stories of Machiavellian triumphs at work, part 2

Last week, I asked about Machiavellian things you’ve seen or done at work. Here’s part two of my favorites. (Part one was Monday.)

1. The voicemail

Had a sales guy at my first job in the late 90s who used to take ALL his calls and listen to ALL his voicemail on speaker. LOUDLY. We were a small company with a cube farm. This was the days before caller ID.

So one day some of us called when we knew he was out and left a voicemail saying something along the lines of “Hi Fergus, I went to my doctor and the rash is all cleared up.”

He never listened to his voicemail on speaker again.

2. The switcheroo

When I was rather younger, and back in the days when going to the pub on someone’s last day was de rigueur, one colleague refused to go back to the office at two o’clock. “All that’s going to happen is that [senior manager] will say what a great contribution I’ve made and how sorry you all are to lose me, and he doesn’t even know who I am.”

The answer, obvious to anyone awash with beer, was to take a random other colleague and put them forward as the leaver, whereupon the farewell went exactly as predicted (ROC even took the leaving gift of a squash racket, and I’m not sure that ever got to its intended recipient).

Had we been slightly more sober, we’d have chosen someone who wasn’t himself scheduled to leave a couple of weeks later, but as he said on his own leaving day “What can they do to me?”

The answer was nothing, and in fact the same senior manager trotted out the same platitudes to the same departing worker as he had a fortnight earlier, with never an eyelid batted on either side.

3. The gentle push

I was once hired at the same time as another coworker, but for the lower version of the role while she was in the higher version. She then proceeded to spend every day complaining about the job, so I would always tell her she was so right, she deserved better than that job, they didn’t appreciate her, she should follow her bliss, etc. I think it only took a couple of months before she was applying elsewhere, and I agreed that she totally didn’t need to give this place any warning because they didn’t deserve it. Not long after, they were in urgent need of someone to fill that higher version of the role, and why yes I was free and able to fill it, no problem boss.

4. The new policy

This is not precisely self serving in a personal way, but I once wired a meeting to prevent a new policy going through that I and others didn’t want. The Division Head wanted the department to support a policy that I and others felt was a bad idea. We didn’t want to openly oppose it. So three of us agreed we would oppose it covertly by amplifying any concerns raised.

The meeting started and the policy was presented. One very senior person raised a small issue and so I said ‘I hadn’t thought of it before, but Ida Long has raised an excellent point . . . and then built on that. Another person not in on it agreed and raised another concern and one of my fellow conspirators jumped on that. By the time we were through agreeing with and praising the insightful contributions of others in the group, the proposal was defeated and those who got the credit were the people who had initially voice minor concerns.

It worked so well that I used the same technique to get someone selected for a major honor that the CEO thought had been wired for his favorite.

5. The shadow government

I accidentally created a shadow government. I had an incompetent boss who was promoted way beyond her experience. She had no clue what she was doing, so she just found excuses not to do work until everyone forgot it was assigned to her. She also had a tendency to just repeat whatever other people said, and to take the side of the most recent person who had spoken to her.

I quickly figured out that I could get her to greenlight my ideas by letting her put her name on them. I would prepare a carefully researched and thought-out PowerPoint and share it with her as “hey, here’s a thought that occurred to little old me. I wanted to share it with you to see what you thought — can you dispense your wisdom, O Great Strategic Leader?” She would immediately put her name on it, share it with her boss (she never had her own ideas to share with her boss, so she loved stealing my ideas), then would graciously “allow” me to lead the initiative. I would pretend to be honored, then do her job for her and get the policies I wanted. As long as I always framed it as Seeking Her Guidance and “Gosh, I’d love to do this, thanks!”, she would give me free rein. Within a year, I was doing 80% of her job and functionally running the entire department, making all strategic decisions and setting almost all of the policies.

I don’t think she ever figured it out.

6. The hotel booking

My former manager has a story of being a relatively junior woman with a male boss, and in the way that often happens, she got asked to do a lot of admin things that weren’t supposed to be part of her job and that her male peers weren’t asked to do.

On one occasion, she was asked to book a hotel for her boss. Which she did, uncomplainingly. She found him a hotel very close to the relevant venue… but it was the kind of hotel that’s more usually booked by the hour than for the night. Her boss never asked her to do admin tasks again.

7. The fish cart

A colleague claimed to be so overworked his department head hired a full time temp to do his job so he could focus on his special projects. Turns out he wasn’t doing any work except for himself. He started his own business as a consultant while collecting a salary.

A client of ours ran into him at the beach where he was selling fish from a food cart (another bizarre side hustle I presume) during a work day, he was found out and fired. Last I heard he was running for mayor in his home town.

8. The security passes

I had a government job where my team operated as consultants – technically we had a place in our main office, but in reality we were supposed to be out in the ministries most of the time. So our manager decided we didn’t need security passes to the main office, since we were never going to be there. This policy was apparently fixed, immutable, never ever ever going to change.

Except of course we were there fairly often – for team meetings, for days when our clients were unavailable, days when we had no clients, and so on. The receptionist could let us in easily enough, but we also needed security cards to get back out. A lot of people handled this by leaving with someone else, or asking someone who sat near the door to open it for them. But I decided it would be rude to interrupt people’s work just because they happened to be sitting near the door. So – I called my manager instead. Every time. “Hi Fergus, I’m going for lunch now, can you let me out? Heading off to a client meeting for an hour, can you let me out? Leaving for the day, bye! Oh, can you come and let me out? Thanks so much!”

It took two days to reverse the the policy and get everyone their passcards.

9. The long lunch

My manager hates making decisions, so they often ask me what they should get for lunch. They’re also a bit of a micromanager, and constantly change my priorities minute-to-minute, so I start on a dozen things and finish none of them. On days when they’re really in my hair, I usually suggest a beloved local restaurant known for their huge portions and slow service. It takes my manager out-of-office for about an hour and a half while eating, and after they return, they usually have a “training webinar” that requires a closed door and lots of focus – which is, in fact, a nap on their office couch to sleep off the food coma. It doesn’t work every time, but when it works, it works!

10. The compensation study

A few years back, my company was doing a compensation study. For years, there had been requests from staff that the company release salary band information, and the company had finally promised to share salary bands for staff once the study was done.

Well, the study was completed and suddenly the company reversed its decision and said they wouldn’t be sharing the salary bands after all. Fine. A colleague and I put together a google spreadsheet with salary info (current salary, starting salary, years worked, demographic info, etc.) and shared it with our closer colleagues so those who were interested could share their salaries (no pressure).

When my boss found out and said he felt obligated to inform HR, we released it on the all-staff slack channel. We didn’t make any friends in HR that day, and ultimately only about 10% of staff chose to fill it out. But a few weeks later, the company released the salary bands, and I sent a (public) sugary sweet thank you to our HR team for supporting pay equity.

{ 180 comments… read them below }

    1. H.C.*

      If I can be sure that I won’t be ID’d on the voicemail, I would’ve been much less subtle about it: “Hey there, calling because my doctor confirmed the STI diagnosis, you might wanna get a checkup too.”

      1. Nervousmelon*

        yeah it’s the kind of thing you need a good friend to do for you (aka one that doesn’t work there)

          1. Bruce*

            Reading that story was the highlight of my morning! And I’m normally not very Machiavellian (though I did read The Prince in my Renaissance Lit class :-) )

    2. Abundant Shrimp*

      #1 is my hero. I started working in the US in the 90s and have worked with *so many* Ferguses, and with *so many* people who wanted to do something like that to our office Ferguses, but nobody has the courage or the creativity to think of a VM that would’ve been concise and to the point. Bravo.

    3. Generic Name*

      I really wish I or a coworker had thought of this when I worked in a small office for a Fergus.

  1. Snarkus Aurelius*

    #6> at my first job, I was a female in a male dominated industry. I was not, have never been, and never will be an admin. (You don’t want me as one anyway! I’m very bad at it.)

    I kept getting asked to make coffee for this one very important meeting. I don’t drink coffee. Never have. Don’t know how to operate any machine. For real! It took only two times for me to screw up coffee up, and no one ever asked me to do it again. A proper admin did it! Finally!

    1. Magenta Sky*

      I only had to describe how I’d make the coffee (“The bucket you put the coffee grounds in are that size for a reason – you fill it up level to the top, right?”) and I was told I didn’t have to make coffee after all.

      (Not female, we kept a pot for customers, which went over well. Because the folks who made the coffee knew how to.)

      1. Bruce*

        Not an intentional prank, but I used to be an office early bird, arriving around 6 AM with some other guys who liked to avoid traffic. We always made a double strong pot of coffee to get us going, and I often made the first pot. One morning around 8:30 I looked up and saw the company CEO was looking in over my cube wall. The conversation went like this:

        Yes, Dan?
        Did you make the coffee this morning?
        Uhm, yes, Dan, I did.
        Did you make it really strong?
        (at this point I noticed a slight quiver in his face)
        Uhhhmmm… Yes, Dan, I did…
        DON’T DO THAT!!!
        end of conversation

    2. LoraC*

      I just poured water back in. IDK, do you have to change out the grounds or something? I reuse teabags so coffee should be fine too.

      1. The Not-A-Fed Fed*

        My spouse adds a scoop of new grounds on top of the used grounds. Repeat until the basket is completely full, then he will empty the basket and start over.

    3. Inkognyto*

      I like coffee, I didn’t mind making it after the pot was empty, but most of my co-workers never let me make it after I do. I like it WAY stronger than most. Why because the pre-ground junk that most of our vendors had tasted like tea it was so weak. I used to do at least a 1/2 size more, prefer a double the bag/amount to get it strong. I’m a fresh ground person and anything pre-ground is never strong enough in ‘recommended’ amounts.

      The manager also liked it this strong, we made it in the decaf pot. One there was no decaf purchased (it was stopped because the stuff sat never used), and no one ever used the pot.
      Others learned fast.
      Then the new person started and someone else was assigned to give them a tour and the office basics. Coffee was skipped.
      I came in later but my mgr had made the strong coffee, and he was a person who liked decaffeinated coffee and poured a cup.
      I guess later he told the mgr there was something wrong with the decaf. she couldn’t stop laughing when telling me this. She’s like it was his 2nd day and he was very animated and talked fast. I was concerned about medical reasons for it, and she said no. A month later he was a convert to the ‘Decaf’ club, and a very productive worker.

  2. Looper*

    #5 didn’t note whether they got the salary or title of their boss, 80% of whose work they were doing. So kinda feels like maybe the Boss is the Machiavellian one here lol

    1. Dorothy Zpornak*

      Came here to say exactly this. I feel like there should be another letter somewhere from a manager gleefully recounting how she bamboozled her underling into doing her entire job while she takes all the credit, status, and financial benefits, buwahahahaha.

      1. ferrina*

        I was #5.

        There was a part 2 to the story that has the karmatic triumph you’re looking for.

        I re-built my resume using all the accomplishments I had done for my boss. My industry is such that it was very clear that I was doing my boss’s job without the title, and another company quickly hired me. I got the same title as that boss, making an extra $15-$20k more than that boss.

        When I left, it became obvious that I had been doing her job. Half the company already knew what was going on, and the other half quickly figured it out when suddenly my ex-boss couldn’t do even basic tasks. She stopped responding to email and went into corporate hiding, her department had 80% turnover, and within three years Ex-Boss, her boss, and her boss’s boss were all forced out.

        1. House On The Rock*

          This is indeed deeply satisfying. Your story was very reminiscent of my last job where I and a couple other middle managers slowly chipped away at almost all of our incompetent director’s responsibilities and took them on (and did them better without his interference).

          Sometimes it rankled, but it also meant that when he finally ran afoul of other higher-ups in a political brouhaha, it was quite clear that he wasn’t doing anything and was shuffled out in a reorg. Meanwhile the other middle managers and I parlayed our experience into better, more rewarding, better paying jobs.

        2. Lucia Pacciola*

          I dunno. That sounds like pretty standard ambition and work ethic to me: Take on more work, take credit for it, get a promotion and a raise as a result.

          And that second paragraph kinda rubs me the wrong way. Unless your Machiavellian scheme was to screw over your boss and nuke the department, *and they had it coming*, why would you celebrate this?

          1. WellRed*

            OP didn’t get credit, she did the work and the boss took the credit. The only person here doing any screwing over was the boss who eventually screwed herself.

          2. Resident Catholicville, U.S.A.*

            Once the OP was out the door, it was on the boss and the department to sink or swim. Unfortunately, the department sank. Every single job I’ve left, I’ve left knowing I did everything I could to set it up for success- and if it failed after I leave, it was on them. It sounds like the OP contributed greatly to the success of the department *while they were there* and if the rest didn’t keep that up after OP left? That’s on them.

            1. Lucia Pacciola*

              That’s totally on them, I agree. It’s not very Machiavellian, though. It’s not like LW schemed behind their back to set them up for failure. LW just did their job really well, and moved on to a better opportunity on the strength of that work.

              1. Seeking Second Childhood*

                To be fair, the second half you’re complaining about wasn’t in the original answer… it was added after OP was asked what happened next.

          3. Abundant Shrimp*

            Boss was happy as a clam with OP doing her work and her collecting the paycheck for the work OP was doing. She thought it was going to last forever and all of a sudden, surprise! It ended. Well worth celebrating to me.

          4. Boof*

            The Machiavellian part was how to take on more work and get promoted, DESPITE an incompetent boss who probably would have really hindered LW5 from succeeding if LW5 hadn’t managed up really effectively.
            It’s really frustrating to see someone in a position of power who shouldn’t be in charge. So the celebration is that that eventually got rectified; not that I’m glad for any personal distress that happened along the way, but hopefully long term there was less personal distress for everyone without that person still in a position of authority they couldn’t handle.

        3. KB*

          Oh, thank goodness you added this addendum!

          What I was hoping for is far more Machiavellian, though….

          “A month before I knew I was leaving that role, I proposed the worst possible idea I could think of. I spent a few weeks implementing the idea that would have devastating impact for months to come. Eventually boss was let go and just yesterday I discovered that they are now going to jail for some kind of bitcoin scheme they started just after my old workplace fired them.”

      2. Don't know but I know Joe*

        I’m in way over my head and the trick is “development opportunities”. I have multiple employees doing things like this and am not taking credit for their work, I sell it to anyone who asks as prepping for the long term. I have no idea how to do things. I’ll openly admit I only know what needs to be done now, what could be done and who can, who will and how to bring them together.

        #5s manager had the downfall of thinking it was about her rather than shining a spotlight away or maybe one day someone will figure it out and I’ll go back to doing what I do know how to do before the promotions

    2. Antilles*

      The Boss got the salary of a manager, the credit for the good ideas, the halo effect from the group’s success, all while passing off 80% of the work.

      There’s certainly a story of Machiavellian triumph here, it’s just not the one that OP#5 thinks it is.

    3. Dont ask about StateFarm*

      Exactly! Not only did the boss pass on 80% of the work (assumingly without increased pay or benefits), she convinced #5 to be happy about it!

      1. ferrina*

        I was #5. And I certainly wasn’t happy- it was more an act of self-preservation.
        The boss wasn’t clever enough to have a devious underlying scheme. And even if she had been trying to do that, it backfired spectacularly- I left less than 2 years after she took over, and suddenly she was not producing anything. Half the company already knew I was doing her job, and the other half caught on really quickly after I left.

    4. Lacey*

      Yes, the boss in #5 sounds an awful lot like a manager in the company I work for.
      I couldn’t help wondering which of my coworkers thinks they’re pulling a fast one by letting her take credit for all their hard work!

    5. ferrina*

      I was #5. And it actually worked out beautifully….

      I did this song and dance for about a year and a half. Then updated my resume with all my accomplishments, most of which were things known in my industry for being done by higher levels. I got a MUCH better job at a MUCH better company.

      When I left, my boss tried to counter-offer me. I laughed and politely told her not to waste her time- my new role was the same titles as hers, and at a higher payband than hers (by about $15-$20k). Her expression was priceless.

      Once I left the department fell apart. They had 80% turnover in the first year. The negligent boss totally vanished (her own staff had no idea where she was). The company had to rebuild the department from the ground up.
      Coincidentally, the grandboss who had selected my incompetent boss was unceremoniously let go about a year after I left (maybe something to do with drastically dwindling revenue and high turnover?). A couple years after that, the CEO who had created a culture of “expertise isn’t that important” was forced out as well.
      Meanwhile, I am very happy and thriving at my new job.

    6. tb3*

      Right? Did you get the pay or the title? How is this a good thing that you are leading the company without any of the compensation for that?

    7. Mellor*

      This was what I thought too! Alison, I think #5 would benefit from some additional context the OP has provided in this thread.

    8. Dark Macadamia*

      Yep… I can understand if you’re passionate about the work you might feel like the outcome is what matters and you’re just glad things went how you wanted, but it’s not self-serving to basically donate your labor to the company so they/your boss can benefit.

  3. Hmm*

    Honest question for #5, no snark intended- is that… good? I was expecting the story to end with you getting her title and a pay raise but where it ends it essentially just sounds like you doing her entire job for her with no credit or salary benefits. I feel like itʻs less “she never noticed” and more “she had a ridiculously good thing going with you doing her work and she gets to keep her job”

            1. HipsandMakers*

              I find it fascinating that someone can have apparently very strong feelings about the precise semantics of “Machiavellian” and then turn around and be so semantically loose with “retcon”.

              1. sparkle emoji*

                Agreed, some of the Machiavellian definition distinctions felt like word nitpicking.

            2. Pickle Shoes*

              Even if it’s not an accurate word choice, it fits better than Machiavellian.

              The story we started with had the LW proudly sharing them being taken advantage of for over a year while thinking their boss never did figure it out.

              The addition in the comments seems odd, at the very least, since it’s the part of the story that’s actually relevant and paints a very different setup.

              1. HipsandMakers*

                Here’s that poster saying pretty much exactly what she said today in the comments of the original post. Link to follow.

              2. Seeking Second Childhood*

                Well, she did work she wanted to do, others in the company knew she was doing her boss’s worķ, and she parlayed it into a promotion with extremely good pay within 2 years.

                Close enough for me.

                1. Peanut Hamper*

                  I think the thing about something being Machiavellian is that it doesn’t look very Machiavellian until the very end.

                  A Machiavellian scheme doesn’t mean that you are there twirling your mustache from the very beginning in an obvious way.

                  This is close enough for me, as well. It’s quite brilliant, actually.

              3. Gemstones*

                Yeah…as is, the story isn’t remotely Machiavellian. It seems odd the LW left off the actually Machiavellian part. They didn’t just bury the lede; they left it miles away…

    1. brjeau*

      They responded to the comment above this one (from Looper) with more details about the aftermath, looks like it did pay off!

      1. Hmm*

        Thatʻs good that it worked out. I feel like itʻs still a reeeeally risky long game that will not work out in the workerʻs favor a majority of the time, but good on OP5 for making it work.

        1. Hmm*

          I didnʻt mean to say “work” so many times in two sentences, but I guess it works (hah) with the theme of this website.

        2. Overit*

          Exactly. I got stuck doing my boss’ job and she got the credit. She then got the big promotion which included an ocean view office in SoCal. While my office view was a midwestern traffic ligbt and I was denied the small raise I sought.

        3. Boof*

          I think it depends how obvious it is to other places you might apply to what’s really happening…

    2. Theon, Theon, it rhymes with neon*

      The thing about someone being your boss is that their decisions and policies affect you. If you have the ability to make or influence those decisions, you can arrange it so they’re decisions that you think make sense. Power can be its own reward, whether it’s the power to influence your own day-to-day, to make the changes you want to see, or both.

      Maybe we should call this Richelieuian instead of Machiavellian. ;) But really, this is why “power behind the throne” has forever been such a desirable position. Money, prestige, and power are three different things, and different people value them differently.

      That’s in addition to the fact that Alison has observed that the one upside to a boss who doesn’t do their job, but will let you do it, is that you can ease yourself into higher-level position, gaining experience gradually and taking on new responsibilities as you’re ready, which you can then parlay into a job that you might not get if you were applying for it without any of the relevant experience.

      And for the boss…the good times only last as long as they have someone to do the work for them. It can all come crashing down like a house of cards once they don’t. For the worker, they have that relevant experience forever, and they’re extremely likely to be the kind of person who’s going to build on it.

      That’s similar to the investment I made when I was starting out in tech: I “donated my labor” in the form of 12-hour workdays for the first couple years…but thanks to all that experience, I also doubled my salary within a couple years, in a way in which I wouldn’t have if I’d worked a 40-hour week. Since then, all my raises in the last decade-plus have been stepping stones on that much higher salary.

    3. ostentia*

      Yeah, I got the sense that OP thinks she “won” or pulled someone over on her boss, but, I mean…she’s just doing her job for her, without the pay or the recognition. It’s almost like she’s proud that she’s being completely taken advantage of.

      1. JSPA*

        because not so long ago that “gay shaming” was almost universally a thing.

        (Still is-and worse-in some countries.)

        “Being gay” (or being thought gay) was something that could get you fired, in many states, until the Supreme Court ruled otherwise in 2020.

        “VD-implying was and still is kind of mortifying” is very different from “gay-implying was actively dangerous to job prospects and social respectibility.”

  4. I edit everything*

    #4: For a minute, I thought the OP had rigged recording devices in the conference room. Then I realized that “wired” means “rigged.”

    1. Strict Extension*

      Yeah, I’ve never understood “wired” to have the meaning OP uses here, so I spent a while wondering what the benefit of installing surveillance equipment is on a meeting you are yourself attending.

      1. Artemesia*

        That was mine and I am older than the hills — it may be a slang term from my youth — so yes — rigged.

        1. Strict Extension*

          After I read the whole thing I figured it out by context, and it has a certain kind of logic. In a physical sense, “wiring” and “rigging” can be synonyms. It was just a new usage to me.

        2. Slow Gin Lizz*

          That was a brilliant story, though. Kudos to you. I have been doing something to this effect for our lazy and dishonest coworker who I have no control over and it’s been somewhat enjoyable. I mean, what would be a lot more enjoyable would be if she got fired but that may take a couple more weeks. For now, though, we’ve been pushing back on her nonsense by asking very detailed clarifying questions and then laughing internally when she can’t answer them. So, not quite the same as what you and your colleagues did, but trying to rig the game so that TPTB (who are mostly ineffective, or else this person would have been fired weeks ago) will see how truly incompetent and dishonest she is without actually tell them that I think she is. (Though my boss has certainly told them…here’s hoping she’ll be fired soon.)

        3. The Rafters*

          I’m probably as old as you are Artemesia. In my younger working years, “wired” meant you had an “in” with some high up muckety muck, i.e., “wired to the Governor’s office,” “wired to the White House.”

      2. fhqwhgads*

        Yeah it puzzled me too when I read the original post. Like, I get it now they meant it metaphorically, but at first it took me a minute, like is that an expression?

    2. AhJustMe*

      I came here to ask that; thanks for clarifying. Totally thought the room was actually wired, until I got to the end and it made no sense.

  5. Retail Dalliance*

    I feel kind of ignorant but I’m not sure I understand #2 as it is worded. Someone was leaving for good, didn’t want to come back to the office after the pub lunch, and they just…subbed out the person who was leaving for someone who was staying?

    1. Magenta Sky*

      Yep. And the boss doing the “we’re sad you’re leaving” speech didn’t notice.

      And also didn’t notice a few weeks later then the substitute also left.

    2. RabbitRabbit*

      Staying for another two weeks only.

      Two weeks later, that person did return to the office and received the same platitudes/handshake from the same manager without any sign that the manager realized the duplication.

    3. Jzilbeck*

      You’re not alone. I read that one like 5 times and still wasn’t sure exactly what happened.

    4. Two Dog Night*

      Yup. And then the sub left 2 weeks later, and the manager never noticed that s/he said goodbye to the same person twice.

      (LW2, it made sense to me, and it’s hilarious!)

      1. ferrina*

        I had to read it a couple times, then it clicked and I started laughing out loud. That was amazing!

    5. Ama*

      That one was mind boggling to me but I’ve also only ever worked in smallish places where the manager giving the goodbye speech has at most 4-5 direct reports so there’s no way they wouldn’t notice that the wrong person was standing there.

    6. Bitte Meddler*

      Leaving Person #1 (LP1) didn’t go back to the office for the formal goodbyes because the Senior Manager doesn’t even know who they are, so all the “We’re so sorry to lose LP1, they’ve been a great contributor and I know you all love them as much as I do,” stuff would be completely meaningless.

      So the group decided that Someone Who Isn’t Leaving Person #1 (SWILP1) should stand in for LP1. And, yep, the Senior Manager had no idea they weren’t LP1 and gave all the hollow platitudes (plus a squash racquet).

      BUT… it turns out that SWILP1 had already put in their notice and was leaving the company in two weeks.

      So, two weeks later, SWILP1 got another send-off full of hollow platitudes from the Senior Manager who, apparently, did not realize that this person was the same one whom he just gave a squash racquet to a couple weeks earlier.

      No mention of whether or not SWILP#1 got a second squash racquet.

    7. Thomas*

      It took me three or four reads to realise that the oblivious butt of the joke is the senior manager giving the “we’ll miss you so much” kind of speech.

    8. NeutralJanet*

      It’s kind of funny, but I don’t really understand how it’s Machiavellian. No one gained anything from it and it wasn’t a particularly cunning or clever scheme.

  6. Cleopatra, Queen of Denial*

    #9 is the kind of boss who could totally be taken out of commission for the rest of the day by an entire family-sized chicken pot pie

    1. Mephyle*

      I don’t know which is the best part – managing the boss to gain undisturbed work time, or the “training webinar”. I want to title this one “The Long Lunch and the Training Webinar”.

  7. Magenta Sky*

    #8 reminds me of a controller we had who decided we were too loose with the use of the company credit card (and she was right), and came up with an authorization form that had to be countersigned by two of the three higher ups in the office (who were rarely in the office at the same time), or by the owner alone.

    The third time in an hour and a half I went to the owner to get him to sign off on a $20 part from Amazon, he followed me out of the office, and had a chat with the controller, and the policy was . . . relaxed.

    Malicious compliance is tasty, with a little salt.

    1. MigraineMonth*

      As someone who’s worked in high-security environments, this isn’t even malicious compliance, it’s basic compliance! Regularly letting someone in/out without the proper security clearance/permissions/cards/tokens is a big deal.

      Though I’m not entirely sure why they put so much security on people exiting; that seems like it could become a safety issue.

      1. Margaret Cavendish*

        Oh, definitely – no argument at all with needing passcards to get in! I never did understand why we needed them to get out, rather than having an unlock button or a crash bar, but I knew that wasn’t going to change.

        I did understand the manager’s logic behind not giving passcards to the consultants – I disagreed with it, but I could see where he was coming from. Probably there was some fee associated with them in the dept budget, and he decided to save a couple of dollars by only giving cards to people who Really Needed Them. All I did was help adjust his perspective on who those people were!

      2. ArtK*

        Probably tracking in-and-out movement. I’m sure the building codes require crash bars or the like for exits in an emergency.

        What grinds my gears is that they didn’t bother to use the electronic logs to see how often these people were using their badges. Thirty seconds with a report and they’d realize that the badges are needed.

      3. Magenta Sky*

        This wasn’t a high security environment. And I certainly could have annoyed people other than the owner, and I could have combined the orders doing so.

        It was, indeed, compliance, but it was, indeed, malicious.

      4. Thomas*

        It’s to make it harder for an intruder to leave undetected, possibly with stolen information or property. Yes there’s an emergency exit bar or suchlike, but that will be configured to instantly alert security.

        Not everywhere thinks it’s worth the trouble, but that’s the idea.

      5. Labrat*

        I work at a 24/7 multibuilding site. In the event of a fire or other
        state of alarm, the turnstyles and doors at become free-wheeling/sliding in case evacuation is needed.

        The purpose of normally badging out, is the system tracks who is currently present. In a state of emergency the data ca can be used to verify evacuation is complete/alert first responders if they need to search for people.

  8. FricketyFrack*

    The most Machiavellian thing I’ve ever done at work only resulted in a new microwave for the breakroom. The head of the state department I worked at had an assistant known as “the Dragon Lady” and she decided we could keep using our old fire hazard of a microwave that routinely turned off because it got too hot. I sent an email to all staff saying I would buy a new one because it was A FIRE HAZARD, but if anyone would like to contribute to the cause, that would be nice (because I was one of the lowest paid employees). Within a couple of hours, the department head had emailed saying that it was very nice of me to offer, but he thought our budget could probably accommodate the cost of a new microwave.

    Anyway, great success, but I’m realizing I can aim bigger. I SHOULD aim bigger. Next stop, ice cream machine!

    1. Abogado Avocado*

      And after that, may I suggest you set your sights on a commercial Sonic-ice-style ice maker? I know you can do it!

      1. FricketyFrack*

        Ugh, I should. We have a couple of ice makers but it’s just stupid regular ice. Although I’ve actually heard rumors that when we move to our new building, we’re getting new ones anyway.

        Seriously though, my 5 person department has a microwave, toaster, Dash pancake maker, air fryer, Keurig Duo, and electric kettle. Please god, no more appliances.

      2. CrabbyPatty*

        Our Sonic-ice (pellet ice) maker in the work breakroom died about five weeks ago. A new one is approved but still hasn’t manifested. My theory is that they are perpetrating a scheme on us; We are going to get stupid regular ice, but if they delay long enough, us lukewarm beverage drinkers will be so pathetically grateful for ANY ICE AT ALL that we won’t quibble over cubes…

    1. Artemesia*

      Rigged — wired means the same thing but has apparently fallen into desuetude — or perhaps it was a regional usage — I grew up in Seattle and we invented a lot of slang terms there.

  9. Anat*

    #4 — Now that is a transferable life skill! I’m so impressed, and I’ll keep the story in my back pocket in case it ever comes in handy.

  10. Snoozing not schmoozing*

    #4 and #5 sound like standard, everyday office maneuvers to work around less-than-perfect managers.

    1. Awkwardness*

      In order to pull off #4, you really need to coordinate and be on the same page among several colleagues. Between those having different opinions, those not wanting to speak up and those with their own loyalties, this is not possible most of the time.
      I applaud #4 even more!

      1. Snoozing not schmoozing*

        I guess my workplace was so messed up, it was common to have the staff plotting like that at any given time, and frequently succeeding. The best scheme was when a handful of us got the president/CEO fired.

  11. Miss Muffett*

    #5 – weaponized competence followed directly by #6 – weaponized incompetence. Genius!

    1. Richard Hershberger*

      I get pushback around here whenever I advocate for weaponized incompetence. It is only appropriate for stuff that is not actually your job, but with that proviso I consider it perfectly cromulent for BS stuff.

      1. House On The Rock*

        It’s a really important thing to be able to do if you are someone who naturally has things foisted on you due to gender, race, age, or simply having done it once before. Sometimes people do it to get out of work they should, but not always!

      2. She of Many Hats*

        My on-site IT person has left the company and they’re not filling the opening. The rest of the IT Helpdesk is located in a different state. As the office admin, I’m clinging to my IT ineptitude unless they give me a noticeable pay raise because I would become the CEO’s onsite Help Desk otherwise.

    1. Frieda*

      I did a paler version of that when IT kept fucking up everyone’s entry fob. Assign me a classroom in a building that I can’t get into? I will call you, every time, and require someone to walk from their building to the one I’m trying to get into to let me in.

      Because it’s an often-used building I started going early while the prior classes were still in session so that no students were coming in or out, to retain the thinnest veneer of plausible deniability about the urgency of the situation.

      Fixed it pretty quickly, they did.

  12. TeenieBopper*

    That salary band story. Hell yeah. Not a union organizing success story, but it’s pretty close.

    1. MCMonkeyBean*

      Companies are already terrible at sharing salary information, but I can’t imagine how they thought they could say “We’re going to research your pay and tell you what we found” and then come back and say “Actually we researched your pay but now we don’t want to tell you what we found…” and think the employees would just let that go.

    2. ariel*

      10 is my favorite – way to go OP and colleagues!!!! I feel like there are not many workplaces that couldn’t benefit from a trio like you.

  13. McFizzle*

    #6 deserves the highest honors. Brilliantly done! The gender aspects on both sides has me literally cackling. Brava!

  14. Jellyfish Catcher*

    Hey Alison – we need Machiavelli Day at least every 6 months – or (fiscal) quarters, even better !
    It’s like updates but all entires are So Satisfying…. and have many Good Ideas.

  15. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain*

    I always feel like the consultant-side-hustle-fish-cart-mayor-guys end up working way harder at their multiple shenanigans than they would if they just did one job moderately poorly for as long as they can. I salute the people who can take an hour-and-a-half lunch, then have a “training webinar” the rest of the day.

    1. WellRed*

      I totally agree! Why would he want to sell fish from a cart at the risk of his real job?

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        Until I thought about all the other details, I wondered if he was just pitching in to help a friend or family member with their truck.

        But everything else adds up to something weirder.

    2. Peanut Hamper*

      He’s obviously one of these “idea guys” who always think they have great ideas which actually aren’t, and he’s just waiting for the rest of the world to catch up to his greatness. In reality, the world has left him in the dust.

  16. Suzie the Doozie*

    I used to manage a training system. Most of the items in the system could never be deleted once created; the exception, however, was a group. A group was created to assign training – think “all managers” as a group – and you use this to assign training that is for managers only.

    Someone kept deleting my groups – which meant the training with no longer be assigned. I was pretty sure it was “Samantha”, a passive aggressive co-worker who was after my job. Always fake nice when management team was around – but always with a not-so-subtle verbal jab.

    Very few people had the access to delete the groups, but Samantha was one. Since I sat right next to her, I made a fake phone call later in the day when most people were gone. I pretended to talk to the company that created the training system about a new feature that traced EVERY single action in the system. (Things got real quiet at Samantha‘s desk during this “conversation”.) I said “wow, so you can literally see if somebody deletes a group, and who it was, and what time of day it happened, etc..?” After an appropriate silence I said “ok, great! How do I turn this feature on? Oh, it’s already on? Fantastic! How do I see the records of say, who might have deleted a group?”

    Total silence from Samantha’s cube. After wrapping up my “conversation”, I never had another deleted group. I’m sure that was just a coincidence.

  17. TPS Reporter*

    Has anyone watched The Traitors (Australia, UK or US versions)? A lot of these schemers would be great contestants!

  18. Len*

    #5: well, unless you were getting paid to run the department, it sounds like you played yourself

    1. linger*

      OP5 notes above that after updating her CV to reflect her actual Boss-level accomplishments, she got hired into a similar position to Boss at a higher salary, then watched the department implode in her rear view mirror as Boss, Grandboss, and Greatgrandboss were ousted in turn. [See comments by ferrina.]

  19. Jellyfish Catcher*

    Regarding # 2.
    Did the stand-in guy get a second squash racket at his genuine retirement? Hope so.

  20. Dido*

    I think the fire marshal would have a lot to say about #8’s workplace requiring a security card to get out

      1. New Jack Karyn*

        Is there an automatic release in an evacuation? It doesn’t sound safe to me, but I’ve never worked in an office like that, so there might be stuff in place that I’d never even think of.

        1. Janne*

          I worked at a hospital where we had to badge in and out, and yes, in case of emergency you could manually open the doors, no badge needed. If you’d manually open the doors outside of an emergency, security would be alarmed. In the 2 years that I worked there, we had one unexpected evacuation and it went fine.

    1. Madame Arcati*

      Yeah I’ve worked in places you have to swipe out because of Security with a capital S. In a fire or similar emergency, you can use an emergency fire exit (button) but you wouldn’t do so out of laziness because, obvs, all the alarms would go off and you’d be in very hot water!

    2. Warrior Princess Xena*

      I think it’s the difference between “you cannot get out without a card, period” and “you will trigger alarms if you go out without performing the normal check-out procedures”.

  21. allathian*

    Search for posts by ferrina, she was playing the long game. She got hired somewhere else at an equivalent position and higher salary a couple years later, and the former department imploded after that.

  22. HailRobonia*

    #5: it sounds like the incompetent boss is the winner here. You’re doing the work but she’s getting the pay.

  23. Overit*

    #5. Hate to say it but if you were doing 80% of your boss’ work at your lower rate of pay, she was the one who triumphed.

  24. Mini Machiavellians*

    Does Middle School count? One of our teachers would regale us with tales of her two small sons so incessantly that the lesson plan for the day could get entirely postponed. Any day she announced there would be a quiz later, the whole class of 12-year-olds would exchange knowing looks and take turns asking for a follow up on the most recent (or dramatic) event. We were able to postpone those quizzes more than once!

  25. That_guy*

    I’m not sure I love #5. Doing your boss’ job and letting him/her take the credit doesn’t seem to be a good way to advance your career.

  26. Chick-n-Boots*

    That last one was just….fantastic. A total “not all heroes wear capes” moment for the ages! Seriously – kudos.

  27. RamonaThePest*

    My last year of teaching before retirement, I was assigned to teach all subjects in our elementary school grade level. Although I taught ELA subjects for years, my college major was math based so it wasn’t too hard for me to teach math and science. I had the most experience, resources, and background in ELA, but Team ELA…I had long given up hopes of any actual input, but this–“Can we use another assessment grade instead of “For Laika?” The dog dies, it’s not a great piece of literature, it’s just a test prep generated poem… and…the dog dies in a Soviet space experiment.” “We’ve always used “For Laika.” Two to one, voted down. Team Math, on the other hand–was extremely efficient, divvied up the prep assignments, and literally did not need my input in any way, and were happy to explain lessons on the fly as needed. I’d start in planning meetings in ELA, stand up after a few minutes and say I was needed to attend Team Math, and then go to my room to prep for my lessons, plan my small group ELA lessons, etc. Not the most Machiavellian act, but it worked.

  28. The Not-A-Fed Fed*

    We have a beautiful outdoor area next to our building with some super old, wobbly, rusty tables and chairs. They were so rusty that there were exposed sharp edges. Our manager was told there was no money in the budget for new tables, even though employees regularly use them. One day when the director came to visit, our manager took her outside to eat lunch off the rusty table. The first thing she said was, “Ewww, look at all that rust.” We had a brand new set of outdoor furniture the next week.

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