Fringe benefits during auterity

In the modern 21st century business world, everything’s supposed to be pretty egalitarian.

Here are some examples:

  • the days when you had to address your boss by their surname while they addressed you patronizingly by your forename, are pretty much gone, though maybe not in every establishment;
  • many executive offices are now paneled in glass, to allow you to see inside, which some people think is a gesture towards openness and accountability;
  • executive dining and catering facilities, which at one time were separate from those allocated to the unwashed masses, have now also largely disappeared. Where catering does exist now, it is quite often integrated;
  • large numbers of executives have now abandoned the idea of a dedicated status-symbol secretary, aide or executive assistant and instead share a pool of people dedicated to performing those tasks for all of them;
  • the executive restroom in many organizations has also been consigned to the annals of history;
  • heck, you’ll even see some companies where the guys at the top will dress down most days to avoid displaying their obvious wealth through their designer-label suits etc.

So, everything’s OK then and we’re all one big happy bunch!

Well, not quite. With time technology has evolved and so has the fringe benefits. The only challenge is that yesteryear’s fringe benefits were free.

Take one executive at a friend’s organization who insisted on having the latest hi-tech videoconferencing phone installed on his desk. The technical guys did the best they could to point out to him that this would be useless, as the communications infrastructure just wouldn’t support it and since he would be the only one with the device he will not be able to use all the functionality, he just said “I don’t care – get it installed”.

It sure looked cool but it’s a pity that over the next nine months, until he left the organization concerned, he couldn’t actually use it.

Then there was the chief executive of another company who, not satisfied with the big executive chair provided for him, decided to order a top-of-the-range model at an eye-watering price. The purchasing manager almost keeled over when he saw the price tag that came with this chair but didn’t have any choice but to comply.

Yet another executive only paying lip service to the concept of “the new economic reality” was discovered to have booked the most prestigious film-star type suite of rooms in a five star hotel when he was paying a visit to another site of the company he worked for. Clearly a single comfortably-sized business room wasn’t big enough.

A Head of Development for another company had obviously seen far too many James Bond movies and admired some of the super villains involved.

Yet another in an other example an executive purchased, for an absurd price but through the company’s account, a piece of corporate art to be hung on his office wall. He admired it immensely and was proud to show it to others. Nobody was ever sure whether the maintenance guys that hung it on his wall for him had done so upside-down intentionally or accidentally. What was certain was that he couldn’t tell the difference.

Timing isn’t always the forte of these guys either.

Take one member of an executive leadership team, who had written and published a memo to all employees relating to the removal of certain benefits due to difficult economic times and the need to cut costs. Not a pleasant subject but perhaps necessary and most people, even grudgingly, understood.

What they found a little less easy to understand was how only three days later, the same guy took delivery of an entirely new suite of white leather furniture which was installed in the waiting room outside of his office at a cost of several tens of thousands of dollars.

The social media and employer rating sites are full of examples such fringe benefit splurge. While they are less prevalent in the US as compared to Europe and other parts of the world, they are nonetheless constant reminder of how organizations and senior mangers lose focus.

The point is not that all office halls should be bare, and grey and white should the official colors for all furniture. The point is losing focus, companies and executives that are driven to achieving their goals standout in their focus – for them success is always more important than art.

And success if never measured in frivolous items and fringe benefits.

Last but not the least, there is a time and place for these things, if an overwhelmingly successful organization engages in some fine spending it would be acceptable, unfortunately these things happen often at times when an executive is just joining and performance is only a commitment.

Fringe benefits during auterity
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