KELLY: Treating Employees as Children

It's time for the first annual Now, Now, Kiddies contest, offering awards for the Most Outrageous Ways Companies Treat Employees Like Children. Nominations are invited. But I'll get the ball rolling.The Please Use the Servants Entrance Award goes to Deluxe Check, for the time it installed new carpeting in the front entryway, and forbade employees to walk on it. Employees had to use the rear entrance -- like when mom wouldn't let the kids walk through the parlor. The nice carpet was for big people (like managers, or customers). Somewhat belatedly, the When I Say Jump, You Say How High Award goes to National Car Rental -- for the time a few years back when a top executive, in a management meeting, made one fellow leap onto the table. No particular reason. Just wanted to show who was the boss and who was the peon.The Now, Now, Kiddies top prize goes to Textron-Bell Helicopter in Texas, for its no- coffee-maker rule. I stumbled upon this little dictate when I was invited there to give a speech a few years ago, and was duly escorted around to meet top executives. When I asked for a cup of coffee -- not realizing I'd stumbled into the forbidden zone -- a vice president dashed into the hall to plunk a quarter in the coffee machine, and returned with one of those teensy paper cups that hold about two ounces. With a sheepish look, he explained to me The Coffee Rule. (The CEO was apparently the only one with a coffee maker. Presumably his time wasn't as valuable. Or maybe he was the only big person around.) To Santa Fe, N.M., consultant Martin Rutte goes the Bedtime Tales Award -- for his dramatic morale-boosting technique of reading stories to employees, drawn from "Chicken Soup for the Soul at Work." As the Wall Street Journal explained, Rutte offers "spiritual guidance about how to feel good," and he's peddled his wares (at $10,000 a pop) to companies like Lucent Technologies, Sony Music Entertainment, Northern Telecom, and Southwest Airlines. Lucky Kiddies at those companies. If they're ever dispirited about overwork and low pay, they can find cheer in happy stories about "courage and compassion and creativity in the workplace." (Wonder if that would work with stockholders? If they were ever dispirited about poor earnings, maybe companies could just read aloud to them about courage and compassion and creativity in investing.)The Oh For Heaven's Sake Award goes to Amoco Oil Co., which had the gall to check an employee's credit card records, to see if he had "abused" his sick leave. ("If you were sick, what were you doing at that restaurant?") But the employee had the last word on that one. He filed suit for invasion of privacy, which cost the company $500,000 in punitive damages. Even well-meaning parents can sometimes push kiddies too far.The Most Pervasive and Obnoxious Award goes to Successories, the Chicago company that sells 6,000 versions of those "Teamwork" and "Optimism" posters to companies like 3M, Coca- Cola, Xerox, and Ford. Southwest Airlines recently bought $38,000 worth. But the success of Successories, I'm happy to say, has also spawned the Enough Already Award, which goes to Barbara Fenn. She's a paralegal in Richmond, Va., who had enough one day, when she found all her pens gone, and new pens in place imprinted with messages like "Make it Happen" and "Whatever it Takes." She had already endured a "Teamwork" poster over her desk for a year. "But the pens, the pens angered me more," she told The New Republic's Stephen Glass. So she and other paralegals formed a group called SHURE (Successories Hurt Employees), and threatened to walk out if the junk wasn't removed. When her bosses scoffed, the paralegals came to work twenty minutes late on Monday. They were forty minutes late on Tuesday. On Wednesday, the junk was gone. "In place of the 'Teamwork' poster," Glass wrote, "was a framed Monet print."Now it's your turn, Kiddies: Do you have a nomination you'd like to make? I'll run all I can in an upcoming column. And if I use your story, I'll send you the coveted chocolate-covered Rice Krispie treat honorarium. That's my idea of a real Successory.

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