A cost-cutting notion that may (or may not) actually save some money, but inevitably creates bad feelings among everyone else – bad feelings that nearly always are more costly than the dollars (and frequently it’s less than that) that such policies seek to return to the bottom line.
This week we asked readers to share some of the best of the worst “wacky” ideas to save money.
As you might expect, the responses were both entertaining – and just a little bit depressing. And, while it may not be related, it was interesting that many of the responses seem to relate to the practices at “prior” employers. As interesting as they were, this week’s responses didn’t appear readily tabulatable – but they did tend to fall into several general categories, notably “taking out your own trash,” “recycling office supplies,” “turning out/down the lights,” “creatively allocating resources,” and, unfortunately, “scrimping on benefits.”
Speaking for many were the following readers:
“My previous employer asked all 8,000 workers to empty their own trash, into trash cans located in the lunch rooms,” noted one.
Another said they were “not allowed to purchase any office supplies near month-end so that we could hit our sales targets. The Legal compliance guy in HR came over to my cube because he heard I had an undercover supply of tablets and he desperately needed one before he could get out to the Rite Aid at lunch and buy his own.” One reader noted that they are “given no more than one strip of staples upon written request and approval by a manager (heaven forbid you are caught with an entire box).” Another said they are “running paper back through the copier to copy on the backside. It may have saved a few trees, but cost a lot to keep repairing the copier!” Still another said, “I once worked for a man who used the back of envelopes he received in the mail and any other paper being thrown away as note paper. I wasn’t too appalled by not having actual notepads (this was before post it notes!) but you had to be careful not to miss one of his notes on the back of an old envelope.”
In the power-saving category, one reader noted that “the ‘powers that be’ thought it would be cost-effective to install new light switches in all of our closets that were timers as well as motion sensors. One of the closets was right next to my desk, and every time (which was often) people came up to my desk, the light in the closet would come on, where it wouldn’t have if it still had a standard switch. After numerous complaints, maintenance finally changed the switch settings to manual, which meant they now operated just like the old switches!”
Another apologized: “I know I’m late, I had to wait for my monitor to turn back on….You see, we are hounded to turn everything off when not in use…..we even get lovely sticky notes on the offending machines to remind us to turn them off!”
Most of the “creative allocation of resources” responses were fairly descriptive (and thus so long that I am reserving them for the VERBATIMS section), but one that involved the “creative” deployment of personnel worth noting here was the reader whose firm “came up with the brilliant idea of not hiring a receptionist. Instead of outsourcing it like some companies do, they decided it was good to have people within the company answer phones. We have someone from customer service answer for 1.5 hours, I answer for 2 hours, a marketing associate answers for 2.5 hours, the HR manager answers for 1.5 hours, and a marketing manager answers for 1.5 hours. This arrangement has created many problems and many morale issues.”
Fortunately, the experiences that involved “scrimping on benefits” were a distinct minority among this week’s responses. “The best (worst) cost saving idea has to come from our new corporate parent in the form of Paid Time Off (PTO) days,” said one. “The idea is to save the company money by taking away (sick) days and providing employees one reduced bank of time to cover all possible reasons to be out of the office. So of course, no one wants to take a PTO (formerly know as VACATION!) day when they are sick, so everyone comes to work, spreads their illness to co-workers, and brings the entire place grinding to a near-halt.”
On a related note, another said, “Our firm gives us eight ‘personal’ days (and no sick days) per year and then REQUIRES us to use some of them on secondary holidays.”
“We once hired a Director of Comp & Benefits who suggested buying drugs from Canada (when it was all over the news about being illegal, and didn’t want to remind people to spend their FSA money before the end of the year ‘so the plan could keep it,'” noted another.
But this week’s Editor’s Choice goes to the reader who remembered that “back in the day when recycling was ‘new and cutting edge,’ the purchasing department decided to buy toilet tissue made from recycled paper to save money. Unfortunately, the recyclers hadn’t yet perfected the technique of sorting paper from non-skin-friendly materials such as glass. Ouch!”
Thanks to everyone who participated in our survey!
One policy, still in place at one of our locations, is that to get a new writing implement (pen, pencil, highlighter) or any office supply (tape refill, stapler, etc.) you must first turn in the non-working one. If you don't have it you must be willing to part with your first born. Then, at our other location in the same town, you can take as many as you want/need whenever, supplies are not guarded under lock and key literally. Completely insane.
Roughly a year ago, all employees at our company received an e-mail that read something like this - "It has come to our attention that our cleaning crew has been inadvertently putting garbage bags in each garbage can at individual's desks. This is to serve as a reminder that garbage cans at your desk are for non perishable items, and therefore we will once again not be placing trash liners in these cans. Please find another garbage can in the common areas for items requiring a trash liner."
Granted, there are 15000 or so people who work for this company, and I am sure that there is some cost savings here, but you can imagine how that e-mail was received.
OK, the best (worst) cost saving idea has to come from our new corporate parent in the form of Paid Time Off (PTO) days. The idea is to save the company money by taking away (sick) days and providing employees one reduced bank of time to cover all possible reasons to be out of the office.
So of course, no one wants to take a PTO (formerly know as VACATION!) day when they are sick, so everyone comes to work, spreads their illness to co-workers, and brings the entire place grinding to a near-halt.
I can't imagine that the reduced productivity during Flu season actually saves any money, but the bean counters really seem to think it does.
Oh, where do I begin?
Facilities decided that we use too much energy so they put energy monitors on the refrigerators, went through each department and listed how many radios are "draining" the electricity, and spent money on sensor light switches (more than what can be potentially saved) for the bathrooms and conference rooms. Everyone was asked to keep their blinds shut this summer and they turned the hot water off for the summer.
Everywhere you turn, the "energy police" are there.
My company came up with the brilliant idea of not hiring a receptionist. Instead of outsourcing it like some companies do, they decided it was good to have people within the company answer phones. We have someone from customer service answer for 1.5 hours, I answer for 2 hours, a marketing associate answers for 2.5 hours, the HR manager answers for 1.5 hours and a marketing manager answers for 1.5 hours. This arrangement has created many problems and many morale issues.
When our agency was still in our City Hall (we moved a year ago to another building), the "powers that be" thought it would be cost-effective to install new light switches in all of our closets that were timers as well as motion sensors. One of the closets was right next to my desk and every time (which was often), people came up to my desk, the light in the closet would come on, where it wouldn't have if it still had a standard switch. After numerous complaints, maintenance finally changed the switch settings to manual, which meant they now operated just like the old switches!
After MMC and Spitzer had settled and things were still spinning differently at each subsidiary-- I was at Mercer, and we had several "global town-hall" calls with the MMC CEO speaking to everyone about the plans for improvement (morale, stock price, operations, etc.) His big idea to improve operational efficiency that he seemed to go on and on about was that MMC should start coordinating among the various subs on PEN BUYING! He spent 10-15 minutes describing this idea that we could really improve and change things through consolidated PEN BUYING. This is the CEO.....talking about a pen buying strategy! Current and former employees still cannot help but laugh when they talk about the pen-buying-consolidation strategy. I cannot imagine that anything ever happened with that strategy, that was my cue to exit and I did not stay to find out.
Years ago, an executive decided that there should be a charge imposed on employees who enrolled a spouse who had health care coverage available through his/her employer. Employees were up in arms following the announcement. It turns out that many had spouses who worked incidental jobs where health care coverage may have been available, but the cost would have exceeded their earnings. It took a few calls to the top to rescind that dictate.
Many years ago we were acquired by a European company, and very soon thereafter had a European manager in charge of our manufacturing areas. When the new manager learned that we were not required by law to pay double-time for Sunday work, in the name of cost reduction and against HR's strong objections, he decided to end our long-standing practice of paying double-time on Sundays.
We have always tried to avoid Sunday work whenever possible, but we often have time sensitive orders with large penalties for late delivery. In those cases, the willingness of employees to work Sunday is a real "blessing." When double time was discontinued, the whole shop suddenly found their religion, and refused to work on their Sabbath. It was the closest thing to an organized boycott that our employees have ever done. The manager adamantly refused to reconsider his decision and we missed several deadlines as a result. Finally, after more than a year, we sheepishly announced that we were reinstituting Sunday double-time, and graciously "thanked" our employees for their cooperation with our cost-cutting measures. What a debacle.
* recycle paper clips
* Not allowed to purchase any office supplies near month-end so that we could hit our sales targets. The Legal compliance guy in HR came over to my cube because he heard I had an undercover supply of tablets and he desperately needed one before he could get out to the Rite Aid at lunch and buy his own
City of Cleveland's "Adopt a City Garbage Can". Concept was that citizens would pay for public garbage cans near their home or work, and help in discarding the garbage when the cans were full, thus saving the city money. (As you would say, "With predictable results!"; very few adoptions.) Hmmm, I wonder if these garbage cans were adopted from foreign orphanages?
We now have network printers in open areas instead of our own printers at our desks. Supposed to save money on toner. I now walk about 25 ft to print. If I need something printed on letterhead, I walk over to put in the letterhead, run back to my computer to hit "print" and then back to the printer, usually to find that in the meantime someone else sent something to the printer that printed on my letterhead stationery so we both get to do it over again. Real productivity improvement.
RE your question about "wacky" cost cutting ideas, I think mine or more unethical than wacky. We once hired a Director of Comp & Benefits who suggested buying drugs from Canada (when it was all over the news about being illegal), didn't want to remind people to spend their FSA money before the end of the year "so the plan could keep it" and wanted to promote visiting the county health clinic for annual physicals and instead of seeing your family physician. This was a company of white collar professionals, several very highly compensated. I told him that absolutely NONE of our people would take him up on the county health clinic idea.
At my previous employer, our department of 14 had a weekly meeting where lunch was provided and we used to order birthday cakes for the week it was someone's birthday (approx $20 -14 times a year). The powers that be decided this was too expensive. So, after much deliberation, it was decided that we could get 3 dozen cookies each week (approx $20 per week).
You do the math, but my 3rd grader could figure out that this would not save you any money.
Our company has major offices in Manhattan and in ______ County , New Jersey, just outside the Lincoln tunnel. It's only a stones throw as the crow flies or on a map but a healthy drive if you own a car (which many NYC'ers do not) Since tons of correspondence and inter-office go back and forth between the hundreds of people in both locations, frequent meetings are called on either side of the river and dozens of people commute to the far side, the company has historically run a shuttle van that made a fixed loop trip a couple of dozen times a day to carry the mail and anyone going back and forth. A recent cost-saving measure cut this back to once in the early a.m. and once in the late afternoon.
Mail is now delayed an extra day if it misses the cut-off, so important stuff is now Fed-exed. Senior managers are having to take the regular bus for the first time in their careers and find they don't like it or the additional expense. Consultants used to billable work at all hours of the day now need to pay for a cab to the opposite side during mid-day and can only work an 8 hr shift (we're talking the kind of guys who used 8 hrs of vacation a year) before they need to turn around and go home. Non-mandatory meetings on the other side are skipped and mandatory meetings are an extra expense or kill a billable day.
The van exists and is still leased and insured, the mailroom just needs two less low-ranked employees. Productivity is way down, morale is down but hey, gas has been saved.
* is pretty generous, with weekly massage, daily free lunch, drink-stocked refrigerator, Aeron chairs...however, we recently stopped buying fresh fruit and Oreos. I don't know if anyone complained about the fruit, but people weren't too happy about the Oreos. We admittedly were paying something like $4.50 a package at city prices and would go through several packages a week among the 30 employees.
Fortunately, the COO now stops at Costco for Oreos in bulk. I don't know what that did specifically for morale but it's nice to have them back. However, if the company cancelled the weekly massages, people would surely revolt.
When my large regional bank was purchased by a large national bank the first thing they did was lay off the entire mail room staff figuring that the main lobby receptionist could handle it. The merger caused so much turmoil that the lobby was always packed with people closing accounts so huge piles of mail were just dropped off in a vacant office every morning and departments had to send someone down to pick through hundreds of pieces of mail on their hands and knees to see if any of it belonged to them. That lasted for a few weeks before the complaints grew so loud that they had to rehire some of the mail room staff. It took a couple more weeks before things got back to normal, sort of.
My previous employer asked all 8,000 workers to empty their own trash, into trash cans located in the lunch rooms.
In the early 90's I worked for a Fortune 500 company with approximately 30k ees. This was before the proliferation of online calendars and meeting invitations when Franklin Planners were all the rage. The company came out and said they would no longer purchase the annual calendar refills for the ees -- if you wanted to continue using it (and believe me, it was like an addiction at the time) the ee would be responsible for the expense (approx $28). This was projected to save the corporation $400,000 per year. Do the math, they ticked off approximately 1/2 of their workforce who perceived the decision as helping to save part of the CEO's multi-million dollar annual bonus at the expense of 'the little guys.'
Back in the day when recycling was "new and cutting edge", the purchasing department decided to buy toilet tissue made from recycled paper to save money. Unfortunately, the recyclers hadn't yet perfected the technique of sorting paper from non-skin-friendly materials such as glass. Ouch!
A large banking organization with a small minded (and small) leader is symbolically frugal by banning paper clips and "stick-it" notes.
It brings Vonnegut [who was a p.r. guy early in his career] to mind. "A wampeter is an object around which the lives of many otherwise unrelated people may revolve...
Can you believe this rule?
Foma are harmless untruths, intended to comfort simple souls...
"Help save the company money."
A granfalloon is a proud and meaningless association of human beings."
All the employees proudly agree that their boss is an idiot.
I worked at a newspaper, as a reporter years ago. To save money during a lean-time, the powers there decided to start rationing purchases of such luxuries like pens, pencils and notepads - the cheapest and most essential tools of the job. The executive travel budget stayed firmly in place during the same time.
I once worked for a man who used the back of envelopes he received in the mail and any other paper being thrown away as note paper. He expected us to do the same. Being a "tree hugger" myself, I wasn't too appalled by not having actual notepads (this was before post it notes!) but you had to be careful not to miss one of his notes on the back of an old envelop.
In response to a company-wide initiative to generate money-saving ideas, our company decided to save postage by handing out pay stubs in the office. Senior level people were given stacks of pay memos (and live checks) with no inventory of which checks they should expect to receive and were expected to hand them out. Apparently, no one ever calculated the opportunity cost associated with having people stop their work in order to hand out and pick up pay stubs (or the security risk of having SSNs, salaries and bank accounts floating around the office.) It certainly seems like the risks and the time wasted far outweighed the cost of presorted mail every other week. When I asked what I was supposed to do with a check for an employee on leave, I was told that I was allowed to mail it to her home, but only if I was her manager. Otherwise, I needed to give it to her manager for mailing. I didn't get a satisfactory answer when I pointed out that her manager a) worked in a different office and b)was also on leave. What a great use of time!
When times were tough, one of our owners decided that rationing supplies was the way to beat the dot-com bomb: each printer, shared by 8-10 people, could only get one ream of paper every few days. Too bad if you had to print something important and there was no paper (and we are required to print and file all our emails). That didn't last, but the one supply savings scheme that still is in place is that we are given no more than 1 strip of staples upon written request and approval by a manager (heaven forbid you are caught with an entire box).
Sometimes the mundane morphs into beyond-wacky: once senior management cut benefits of the non-union staff, who represented about 50% of the employees. Guess which group staged a union organizing campaign the next year that cost multiple-thousands of what was saved the prior year. Now that was truly "wacky".
Running paper back through the copier to copy on the backside. It may have saved a few trees, but cost a lot to keep repairing the copier!
I once worked for a group that used to have contests on how few supplies we could use. There would be a weekly email sent out on which team has the least use of supplies. We would cut post-it notes in half and use the backs of faxes as scrap paper. It got to the point that asking for a pen or pencil was a lot. When I left that group, I was presented with a catalog of supplies from Office Max or someplace like that. It was like Christmas!
I know I'm late, I had to wait for my monitor to turn back on.........you see, we are hounded to turn everything off when not in use.....we even get lovely sticky notes on the offending machines to remind us to turn them off!
The thing I love about this is, we have our own powerhouse.......??!!!
Our firm gives us 8 "personal" days (and no sick days) per year and then REQUIRES us to use some of them on secondary holidays.
I just read today's newsletter and may be too late in responding to the survey question, but I really have to vent. Timing is everything - just yesterday we had our monthly internal pep rally on doing everything we can to service the client, which included the review of our competitors' glossy, professionally-printed marketing materials. Today we receive an email that we must curtail our use of the color copier - meaning, anything other than the cover page of a client presentation should be in black and white. I'm sorry, but in today's competitive marketplace, we can ill afford to present a crappy looking presentation. And, the copier can't be serviced because the powers that be are refusing to pay the damn bill. In the grand scheme of things, I realize this is a very petty issue but come on already.