24 Oct Midwest technology bosses should stop flaunting their wealth at work
Here at Nine2Five, we have a lot of lively correspondence with Midwest technology job seekers, job holders and, in a few cases, people who are hanging onto their jobs by their fingernails.
They write about things that happen in their workplaces. They write about their experiences with finding a job, getting promoted and managing a pretty wide range of other workplace situations. They also write about really annoying things that their co-workers and supervisors do.
In the spirit of getting the word out there, here’s our “behavior to terminate” for this week. This one is directed at bosses and senior executives. The behavior that’s getting on people’s nerves is when you spout off in front of “regular” employees about how much money you have and where you spend it.
I have run into this practice a few times and generally assumed that it was only found in a small number of particularly badly brought-up executives. It turns out that a lot of Midwest tech folks are being subjected to it.
Can you imagine anything more galling than to be working your fanny off for an average salary while having to hear your boss (or the boss of your boss or some other company big shot) talk about his new yacht, his third residence or some other indulgence? Yuccck.
They do it. Out of nowhere, they announce that they’ve purchased some major acquisition or something else that’s wildly out of reach for most of us working stiffs. Everyone smiles the grimmest and most forced smile known to Midwest technology man. Gross! That’s cruel and unusual punishment for an employee.
Because the guy who I worked with who had this problem had generally bad manners, the bragging stuff was very consistent with his other communication patterns. After a while, it got so egregious that I had to bring the problem to his attention.
“You know, Stan,” I said, “from time to time — and I’m sure you’re not aware of it — you talk about your personal finances in a way that can be off-putting to people who are working pretty hard and who aren’t in your income tax bracket. Do you think you might want to temper that?”
Stan replied: “Heck no! Let it be a motivator for them. The harder they work, the more likely they’ll get their own fast cars and whatever they want. Why shouldn’t I talk about my personal life in the office just like everyone else?”
“Well,” I said, “maybe because most of us don’t talk about the dollar value of the things we buy like two-bedroom condos and weeklong rentals in Wisconsin. It’s sort of generally accepted that it’s not in good taste to talk about personal money at work.”
“Too bad,” replied Stan, “because I don’t apologize for earning the big bucks and spending them.”
Not too long afterward, Stan fell from grace in that company and left the organization. Though I know it wasn’t directly related to the Mr. Big Bucks routine, learning that Stan’s judgment was less than sensational wasn’t a huge shock.
Didn’t we learn by the fifth grade that it’s bad manners to boast (especially about financial matters)? Don’t you remember the obnoxious kid in middle school who always let everyone know how much money his family had? No one wants to be around people like that (except for very insecure people who just try to hang on).
When we grow up, we’re lucky to have friends who will tell us when we’re acting in a crass way. If you’re the boss at work, though, no one can say “boo” to you. People have to sit there and take it. That’s why talking about throwing your money around is a major offense when you’re in a business leadership position.
So what can you do about it? This time, my advice is not for the criminal but for his or her victims.
I figure that anyone who would be so tacky as to brag about his expensive vehicles, multiple homes and over-the-top vacations is beyond my help. That’s why I’m directing these tips to the other people in the mix: the CEOs who manage these turkeys, the HR managers who may observe or hear of the problem and the employees who have to suffer through the brag fests in silence.
If you’re the manager of a guy (that’s a unisex term) who talks about all his money, you have to nip it in the bud.
“Joanne, I pay you an excellent salary for a number of very important reasons. Chief among these reasons is the high degree of discretion that I expect you to apply to our business issues. I expect the same discretion when it comes to your personal finances. I don’t want to hear you talk about your financial situation or any individual purchase in a public forum ever again.”
End of story.
If you’re the local HR chief who has to intervene, you don’t have to be so direct if you don’t want to. You only have to observe the offender in action. Let’s say that Brenda announces this in a staff meeting: “I’m so happy! The seller accepted my offer for the beach house I’ve had my eye on for a while. It has three bedrooms and it’s only $850,000!”
Most of the people in the room live in primary residences that cost less than half that much and require two full-time jobs to pay the mortgage. You can almost see the steam rising from their foreheads. As an HR person, you can step in.
You can say gently and without sarcasm: “I’m delighted to hear about your new vacation home, Brenda. I’m sure we’re all pleased for you and would be even without the exact financial details.” If that’s too subtle for her, you can speak with her in private and tell her to cut it out.
What if you’re the employee of this ill-mannered person? You may not want to confront the issue head on. In that case, you can employ a variation on the HR manager’s line: “Good deal, Brenda. Speaking just for me, I’d say the top-line story would suffice without the price tag.”
I have one more note about the big-talking, big-spending boss. If your company is one where senior people earn really huge bucks and don’t mind making big purchases, that’s a bad sign in and of itself. I’m talking Enron and Tyco here.
Prudence shows itself in lots of different ways. Personal and conspicuous spending is a pretty visible one. A lot of very fast cars in the parking lot can mean that the company is going great and all of you will soon prosper (or not). Be warned.
It’s all a matter of context. If your stock options suddenly became worth $1 million, you might not mind a lot of public conversation about new homes and vehicles. Until then, you don’t need to know how the boss spends his money.
Liz Ryan is the founder of ChicWIT (Chicago Women in Technology) and founder of WorldWIT (World Women in Technology). She can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her column Nine2Five, which appears on ePrairie every Friday, is designed to keep you up to date with career trends and advice related to working and managing organizations in the post-bubble technology world. This article has been syndicated on the Wisconsin Technology Network courtesy of ePrairie, a user-driven business and technology news community distributed via the Web, the wireless Web and free daily e-mail newsletters.
The opinions expressed herein or statements made in the above column are solely those of the author, & do not necessarily reflect the views of Wisconsin Technology Network, LLC. (WTN). WTN, LLC accepts no legal liability or responsibility for any claims made or opinions expressed herein.