We Do Not Make This Decision Lightly

Submitted into Contest #241 in response to: Set your story at a tense event where everyone is unsure whose side they’re on.... view prompt

1 comment

Suspense Drama Horror

The darkness in the Supreme Solutions boardroom had a way of breaking people’s spirits. Its lack of natural light and tundra-like air conditioning earned it the nickname The Judgement Zone. It was usually a place for senior leaders with job titles that started with chief or general manager to be summoned to justify their existence. Now, a group of employees lined each side of the monolithic two-toned charcoal table at the room's centre. Each of them was tasked with making decisions none of them wanted to make.

‘Let’s not forget our corporate values,’ said the perky Human Resources representative, Chantelle. She had been invited to guide the team towards an ideal outcome gently. However, everyone knew she was there to make sure they didn't screw things up.

‘Sorry, Chantelle, but which value applies to this situation?’ Jordan, the General Manager for Governance, asked.

Chantelle’s bright blue eyes peered out from behind her platinum blonde fringe. It felt like she was staring right into Jordan's soul. She grinned through blood-red lipstick and bared her pearly white teeth like an apex predator might before going in for the kill.

‘I am surprised you would ask, Jordan. I thought it was part of this team's KPIs to be the living and breathing examples of our corporate mission statement,’ Chantelle said whilst maintaining unblinking eye contact. ‘But of course, it is only natural to ask clarifying questions during such uncertain times. Is anyone else unclear how our values apply?’ Her head pivoted slowly around the room as she scanned Jordan's eleven other colleagues for further signs of descent. The movement was robotic, like a security camera trying to detect an intruder.

Jordon was no stranger to sweating under minimal strain as he was hardly a vision of health and fitness. However, Chantelle had him dripping like he had just run a marathon. He went to reply but hesitated due to a sudden dryness engulfing his mouth. A quick sip of water moistened him enough to say, ‘Sorry, Chantelle. Of course, I am always completely aligned with our values.’

‘Well, how about I just refresh us all?’ Chantelle replied with an upward inflection. 'We respect the livelihood of all our people—except when it undermines the longevity of the business.’ She took one final cursory glance at everyone. 'Now, I am sure the meeting invite had a pretty clear agenda and outcome. Shall we get back to it? I would hate to go back to the executive saying we had to schedule a follow-up.’

‘Yes, absolutely right, Chantelle,’ came Harriet's voice. She was the Chief Officer responsible for the Senior Middle Management Group surrounding the board table. She towered over everyone in the room, even while seated. She was also sweating a tiny bit, but it was barely noticeable under her black pantsuit.

Harriet prided herself on consistently delivering the proper business outcomes. Even when she had a moral conflict with what they might be. This meeting presented her with one of those conflicts.

‘Before we proceed, Chantelle,’ Harriet said, hoping she was hiding the slight tremble in her voice. 'The team and I would like to know why such an important decision has been pushed down to us. Don't the Senior Upper Executives typically handle this?’

‘Oh, Harriet, you are hilarious,’ Chantelle replied with a playful giggle. 'Didn’t you and your wonderful team state in your employee comfort surveys that you wanted more input on big decisions?’

‘Aren't those surveys anonymous?’ Terry, one of the junior middle senior leaders in the room, asked.

‘Oh, Terry,’ Chantelle giggled again. 'Your workplace policy clearly states that any of your opinions and viewpoints remain the property of the business. That includes anything you say in employee surveys.’ Frank thought about responding for exactly half a second. Instead, he sunk back into his high-back leather chair, hoping it might make him invisible to any further scrutiny.

‘Harriet, can we please get on with it.’ It was the voice of the often-silent Geraldine. Unless, of course, she was trying to hurry a meeting along. Then, she suddenly had a motor mouth.

‘Quite right, Geraldine,’ Harriet replied. 'How about we start by going over the slack on your team? How many did we need to cut again, Chantelle?’

‘At least ten, Harriet,’ came Chantelle’s blunt response.

‘Right, well, I think we can probably find a lot of that in Junior Support Services. Who would you recommend, Geraldine?’

‘Harriet, you know we are already understaffed.’

‘Geraldine, we all have to make sacrifices,’ Chantelle interjected.

‘Yes, it just seems these sacrifices are a little more permanent than most,’ Geraldine snapped back.

‘I will remind you that they are called human resources for a reason,’ Chantelle said with air quotes and a sarcastic tone. 'Resources are meant to be consumed. I implore you to be mindful of the business's future.’

Harriet slowly rose and said, ‘How about Rickson, Dickson and Cheryl?’ She tried hard to sound emotionally detached from the human names she was adding to the sentencing list.

         ‘But Harriet, they all have families,’ Geraldine pleaded.

         ‘They will receive a fair severance for their loss,’ Chantelle said in a tone that was either sympathetic or condescending—probably both.

         ‘Should we compare productivity dashboards between divisions?’ Jordan asked gingerly. ‘Surely those removed should be individuals who do not contribute significantly to the financial priorities.’

         ‘Very impressive,’ Chantelle said with a wink that made Jordan shiver. ‘We should absolutely ensure a fair process to decide who goes from each division.’

         Harriet slowly marched toward the monitor that covered an entire wall at the front of the room. She quickly ran her fingers over a small control panel, bringing the main screen to life. A series of graphs and charts in traffic light colours popped up. Some showed large pie chunks with attention-grabbing shades of red. Others had various bars extending left to right as though racing toward a finish line.

         ‘Harriet, you need to turn on the productivity filter,’ Geraldine said.

         Chantelle also commented, ‘And I cannot help but notice that this only shows stats for Lower Junior Analysts.’

         Harriet started breathing rapidly, and her face flushed red. ‘I thought we would only be focussing on the lower layers of the organisation,’ she said.

         ‘You should know better than anyone, Harriet, that the resource strain is across the entire business,’ Chantelle responded with her usual grin. The one that made everyone think she might eat them.

         ‘Of course,’ Harriet said with a sigh. She turned a dial next to the control panel, which caused the graphs to morph and change colours.

         Silence descended on the table as they took in the new information. Harriet stepped backward and clasped her hand over her mouth. She turned back to her team and noticed Chantelle’s grin extending even further. It was surprising that her face did not crack under the strain.

         ‘Well,’ Chantelle snorted out. ‘The stats do not lie, do they?’

         Geraldine and Jordan rose from their chairs and ran out the door. No one noticed their exit as they were fixed on the screen. However, attention eventually turned to Harriet.

         ‘I will get the process started,’ Chantelle said as she flipped her various notebooks closed. ‘I was not expecting Harriet and two of her upper senior leaders to be impacted. But here we are.’ She stood up and glided towards the door. Before leaving, she turned back to the team and said, ‘You will get calendar invites for their memorial services by the end of the day. Remember, there will be cupcakes.’

March 15, 2024 04:42

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1 comment

Karla S. Bryant
03:13 Mar 21, 2024

Great twist at the end! It reminded me, in tone and imagery, of an old Twilight Zone episode. Wonderful world-building and suspense in every paragraph.


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