A friend of mine, a veteran and inveterate freelancer, sent me a note the other day. A perspective, really, she’s gained at having worked at probably two-dozen agencies over the last three-dozen months.
“George,” she wrote, “there’s something Stalinist going on in our industry. Or if not Stalinist, something out of Dickens, or torn from the playbook of the Robber Barons.
“At nearly all of the agencies I’ve worked at over the past few years, they’ve instituted little gimmicks, ostensibly to improve morale and employee retention. These gimmicks involve giving people anything but money. The corporate line is, “people would rather have ____________ than more money.
“Maybe it’s because I’ve always been a quid pro quo type of person, but I’m not buying it. Can you imagine tipping a waiter with a bag of chips, or saying to her, ‘I’m not going to leave you a tip, but I’ll recommend to the maître d’ that you’re named ‘employee of the month.’
“I’ve been keeping track of the things upper ‘management’ is telling people that people actually prefer over more money. By the way, I’d bet you that Ebenezer Scrooge told himself, or his fellow Plutocrats, that poor Bob Cratchit would rather have a turkey at Christmas than a living wage. We know how that worked out, just ask Tiny Tim.
“Anyway, taking off the agency names, here’s what I’ve learned:
“Employees would rather have an afternoon off with an open bar-tab and all-you-can-eat spindly chicken wings than more money.
“Employees would rather have summer Fridays than more money.
“Employees would rather have a better ‘culture’ than more money.
“Employees would rather be recognized, like the aforementioned ‘employee of the month’ than more money.
“Employees would rather have ice-cream Wednesdays than more money.
“Employees would prefer agency swag like a logo-adorned t-shirt than more money…
“Employees would prefer giving a ‘day of service’ to getting more money…
“Employees would rather have corporate-sponsored weekly wine and cheese than more money.
“George, maybe it’s because I’m old and I need to think about where Roger and I will retire someday, maybe it’s because I worked my ass to the bone to put three kids through college and without them having to incur the crushing debt I came out of school with, but I don’t believe any of this crap.
“Sure it’s not only about money. But it’s not only about having free bagels on Friday either. Why can’t there be both? Raises and kindness?
“What’s especially galling is seeing the line-ups of executive black-cars waiting outside the agency to take the big wigs home at night. There is always money for those.
“I read somewhere that of all the reasons the British finally lost the Revolutionary war in 1783, one of the most over-looked was that ordinary sailors, the backbone of English forces were making the same two shillings and one penny a day they were making in 1699. No wage increases for 84 years.
“Of course, they got four daily ounces of free grog. I suppose the general staff claimed they preferred that to money.”