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Understanding your work colleagues - Part 2

By George Fripley - posted Friday, 7 November 2008

I have already outlined the perils relating to Drama Queens, Bitter Employees and Career Administrators. There are, however, more characters that lurk within the corridors of bureaucracies. You should also watch out for:

The Sports Freak

The Sports Freak will often limp into work on a Monday morning with stories about their exploits over the previous weekend. Sometimes they are genuinely talented sportspeople, but most are just might-have-been junior sports stars who never made it to the top because of their lack of talent, or poor commitment to training. They consequently feel the need to talk up their mediocre exploits due to the nagging feeling that they squandered the opportunity of international stardom.

They carry their many injuries with considerable pride, and will ensure that whole branch, or even department, know exactly how they came to be so injured. An arrival with an arm in a sling, a pronounced limp, or conspicuous bandaging and/or bruising is not uncommon.


On that rare occasion that they really do perform well at the weekend and they achieve a mention in the paper, they will become insufferable for weeks as they dine on their one success of the year. These people make great project officers as they rarely sit down long enough to achieve anything as they do the rounds of the office.

The Boffin

There are numerous Boffins within the public service. They usually get a job soon after leaving university and find a place in government where they can sit quietly and carry out their research. Having very few social skills, most Boffins find the idea of teaching at university and having to mix with all sorts of students, to be repugnant and extremely daunting. It is a far better for them to end up tucked away in a government department, where they can avoid human contact as much as possible.

These are the perfect people to put in charge of writing government policy. They will fill it full of jargon, justification, and endless theory, so much so that nobody in their right minds, other than Boffins (who many people believe are not, in fact, in their right minds most of the time) will be able to understand it. This keeps the mysteries of government policy well and truly safe.

Boffins are technically very good, and often rise significantly through the ranks of government as a result. They get so good at what they do that they are promoted to management positions. This is essential as it prevents them getting to the point where they start believing in their ability and start to make decisions.

Once in the role of a Manager they quickly find themselves out of their comfort zone and buried in reams and reams of paperwork, and on an endless conveyor belt of meaningless administrative trivia. They end up incredibly unproductive and stressed, and take lots of sick leave.

The Entrepreneur

All government departments have an Entrepreneur; they can also be found in universities. The Entrepreneur is a dreamer who sits within government, and has usually sat there for many, many years.


There will be many quiet comments and nudges as “confidential” contacts are hinted at and out-of-hours meetings are described. These meetings usually end up being visits to the dentist, or doctor appointments. Their colleagues will often be seen rolling their eyes and shaking their heads as the next potential scheme is explained to them. They all know that, despite the numerous ideas, the Entrepreneur is unlikely to ever make the effort to make anything actually happen.

And this is why these people have found themselves a niche within the machinery of government. They say a lot and do very little - perfect for a career public servant.

The Slacker

The Slacker is omnipresent in all types of public and private sector employment. They spend large amounts of time wondering around and talking to anyone who will listen. However, they also, somehow, have an ability to keep achieving enough to avoid getting themselves into serious trouble. They annoy the shit out of hard workers, who feel that they are deliberately taking the piss out of them by coasting along without breaking into a sweat.

They have been in their job long enough to know exactly how much energy to expend to meet their obligations and have no desire to improve matters. They often rise through the ranks quite quickly due to their refusal to make decisions and consequent lack of mud sticking to their reputations. As long as their pay goes into their bank accounts on a regular basis they are happy.

These people will steadfastly wait for other public servants to weaken and start making decisions, and then pounce on opportunities created through their own inaction. Before you know it, they’ll be a Manager or Director, leaving their staff and former colleagues fuming at the seeming unfairness of it all.

Of course, to make their life easier they will give glowing references to staff that they see as having the potential to cause them decision-making stress, and will actively encourage them to leave for better paid jobs. However, the truth of the matter is that they have simply been the best at implementing the five paradigms of government.

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About the Author

George Friplely has worked in the public service for more than eight years, and in that time has risen to the dizzying heights of managing an agency (for a brief period of time). He has a great deal of experience in dealing with the day-to-day decision-making processes and has a wealth of knowledge about government process. He is currently in hiding among the stacks of files in his government department, hoping that his revelations do not cause him to become the subject of an ASIO investigation, or worse still, that somebody realises that he actually exists and sends some work his way! George blogs at and George's thoughts on government and bureaucracy are now available in the definitive government employees manual, You Can't Polish A Turd - the Civil Servant's Manual, published by Night Publishing. His next book provisionally titled The Dregs of History is due for release in 2011.

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Understanding your work colleagues - Part 1 - On Line Opinion

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