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$50/Month/Employee

When I first moved to Florida I worked for a company I'll call "HS." One of the perks of the job was that I could cross a hallway, grab a Coke from a fridge, and drink it. I had to write my company name on a piece of paper, so they could be billed for the Coke, but we were encouraged (and of course allowed) to drink and eat (they had some chips and things too) all we wanted.

I estimate that I drank about three cans of Coke/day, sometimes four if I skipped lunch. At $0.75/can that comes to $3/day, and about (30*5/7 = 21 work days/month) $63/month. I was on the high end - Alison and Dave rarely drank, occasionally having a water or a bag of chips. So let's say $50/month/employee, and that's if they get ripped off on the cost of Coke.

As Eric points out, I wouldn't notice an extra $50/month on my paycheck. I simply wouldn't. I could spend that $50 on Coke, but the overhead and worry of buying it, stocking it, bringing it in to work, keeping it cold, etc. is simply not worth it. Instead, for $50/month/employee, my boss (Jeff) kept employee morale higher than had I been forced to bring my own beverages. Like Eric says, $50/month/employee creates more than its value in morale, enthusiasm, loyalty, and warm, fuzzy feelings.

Shortly after I began working for HS, a bloke named Neil looked to merge his company with ours. He asked me what things were important to me, and I joked that I wanted free Coke. He promised me, not once, not even twice, but no less than three times that I'd get my fridge-o-Coke if it'd make me happy. I assured him it would. It had for a month and a half already!

We merged, we moved to the new offices, and there was no Coke. I asked, was told we'd get some soon. A week went by. Then two. Finally, having asked a few more times, I was told "if I had to get you Coke, I'd have to get beverages for everyone." This from a man who paid himself $20,000/month. Who knows what his wife made (they owned the company).

How'd that make me feel? Well, as good as free Coke made me feel, this made me feel bad. Or worse. It showed absolutely no honesty, absolutely no trust, and a certain level of spite for us "lame workers."

Neil was the worst boss I've ever had. I've not had many, but his list of atrocious behavior certainly doesn't stop with the coke. Neil's a salesman - he's not a technologist. The secretaries in that company know more about technology than he does. Still do, I'm sure. Within a few months of our merger, the original four of us - Jeff, Dave, Alison, and I had all left.

Since I'd like to stay on topic, and not turn this into a rant against Neil (I'd never stop typing), I'd just like to mention an example which stands in direct opposition to the "free Coke" thing. Neil had some software installed on the network that put a red ASCII "stop" hand on your screen when you went to an "unapproved" site. We later found out that Neil was emailed with the identity of the "offending" individual and the URL.

The "unapproved" sites consisted of, off the top of my head, playboy.com, travelocity.com, apple.com, cnn.com, espn.com, aol.com, monster.com, and several others. I'd never look at porn at work, but playboy.com had an interesting design I wanted to copy at the time. Discovery of this "red hand of death" led to a few interesting behaviors:

  • Instead of working, Dave, Alison, and myself spent most of the rest of the afternoon visiting as many sites as we could think of to see whether they were blocked or not. Dollar Cost: $200 in lost productivity; Morale Cost: Medium.
  • I sat there and pressed "reload" on cnn.com about three hundred times once, triggering the system to email Neil every single time. He came in five minutes later more than slightly pissed. Dollar Cost: only about $5, but highly amusing. Morale Cost: Medium
  • In order to avoid the "red hand of death" I wrote a PHP proxy server, stuck it in a frameset, and distributed the location of the script to Alison and Dave so that we could get our work done. After all, information coming from our own server was not blocked, and this allowed us to go anywhere we wanted. I tested it by actually looking at porn for a few hours, simply because I could. Dollar Cost: $250 in lost productivity; Morale Cost: None (it was actually a morale booster, but not for the company, but rather for our individual spirits).

So there you have it. In one month, Neil cost himself a lot of aggravation, $450, and an immeasurable amount of morale. One day (September 17, to be specific, less than one week after the whole 9/111 incident), I simply stopped going to work. I'd not begun work until June 15. You do the math - I wasn't with Neil very long.

A little Coke goes a long way.

1 Alison, on 9/11, was quite worried as she has lots of family in New York City. Obviously we weren't going to get much work done that day. Neil made us stay the entire day, even though none of our customers were open for business, and at one point actually came in to the Web developer office and told Alison "I have family in New York, and they're fine, so yours are too. Hang up the phone and get to work." Had Dave and I not been so shocked by this display of compassion, I think we'd have both laid Neil out. Ahh, hindsight is 20/20…

8 Responses to "$50/Month/Employee"

  1. I think all of us have had 'the boss from hell' at some point, but the 9/11 thing just takes the cake. He deserved the ass-whoopin' he should have gotten.

  2. This is an *actual* memo from a company in Boca that I used to work for:

    ----

    January 5, 1998

    Memo To: All Employees

    From: [president of the company]

    Subject: Policies on Coffee Breaks and Food/Drinks

    For over 15 years [company name omitted] has had a formal policy on 1)

    coffee breaks and 2) locations where food and drinks may not be consumed. These policies are as follows:

    -- There are two scheduled coffee breaks each day. The morning break

    is from 10:15 to 10:30 A.M. and the afternoon break is from 3:15

    to 3:30 P.M.

    -- The company provides free coffee or tea to employees during the

    scheduled coffee breaks and at lunchtime.

    -- Food or drinks (with the exception of water which must be in a

    closed container) are not allowed in company offices or warehouses

    at any time. Food or drinks may only be consumed in lunchrooms or

    patio/outside areas.

    These policies were established for good reasons. They were for cleanliness,

    electronic equipment concerns, work scheduling and efficiency. The company

    decided to pay for coffee and tea to offset any inconvenience employees

    might feel.

    Many employees are not following these policies. As a result, food and

    drinks are being consumed at any hour of the working day, employees are

    using extra company-paid time to obtain unauthorized coffee, and

    coffee is being consumed in places where food and drinks should not be consumed.

    In spite of the fact that our employee numbers have not increased in

    the past year, company expenses on coffee and related supplies have almost

    doubled in the past year.

    Effective immediately, I expect all employees to adhere to [company name

    omitted] formal policies as stated above. Supervisors and managers will be expected to enforce and monitor these policies in their respective departments.

  3. I am so glad I haven't had to experience something like that. All of my office job bosses have been awesome. Retail is another story 😉

  4. My company has coffee and tea going all day. We often eat at our desks if we bring something because the kitchen only has two tables. I don't know how many times I have spilt my tea all over my desk, but I have yet to break anything expensive.

    I run tinyproxy through a SSH shell redirect. I also use Phoenix, where I can clear my cache. It's not because I go to pr0n sites or anything, it's because my privacy is worth more than their tracking system, and I don't care what they have to say about it.

  5. It must be something in the water in Florida. My last job in Tampa we were promised the same thing: cokes and snacks to keep us programmers happy and productive. It was a startup but we had serious funding (in the millions) so money was not really the problem.

    The problem was the fact that after 6 months we still didn't have a refrigerator to keep cokes or any other drinks in, much less free drinks (like you say...how much can that be?). So I offered to go to the warehouse store in town with the secretary and scope out a good "dented" refrigerator. "Great," says the boss, "I'll get one if you can find one cheap." I found a very nice one for about half price because it had a dent on the side (so they couldn't sell it to an average customer). But did we get that? No....the next week my boss shows up with a small "dorm" fridge and that's what we were stuck with....for an office of around 20 people.

    Oh, and the CEO showed up a day later with a new Corvette, which I found out later was bought with company money....but that's another story all together.

    Ahhh, those were the days.

  6. It got worse. Not too long before I finally left, they added a new rule that we can't listen to music (even with headphones) at our desk when we work. I always like to listen to music when I work, but what made it even worse was one of the other programmers would sing to himself & drum on his desk continuously.

  7. This story's from my brother:

    One day at his company, he didn't have any pen left. So he went to the switchboard and asked for a new ball-point pen. The person at the switchboard told him that ball-point pens are for the management only, employee can only get a felt-tip pen. Order from the boss.

  8. I've worked at a couple places that provided free Coke and snacks. The both folded a few months after the ended the free Coke. I'm not sure if there is a moral in there but next time I work for a company and they stop providing beverages I'll know it's time to update my resume!


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