?’


‘Well then, I think the in-house session might cover some areas your lecturers skimmed over.’ Before I can ask what, she continues, ‘That’s everything for today. Thank you. I’ll finalise your appraisal document later and return it to you, along with your rating.’ She stands. ‘Now, I’ve another meeting…’

A few of the team throw me covert glances when I return to my desk to log off but all I can do with Veronica right behind me is roll my eyes. As I’m running for the elevator she beckons her next victim, the guy who sits beside me, into the fishbowl.

I hear the news when I check my messages after class. My neighbour was let go; fired at 17:31, one minute after the working day was officially over. He’d only been with us for three months; in that time his sloppiness made our lives harder, but he was sweet so we covered for him. Still, Veronica can always sniff out weakness.

When I get home and log on remotely, my appraisal document is waiting, received at 22:03. The first thing I see is the rating. GOOD. I’m so disgusted that I almost don’t bother reading Veronica’s feedback but a single word, the last in the comment box, catches my eye. Doubting myself, I squint and move closer to the screen.

Manager’s Assessment: Amy is a team player who can be relied upon to complete all tasks to a high standard. She has initiative and ambition, as evidenced by her willingness to take on additional duties and outside study. She also has potential. Her improvement over the last year highlights her ability to take on board advice. With more training, specifically in relation to effective leadership and communications, I feel confident that she will excel further. She is already a good operator. Once she learns that nice isn’t everything she may be excellent.

N.K. Woods worked in financial services for years but left the world of business and banks behind to study Creative Writing in the University of Edinburgh. She received her MSc in 2018 and has since had stories published by Tales From The Forest and The Galway Review. She lives in Ireland.

Image: piranha, Mathias Appel (flickr)

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