OPINION - We have just witnessed one of life’s taboos — the workplace meltdown at Downing Street

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 (Evening Standard)
(Evening Standard)

I had my first inauspicious workplace meltdown at 19. After two and a half days on the job, it appeared that life as a street-salesman for timeshare holiday packages was not for me. Flustered, cold, useless and informed, repeatedly, where exactly to shove my one-line sales pitch, I removed the name badge, threw my clipboard in a nearby dustbin and told my hapless new manager, “I’m over this.”

We all know what it’s like to have a bad day at the office. Everyone peering in, aghast, as this week’s political circus unfolded could intuit much of what was happening on Wednesday night at Downing Street, from between the lines of the slack-jawed news presenters. You didn’t need to be locked directly in the office with Boris Johnson and his former Cabinet colleagues to understand the possible order of events when the boss goes full-scale bananas. What else — other than perhaps tanking half a bottle of Scotch — could explain the madness of Johnson’s pre-resignation antics?

The average workplace meltdown only takes one little irrational moment of triggering. Then the floodgates open. Furniture thrown. Colleagues insulted. Home truths exchanged. Years- old grievances aired about how a shared fridge should operate. Some resourceful underling discreetly removing mobile phones from jacket pockets. Previously unheard gossip on such-and-such sleeping with so-and-so. The workplace meltdown is a shared nervous breakdown we all comprehend, while extending little to no sympathy for.

Just because it was played out on such a humiliatingly public scale doesn’t mean we couldn’t all empathise at least a little with what might’ve happened during surely the most spectacularly epic workplace tantrum. That it had been teased so beautifully, during two hours TV coverage of a devastatingly exposing public select committee, felt like time operated on Wednesday night with a horror film director’s flourish.

On occasion, even the most passive of us has gone full meltdown at work. The grind gets too much. The tears can be no longer held back. The boil of that irritation over the person who hums while typing at the next door station needs lancing. The sheer hell of other people can’t be pencilled in for 39 hours a week, 48 weeks of the year without at least one major fallout.

If a friend, relative or colleague is experiencing heartbreak, we forgive them the most theatrical displays of public emotion. If they’re going through tragedy, grief or serious illness, we’d be more concerned if they didn’t overspill feelings. But somehow, a workplace meltdown is one outpouring too far.

Perhaps because they get such short shrift from colleagues, we all get over them eventually, too. After stropping off from my short-lived salesman career, I picked up a far more successful job on a tarot card hotline, £3.20 an hour. I hope it comes as some consolation to our former Prime Minister, after possibly the most mortifying public work meltdown in living memory.

Even at our lowest, I’ve found, an upturn in professional fortunes is only a heartbeat away.

In other news...

Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban (Getty Images For Balenciaga)
Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban (Getty Images For Balenciaga)

The Paris Couture shows are always stuffed with significantly familiar faces, there to strategically remind you why brands bother to make bespoke collections. Once again it was Demna Gvasalia’s Balenciaga, working a familiarly, brilliantly scary alien brutalist industrial sci-fi aesthetic who won the week. “That’s how every woman wants to feel when they walk in a room,” a friend told me as Naomi Campbell sauntered onto the runway, taking up space, a commanding pole-bearer Queen, conical shapes inverted from the waist up and down. Dua Lipa and Kim Kardashian reminded you of Demna’s actual alchemy — all this stark strangeness unfolded from the back of his imagination is commercial gold-dust. Then his actual queen, Nicole Kidman, (above, in an earlier outfit), haunted, odd and ethereal in a crumpled silver gown. The exact gay translation of all this? Fabulosity itself.

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