Wednesday, October 04, 2006


More Tales Of The Corporate Penny-Pinchers...

Slate reporter Daniel Gross got so many responses from readers to his recent article on corporate penny-pinching that he decided to publish an update. It turns out that vast hordes of white collar folks heartily second Gross's condemnation of how CEO tightwads reap minimal savings by skimping on office necessities. According to him, "The message to corporate bean counters is loud and clear: Whatever you do, don't stint on office supplies (especially paper clips) and caffeine."

The anecdotes of his correspondents are rife with comic indignation. They cite instances where their employer refused to pay for Post-It pads, where pens and Post-Its were locked away from those who needed them, and where their company refused even to buy office supplies any more - thus forcing the cubicle rats to purchase their own. The preservation of paper clips was a particular issue for many of these vastly wealthy mega-firms. A Bear Stearns veteran recalls being handed a bag of paper clips, explaining that Bear Stearns no longer bought the items and that these were all he would ever get. "This was on the direction of [legendary gazillionaire CEO] Ace Greenberg, and the company seemed almost proud of this inane cost-cutting measure." Another firm insisted on using paper clips rather than staples because the former could be recycled, and still another firm kept "a listing of each clip we used, and the reason for the use!" A box of 100 paper clips goes for about 49 cents by the way, not even half a cent apiece.

Similar campaigns to capitalize on the Lilliputian gains of saving on coffee and other beverages also resulted in some rather ridiculous stories. One restaurant chain charged employees two bucks a paycheck for the soda they drank (or did not drink) while at work. WorldCom cut free coffee. A major ad firm expressly forbade its employees to use the communal milk for cereal, and some companies eschew milk and cream entirely for the powdered stuff. I myself once worked for a company that charged 25 cents for every pathetic little cup of java we drank, even if we did have to brew it up ourselves.

We agree with Mr. Gross that depriving office workers of office supplies and decent morning coffee is not only humiliating and quintessentially Scrooge-like - it's counterproductive. Anyone who's ever worked in an office knows they need these commodities just to get through the day. Keeping them from your workers exhibits a denial not just of their humanity - but even of that small part of their humanity that must be engaged to get the job done. Corporations should care about Homo faber even if they don't give a damn about Homo sapiens.

"More Idiotic Corporate Penny-Pinching Measures" from Slate

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