Perks at Work
I saw a little throw-away article in The Boston Globe the other day on perks available in some local companies: beer in the fridge, ping pong table, cool employee lounge.
I guess you could say that my present work-life is chocked full of perks: snacks in the kitchen, flexible schedule, comfy bed where I can take a nap, flat-screen TV, casual dress everyday, shower and Jacuzzi, get to keep my laptop and smartphone.
But wait just a dern minute here.
Sure, I have a lot of perks, but they’re all bought and paid for by me, myself, and I.
No, pretty much the only true perky stuff I get is the occasional polo, tee-shirt, logo pen, or coffee mug I can scrounge off of client. And most of those polo and tee-shirts, in truth, go to replenish my husband’s rag-bag wardrobe which has just not been the same since I stopped working full time “in corporate.” But I guess not having to see him in a washed-out, threadbare polo shirt with the collar unmooring itself from the body of the shirt is perk enough.
Anyway, that little Globe article did get me thinking about the perks I have witnessed, and, to far lesser degree, experienced during my full-time work life.
I’ve been with the free-soda, video-game, and comfy employee lounge kind of companies. Somewhat standard fare for smaller high tech outfits.
But the all-time champeen work-perk place I logged time was Wang Labs. (Perks for the 1%; definitely not the 99.)
I joined Wang in 1986, after it had crested on its giddy ride on the roller coaster. When I walked in the doors, it had already started on its terrifying plummet, which gained a scary amount of momentum during the 2.5 years I spent there.
At Wang – if you don’t count having a Burger King on premise – there were no perks for those at my lowly, senior product manager level.
But for the big shot VPs there were perks a plenty.
For one thing, they had indoor parking, which was a pretty big deal given that peon parking was in poorly lit, massive acreage lots that could leave you with a quarter of a mile hike to your building. The real downside of the parking lot occurred during the winter months – and it wasn’t just the long, cold, windy walk. No, if you got to work early in the morning when there’d been a light snowfall, you couldn’t see where the parking lines were. So people would just start lining up, creating their own order. Fair enough. But if, a bit later, once the snow had melted, the latecomers had a nasty habit of parking where the true lines were – even if it meant that they blocked someone else in. Now, I can’t really hang this one on Wang. It wasn’t directly their fault that they had a lot of a-holes working there. But it sure does speak to the Wang mentality that employees would deliberately wedge someone’s car in in this way. Perhaps they were just ticked off that they weren’t VPs who got to park in sheltered, underground parking.
Wang VPs, it was rumored, also had a clothing allowance, granted to them when they were elevated to VP level. What for, I’ll never know. It’s not as if they were required to wear formal attire to work. Everyone in the professional workforce there pretty much wore suit and tie every day – and that, I’m afraid, included the women. So why would a new VP suddenly need mo’ better clothing? It’s not as if I ever noticed that senior management dressed especially sharp.
Then there was business travel, which for Wang was done on the cheap if you weren’t a high status executive. I stayed in one hotel that had mouse droppings on the floor. I know, I know, bad things can happen to good hotels. Many years ago, when the Pierre Hotel was the ne plus ultra of New York swank, I stayed there a couple of times. The first time, I pulled the drapes aside to catch the view and found a two inch cigar ash on the floor. Ewww! No Pierre for us Wang-oids, however. Way, way, way too rich for their blood. Even though the execs stayed at better joints than the commoners, I don’t suspect that anyone was putting them up at the Pierre.
On another Wang trip, I stayed at a Chicago hotel that consisted of two eight-story cement block buildings in a parking lot surrounded by a cyclone fence topped with coils of barbed wire. Which wouldn’t have been half bad if both of the buildings had someone on duty in them. But only the one with the reception desk did and I, alas, was in the building in the further, darker recess of the parking lot. All I can say is that, once you get to your room, a scary hotel is made less so by propping the desk chair up against the door.
The real us-vs.-them distinction at Wang came to the fore when Wang started cutting back on lighting and office cleaning.
Executives got light bulbs. Unlike the rest of us, once they took out every third ceiling light in the office area. Fortunately, they still let us keep our individual desk lighting. Who needs overhead lighting, anyway? (Other than VPs, that is.)
The removal of two out of three overhead fluorescent lights in the halls near the elevator banks did impact peon and VP alike. Solidarność! (That the walls were painted a deep chocolate brown didn’t help any.)
Then there was the cleaning thang…
Now, you may not think that having your cubicle waste basket – the one that might contain an apple core or a banana peel, if you’d had your lunch while working – emptied every evening is a perk. I can assure you that it is.
Once Wang stopped emptying our waste baskets, we had to carry our personal slop buckets to an enormous (and open) garbage can in the corner of the floor near the coffee machine. While performing the evening ritual of waste-basket emptying, we would walk by our VP’s office and see the cleaning folks madly trash-emptying and vacuuming – another nicety that had gone by the boards for the rank and file.
After a while, the common garbage pails weren’t emptied every night, either.
Some days, they were overflowing with coffee grounds, apple cores, and banana peels.
Just as the broken window theory has been proven elsewhere, so it was at Wang.
Once those mega-garbage pails started spilling over, folks really stopped giving a damn.
One day, I found a shriveled up tea bag in an aisle. Another time, I came across a massive hawked loogie on the staircase.
And don’t get me going on the condition of the bathrooms, which I believe were shared by overling and underling alike, unless you were with the real big wigs on Mahogany Row where, I presume, that had big wig toilets as part of their perk package.
One of my colleagues found a row of dried boogers on the stall wall in a men’s room. A couple of weeks later, they were still there.
And the water pressure was so poor that the toilets didn’t flush particularly well. Could it be that they decreased the water flow to save money?
By the time I left Wang, I feared that I would contract typhus. Forget beer in the fridge and a foosball machine as perks. Clean bathrooms would have been nice. And it’s definitely a perk you have if you’re working from home!