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When an AIG Spa Trip and the Little Things at Your Company Mean The Same Thing...

By now you know that everyone following the financial sector's meltdown is enraged that executives of AIG's main U.S. life insurance subsidiary spent $440,000 on a corporate retreat, complete with spa treatments, banquets and golf outings. White House press secretary Dana Perino called the event "despicable."

Dana - how do your REALLY feel?  I guess the gloves are pretty much off based on the economy...Spa

Quick to rationalize and spin, AIG issued a statement Wednesday saying that the "business event" was planned months before the Sept. 16 bailout and that it was held for top-producing independent life insurance agents, not AIG employees. Of the 100 attendees, only 10 worked for the AIG unit hosting the event, it said.

Hey, AIG spin-miesters, isn't that still a marketing expense that hits your bottom line?  A yes/no answer will be fine; spare me the additonal rationalizations.

So, the Capitalist likes capitalism but dislikes bad PR in the wake of a bailout.  Big deal. But the AIG drama got me thinking - what are the perks and signals in your workplace that tell your rank and file employees that everyone's not created equal?  I started my own list below; hit me in the comments with your additions:

-Reserved Parking Spaces

-Company Cars

-Executive Elevator

-Separate Medical Benefits for Executives

-Security for executive level offices, but none for the rest of the company

-Different email storage capacities based on your position

-Top managers always get the new stuff, never allow their direct report to skip them in technology

-Different business cards for senior executives

Like Bush and Good Charlotte said, it's the little things...

What am I missiing?  I know there are more, and you're just the person to enlighten me.  Hit me in the comments with your AIG-like examples of bloated corporate excess you'd love to blow up as a HR pro responsible for the flock....

Comments

Michael Wolfe

Here are a few I thought of...

1. The Executive Lounge that includes as many "free" drink or beverage options that you can dream of. And, yes, this includes "free" snacks as well...and of course no tacky vending machine.

2. The Executive Dining Room where Executives can enjoy their favorite cut of steak, light up their favorite stogie, sip some fine wine, and where they can eat and laugh among themselves or entertain "clients". All without having to pull out their own personal Visa.

3. In addition to the Executive elevator mentioned in the post their is an Executive entrance to their building or floor so that they don't have to interact or rub shoulders with all of the "commoners" on the way to their Executive suite.

Marie Adams

I got one ... when managers are allowed to "work from home" with little prior notice, but the regular worker bees have to fight to start telecommuting one day out of the week.

While it's pretty trivial, I always was bothered by the fact that top managers always have dibs on the best stuff - computers, chairs, cool squishy keyboard pads ...

Chris - Manager's Sandbox

I actually worked for a company like what you described above:
- Separate parking for exempt and non-exempt (non-exempt parked substantially farther away)
- Executives had THEIR own spots even closer
- Everyone had to wear badges, except for all the people who worked in the office (only enforced for production)..

I could go on for hours...

Wally Bock

Congratulations! This post was selected as one of the five best business blog posts of the week in my Three Star Leadership Midweek Review of the Business Blogs.

http://blog.threestarleadership.com/2008/10/15/101508-a-midweek-look-at-the-business-blogs.aspx

Wally Bock

Angela

I had to share a funny personal story fitting with this phenomenon. I had been in an office for nearly 8 years and probably had the same relic of a computer that entire time. I had been promised an upgrade when the office could afford a couple new systems. Then, I went on vacation and came back to find a new computer already set up in my office. I was thrilled and even went to tell a couple of co-workers about my good fortune. Less than a week later, my new computer began locking up and making an awful grinding sound. I went to the IT guy and said, "Hey, you won't believe it. I just got a new computer and it's acting up - can you come check it out?" He said, "What new computer?" I told him that I came back from vacation to find a new computer system in my office. He responds, "That's not a new computer. Sheila got the new computer and you got her old one." REALLY?? Although I always felt like a valued member of the team, that left a mark. Talk about total morale buzz kill!

Totally Consumed

Extravagance in times of famine is obscene, but in a free market it's how the game for top talent is played. Wanna take the private locker room and personalized parking spots away from the Kobe Bryants and LeBron James's of the corporate world? Go ahead. Just don't cry foul when they demand to be traded.

Paul Hebert

The lone voice of dissent.

While I agree with most of the comments posted about Executive lunch rooms and parking spots I don't really agree that the $440,000 getaway was a bad thing. In fact, one of the things companies need to do in this economy is spend money on things that engage and direct their employees and channel partners in a way that will drive business.

I posted the other day on my site about how creating reward and recognition programs now will help remove the uncertainty at work and get more results in the long run. ( http://tinyurl.com/4xqgep )

If designed correctly the cost of the program mentioned would have been covered by the incremental increases in business through that channel which would have a positive affect on the companies bottom line. Performance they may not have received if they had not conducted the program.

The "spin" in the headline calling it a "corporate retreat" immediately calls to mind a boondoggle - but in fact it was a reward event based on performance - earned awards not just a frivolous expense for a few that have a VP in front of their nameplate.

RicanaPR

Hey Kris! Here's a story, from one of the moms on my son's team....

The company she works for, which is in the construction industry, held its second round of layoffs on a recent Friday. The last time, she said, it was like the person to the right of her and the person to the left of her were laid off and she was spared. This time, anyone not on a project under construction was let go. So we sat at our sons' game that Saturday and mourned the co-workers she lost, like the guy whose wife is having twins and the guy whose kid also plays the same sport.

The following Tuesday, we met up at practice and she says, "Remember Friday? That was the good news." The following Monday, a pay cut across the board was announced, effective immediately. A single mom, I asked her what she was going to do, because that size of a pay cut can mean taking on a second job for some folks. She said she just made her last car payment and had already stopped the contribution to her 401(k). "What can we do? It's not like any of us could just quit and go get another job right now. And they (senior management) know it."

Meanwhile, she added, the principals in the firm are keeping their club memberships and car allowances. What she said next is key to all of this: "Come on, guys! If you're going to ask us to give a little, then you need to give a little, too."

They have been told that more layoffs are coming in Q1 2009. So they take the pay cut through the holidays and half of them will still lose their jobs after the holidays! Wonder if they're hiring at the club....

Scott Eblin

Hi Kris -

Thought you and your readers would enjoy another lovely view from the St. Regis (click on my name link to take a look). I wrote about the AIG retreat on my blog last week as an amazing example of a lack of awareness of the impact of the executive footprint. I won't add to the already great list of perks everyone else has offered. I think what they all have in common is that the beneficiaries of them either don't realize or don't care that people are watching and drawing their own conclusions about the nature of their leaders.

All the best -

Scott

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