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Several weeks ago, I was involved in an untimely accident with a bus. It was tragic and I can't help but wonder if I would have looked better for that bus had I enjoyed the little things in life more.

One of them is a that Swingline stapler - I had always wanted one at my desk. But my boss said no... and my keyboard? why did I have to use the clackety-clack Dell keyboard? I wanted to use a nice Apple keyboard which I enjoyed typing.

Would I have been here today had I been able to convince my management to allocate a (relatively) insignificant amount of money to increase my general enjoyment and quality of life? I don't know. But I know I would have loved my job so much more!

All that frustration and annoyance over maybe $50 a year? Or even less? Why... I just don't understand.


Companies will spend easily $100k+ per year in total compensation but not budget small amounts for employees to get nicer keyboards, mice, or other items for work. These items can however significantly affect how employees feel about their workplace.

Assuming a company does not have an official budget/allowance (or precedence) for such things:

  • How should I request a non-essential item (which may be impossible to justify financially but may contribute significantly to "job satisfaction" types of things)?

Because... however asinine it is, even $40 for an nice keyboard instead of a cheap keyboard can make a non-trivial difference in overall job satisfaction.

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closed as not a real question by mhoran_psprep, jcmeloni, gnat, scaaahu, Paul Brown Feb 5 '13 at 12:22

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I remember reading a Joel article (I think it was him) years ago that pointed out that companies spend more than this on your share of the toilet paper each year and, really, skimping on things like keyboards is dumb. But I don't know if anyone has successfully used that argument. –  Monica Cellio Feb 4 '13 at 22:37
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possible duplicate of How do I request new equipment for the office? –  Paul Brown Feb 5 '13 at 12:22
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A high-end keyboard/mouse will last you years. If it will bring you happiness - why not just buy it yourself? –  Rob P. Feb 5 '13 at 13:33
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And that would be 'How does a ghost/spirit purchase a keyboard and mouse?' –  Stephen Feb 5 '13 at 16:21
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@jwenting just a followup on this, I've brought my own keyboard/mouse and have been using them for a while. YMMV with how accepting people will be. –  enderland Sep 9 '13 at 13:32

2 Answers 2

up vote 8 down vote accepted

I wish I had a better answer, so I'm writing this an hoping someone else will say "no way" and write a better one.

Start the Quest

The only places I've seen the "small things quest" succeed is when there is:

  • A small enough entity to reach agreement with enough control over the purse strings to make it happen. For example - if the organization has 1000s of people, and the overhead budgets are figured out at 1 budget per 1000 people range, there is no hope, find a new organization. But if the budget is under discretion of say 100 or less people, there may be hope.

  • The management has some reasonable level of empathy and/or came from a heavy-typing career path themselves (most creature comforts having something vaguely to do with computer user and office supplies that are normal for cube/office dwellers).

Quite honestly, if these two things aren't there, the basic ingredients aren't right, and my next answer is - your office is broken, find a new one if it matters this much.

Next Step - Fix the Impediments

The biggest problem is the "he has it, I want it" problem for most of management. I doubt that any manager would mind a $50/person budget for creature comforts like favorite key board, favorite stapler, favorite headset, etc. It's the problem of "he has it, I want it" that gets out of hand. If you want a stapler, and the next guy wants a key board, and the next guy wants a headset - that's great. When all 3 say "but the other guy has a ... I want one too...." the budget starts to grow from $50/person to $150 per person.

Any manager who has been bitten by this one, is probably twice as averse to doing it again, as this leads to (seriously) office supply theft, endless whining and other complaints that just shouldn't be part of a well-paid person's daily life. The only fix I've seen is to eat the cost and assume that once one guy has it, everyone will want it, so the office can support $X amount of office stuff a year, and everyone will just have to standardize on A, B, and C equipment options.

Underpants... Profit!

This where I invoke, the "underpants...profit!" problem - if you have a solution for getting from impediments to nirvana... but I'll describe the nirvana, just in case someone can figure a way to invoke the office initiative.

Nirvana?

In my nirvana, there'd be a way to say to each knowledge worker -

  1. Here's your yearly stipend - use it for computers (that are covered by our warranty/lease), use it for headsets, keyboards, staplers, awesome chairs, tape dispensers or anything else you like. But - when it's gone, it's gone. If your stuff dies, is damaged, is lost, or whatever, it's gone, and you either get the warrantied replacement or you get whatever cheap stuff we can scrounge for you.
  2. We have these basic, cheap consumable office supplies (pens, printer paper, notebooks, etc) - you want a snazzy pen, a planner, whatever, it's on your stipend.
  3. You have to be able to do X, Y, and Z - type on a computer, support phone calls, support video calls, print stuff, staple stuff, etc - whatever - and your setup has to do these things, or you need to spend your own money to make it happen.
  4. We have an honor system and we enforce it - steal stuff from another employee's desk and we'll dock your pay or fire you. Seriously. Even for a stapler.
  5. No making the admin crazy. However we order the supplies, people need to be able to put in the order, have it deducted from the stipend, and it can't be a full time, nerve wracking job for the admin to figure it all out.

I'd bet you that there's some funky startups out there that do something like this... but I'd also bet that those funky startups aren't plagued by the organizational overhead of a big company.

The impact

To implement this level of sanity would take fighting back against the organizational machine. The very thing that allows large groups of people to work in a corporation is exactly what's fighting you for customizable creature comforts - the need to treat everyone equally and enforce a set of rules everyone can live by is the same system that gets overly picky in buying all the "standard" tools so that they can be interchangeable between employees and no one gets special treatment.

The only way I can think to win the battle is to provide a mechanism and option for changing the organizational norm that meets the general management objectives of:

  • no one gets sued for discrimination
  • everyone has the equipment they need to do their jobs (which includes the people who didn't want to be doing part of their job and thus skipped, say, getting a phone that rings)
  • the budget doesn't get exponentially bigger
  • the manpower of buying and tracking the gear doesn't get more expensive than it is now
  • the culture becomes theft resistant enough that there is no pettiness against who has what cool gear

I agree with Joel that it should be possible to get people the gear they not only need but prefer to have to do their jobs, particularly when the cost per person to get such gear is less than the cost of TP for the year. But the problem I've seen is that while to it may be possible to get each person his most preferred office equipment item more cheaply than you can get the TP, getting everyone ALL the top of the line gear is significantly more expensive than can be reasonably afforded and that's where the balancing act comes in.

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I don't think you're considering the full cost of company purchases:

  1. Everybody will want one (Multiply your little perk by 1000).
  2. Someone has to order this stuff and go pick it up or pay for shipping.
  3. The company has to borrow money, so consider interest.
  4. Venture capital wants a software company to hire more programmers as a sign of growth and not fancier keyboards when it comes time to flip this thing.
  5. Someone has to put those little ID stickers and document each device.
  6. The other ones were free because they came with the computer.

Personally, I think each employee should get some sort of budget every year. Go buy things to make your job easier and get reimbursed. Manager approval optional. If someone else wants the new keyboard like you, they can take it out of their budget.

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Dude, this just isn't a great answer. #1 - Don't confuse unit costs with total costs. The total cost of a $50 kebyaord for 1000 employees is 50k. But then we're talking about a company that pays maybe 10 million in salary alone, and in that case that IS peanuts. #2 - They already have that someone buying Dell machines. #3? The argument is that internal rate of return is higher due to higher employee satisfaction which results in higher productivity. #5 is same as #2, and #4 is not even consitent with #1? –  MrFox Feb 5 '13 at 14:51
    
@MrFox - The 50K in keyboards/unnecessary costs needs to be a percentage of the lost profit and not as a miniscule part of the over all compensation costs. –  JeffO Mar 27 at 17:07

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