Death to the Executive Washroom

outhouse-200x300Have you taken a trip to a school lately – grammar school, high school, university?  If so you’ve probably noticed the continuing tradition of labeling parking spots for a select few employees (Principal, Assistant Principal, 2nd Assistant Principal, etc).

This is true at a number of corporate organizations as well; the C-Suite folks get reserved parking spots right by the door while Joe and Sally lunch-bucket must park several blocks away between a 10’ x 10’ dumpster and an alley where shady transactions occur between un-showered people of indeterminate genders. Meanwhile, Bill the CFO doesn’t have to get a splash of rainwater on his shiny oxfords as he meanders into the building from his parking spot 10 feet from the door.

There’s collective indignation when we read about the lavish executive perks that have long been a mainstay of gilded boardrooms – chauffeured cars, private jets, a suite at the local ballpark.  For decades corporate boards have reminded us that many of these things are necessary to attract and retain senior executives although nowadays it does appear as if some compensation committees are taking a tighter look at pay/perk packages being offered.  And so we applaud and say “well at least they understand the moral outrage from those of us here in the 99%.”

In reality though many of us come face-to-face with social stratification perks that exist in our own organizations everyday.  Our egalitarian, flattened hierarchy, “we’re all in this together” companies continue to subtly differentiate between classes of employees and thus send signals that are quite often in conflict with their stated feel-good values about teamwork, openness and a belief that “every employee is as valuable as the next.”  Executives rule from the top floor with its mahogany lined halls and plush carpeting, VPs get offices, and everyone else finds themselves relegated to a cubicle.  Managers and directors have slightly larger cubicles with higher walls although, naturally, directors have a few more feet of cubicle space as befits their loftier title.

The mailroom and purchasing department staffers, down on the lowest floor near the loading docks, have access to one dimly lit unisex bathroom. The gals in HR have bowls of potpourri on their bathroom counters and a private quiet room with a couch.  The senior executives have separate facilities safely behind the glass doors that seal off mahogany row from the rest of the company; surely you can’t expect the SVP of Marketing to stand at a urinal next to Phil from IT.

Expense accounts.  Golf outings during the day.  The ability to slip out and attend professional association lunch meetings or evening networking receptions that start at 5 PM.  An office with a window, a nameplate on the door and an ergonomic chair personally fitted to alleviate lower back pain, and a bottle of marihuana oil for pain relief.  The ability to park, for free, close to the office building as opposed to 4 blocks away accompanied by the necessity to pay a hefty monthly parking fee. The freedom to enjoy some work-life integration and flexible hours with no need to worry about getting scolded disciplined chastised for being 15 minutes late to work because your daughter’s school bus was late.

Many of these things are viewed as being part of the rite of professional passage.  If you strive to do well, get promoted and become a senior staffer or manager then you too can be treated a little better.  “It’s the American way” we say while reminding ourselves of Horatio Alger (even though many people in 2014 wouldn’t know Horatio Alger if he fell out of a tree in front of them).

‘With grit and determination come rewards’ could be the collective mantra of the workplace; this is not just true in ‘corporate’ entities but in government, non-profits and, well, any business.

And I concur; hard work will garner benefits and should be rewarded.

But sometimes organizations, without even thinking about it, continue to promote a culture of the haves vs. the have nots; the royals vs. the unwashed masses; the chosen vs. the worker bees.  It brings to mind what the pigs had to say in George Orwell’s Animal Farm:

“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others

*** this post originally ran at the HR Schoolhouse

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3 thoughts on “Death to the Executive Washroom

  1. I find it sort of funny how the C-suite sometimes talks a lot about how the rank and file are “disengaged” or “lack motivation” in the same meeting during which they talk about how they’re bringing all the people who formerly worked from home, within a certain radius of each city, into the office and are cutting back on how many people are allowed to work remotely. Or complaining when people are gone to lunch or not at their desks every moment of the day. And then they walk to their covered parking spots, get in their luxury sedans, and leave our questionable neighborhood well before dark.

    There is such a disconnect between what the problem really is, what it’s perceived to be, and how it’s perceived by the people who are considered to be the problem. No one wants to be that guy who tells the Emperor he’s not wearing clothes.

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