A recent issue of Forbes magazine carried a fascinating article about unusual perks that American corporations are using to lure, and then keep, top-quality employees. The article, appropriately entitled “When Money Isn’t Enough,” told of one company that had generously offered to cover the cost of herbal therapy for its staffers, and allowed employees to get a free monthly massage “on company time.”
Another company profiled by Forbes kept a handyman on staff who did routine household repairs for employees while they were busy at work. Yet another firm would arrange for someone to be at an employee’s house when the cable guy came over. Then there was the company that ran a free laundry service for its work force, and another that had a full-time concierge to buy subway tokens for company personnel so that they wouldn’t have to wait in long lines.
Perhaps the most interesting company was the one that allowed employees to bring their dogs to work. “It would be real tough to change back to a job where I had to leave Pixel at home,” explained Ricki Brooke, manager of software maker Autodesk’s technical library. “She hates the weekends and looks forward to coming back to work.”
“Pixel,” of course, is the name of Brooke’s dog, and by the standards of
Not to be a spoilsport or anything, but I see loads of trouble up ahead if these unorthodox perk packages start to spread across the nation. Here’s why: Like a lot of people, I hate dogs. I’ve always hated dogs. I hate dogs in places where they belong, like the kennel, but I’d really hate them if I had to work in an office where other employees had their dogs trailing around behind them. Dogs are mangy. Dogs have poor hygienic habits. Dogs have no dignity. Dogs do all sorts of gross things in public. Dogs bite.
This being the case, it’s hard for me to imagine what it would be like to try concentrating on an important project while Fido and Rover were cavorting with Sparky and Bowser out in the hallway. And if Pixel happened to wander into the office and start nibbling on my lunch, I might just pull out a truncheon and turn her into dog food.
Letting employees bring their dogs to work is a bad idea for other reasons. It’s not just that it encourages the work force to think that the office is a sort of nursery school for adults. There’s also the issue of fairness. If Bob can bring his dog to work, why can’t Trixie bring her cat? If Tom insists that he can only be productive with his pet turtle Avalon poised on his desk, why shouldn’t Mindy be allowed to bring her pet gila monster to work? Frankly, I see lawsuits up the wazoo here, as cat, gerbil, ferret, and python lovers complain that the corporation’s caninecentric pet policy unfairly favors dog lovers while discriminating against aficionados of other less noble breeds. Llamas, for example.
As for some of the other perks described in the Forbes piece, I’ve got some serious reservations. Offering free laundry service for employees seems like a nifty idea upon first inspection, but what happens when the dry cleaning service misplaces your favorite Armani soaks, or shrinks a prized woolen vest down to the size of a handkerchief? Who takes responsibility for colors that run, stains that don’t come out, inexplicable shrinkage? The laundromat or the employer? Either way, a company whose laundry service routinely loses its employees’ socks or shrinks their jockey shorts is a company that’s going to have an awful lot of disgruntled staff members walking around the corridors. In very uncomfortable underwear.
As regards that concierge system, sure, it’s nice to have a gofer on staff paid to run down and buy subway tokens for employees. But think how easily this system can be abused. Today, the concierge is buying tokens. Tomorrow he’s placing bets on the 49ers game. One day he’s buying flowers for an employee’s most important client. The next day he’s buying candy for an employee’s most important mistress.
And that person who house-sits for employees the day the cable guy is supposed to come over? If the average cable operator is anything like mine, that housesitter’s going to be twiddling his thumbs on the employee’s living room couch until the first Tuesday before Armageddon. Cable guys and schedules just don’t mix.
The long and the short of it is: This whole perks thing could turn out to be a full-blown Pandora’s Box. Once companies allow themselves to get involved in employees’ laundering and canine affairs, it’s just one short step to being involved in their personal lives. Before you know it, companies will be paying “concierges” to raise employees’ kids, beat up annoying neighbors, and perhaps even phone overbearing mothers-in-law with ingenious excuses as to why workers can’t come to
On second thought, maybe this employee perks concept isn’t such a bad idea after all.
Joe Queenan is a regular contributor on business issues, corporate culture, and financial follies to Barron’s and The Wall Street Journal.