Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Charity Begins at Home the Office

A buzzword that gets my back up is Corporate Responsibility. What is it? Well, it’s a lot of things but here is a definition from the Corporate Responsibility Index:


The World Business Council for Sustainable Development defines corporate responsibility as the continuing commitment by business to behave ethically and contribute to economic development while improving the quality of life of the workforce, their families and the local community and society at large.

On the surface, I think who can argue with that? Ethics, quality of life, helping out the community.

It’s not long before you realize that it’s going end up falling onto the employees. My first grumbling with it started when, in the name of environmentalism, I began to notice the printer police. Companies in the last few years have started making rules against unnecessary printing. They’ll make laughable gestures such as setting up one printer, in an obscure corner to service the entire floor. (In order to make it physically difficult and time consuming to print.) Unfortunately, I have learned that with this comes an ample supply of busy-body employees who feel it their duty to enforce the rules.

One place I was working at had just such a set-up. It was a large company and the entire floor consisted of about 100 people. They had one printer off the kitchen for all of us. (Being in sales, we had to print off each of our orders, so it was quite busy at times.) Anyway, I was off to lunch and I printed out SI’s Monday Morning Quarterback football column. Something to read while I ate a 6” tuna at Subway. It took me about a minute to get to the printer and there was another salesman, a militant greenie, looking at my article still printing into the tray in disbelief. Sheepish, I said I needed something to read at lunch. He chided me. “Not exactly company business is it? What a waste.” I took my printout and left silently. I then spent the rest of the day fuming that I didn’t fight back.

That was a somewhat trivial example. Sometimes I hear stories in a similar vein that are genuinely crazy.

There’s a story from, er… a friend of mine that was even more worrisome. I He was fairly new at a company and was not fully aware of the culture. One day he noticed that all the different sales managers were wearing jeans, and t-shirts. It wasn’t casual Friday. He asked why they were dressed as such and his manager told him there was a team building project, with the all managers, at the end of the day.

Later near the end of the day, all the managers gathered in his area before they went off. Finally the VP of Sales showed up. My friend asked him where he was taking the managers. He answered with a laugh: “Oh, they wish they knew. I haven’t told them yet. They’re in for a surprise."

He didn’t give it much thought. He thought they might be going hiking or something.

A few days later they had huge pictures of each of the managers in silly chef’s hats and aprons festooned all over a wall. The caption read something like: “The good work we’re doing.”

Figuring this was the team building project, he asked his manager what it was all about. Told not to make private plans after work because of the event, the team was whisked off to a grocery store to buy supplies. They then went to a church basement where they cooked the food and served a hundred and some homeless people a charity dinner. They were not told in advance that this is what they were going to do.

Now, I’m really sorry here, but that is way too much to ask. Instead of, you know, doing your job to the best of your ability and making the company profitable, you have to “volunteer” your own time to serve food to homeless people. It’s outrageous to expect that. If I was in that position, I would have walked away.

I’ve been at companies that do United Way drives. I’ve had companies that allow you to volunteer on company time. I myself have volunteered to a program. These are good things. But to dictate this to people is way over the line. Is it not enough to bust your ass for a company 50 hours a week to try to make a living?

What reminded me of this subject is a commercial on NFL Network. The NFL and Home Depot have a program to build playgrounds in troubled neighborhoods. The ad shows an NFL player making a speech and cutting the final plank while Home Depot employee “volunteers” are there doing all the labor. My wife and I joke that the poor bastards make $10 bucks an hour with no commission and are probably forced to volunteer their days off to build Jungle Gyms.

I’ve heard many more of these types of stories. I want to try and figure out what it all means. Maybe it was just a sign of profitable times, where people forgot the bottom line. A poor economy has the magic effect of focusing minds. I will post more on this subject in the future.

UPDATE: I'd like to know how many people regret being phony in job interviews and mention that this sort of "value" is important to them? Next thing you know you're on your feet for six hours by a hot stove and then ladling Irish Stew to twitchy, homeless people. You're missing your family and Monday Night Football. Your boss sees your sourpuss and says, "You specifically said this was important to you, that you wanted to give back to the community, what's your problem?"

2 comments:

  1. My husband took a job last summer, and two months in was told they were having a mandatory out-of-town retreat - beginning on Sunday on NFL kickoff weekend. We decided to go up early at our own expense so he could at least watch the day games. Even the dinner wasn't optional, so the evening game was out. Still he decided to stick it out. Then came the photos of last year's event. Cringe-worthy. The final straw was that an additional four day training period would be tacked onto the weekend for new employees - requiring them to devote their evenings for group homework.

    These aren't things you even think to ask about in a job interview.
    And now that you have, how do you phrase the question?

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