As the president of the small advertising agency closed the door to his office, I saw an ancient looking, lint-speckled sweater hanging on the back of his door. I was there to see about a freelance assignment, but once he showed me some of his agency’s uninspired work, my interest quickly faded. What did fascinate me, however, was his desk. It was encrusted with an amazingly thick layer of dust. Clearly he employed no cleaning staff. Nor was he apparently concerned enough to take some sort of action himself. Did he like working – or swirling around — in dust? Or did he just not see it? Either way, during the entire interview, I had to suppress an overwhelming urge to swipe my fingers across the desk top to see just how deep that dust layer was.
But he was strictly small potatoes in the grime department compared to another skinflint boss I later came across. Without an interview to check the place out, I had been hired by a small studio to design travel brochures on site. Leafing through their previous brochures, I winced at their tired designs and old hat stock photos. I also was becoming aware minute by minute of how dirty the art department, indeed the whole office, was. The carpet, spotted with gunky splats I had to stop examining for my stomach’s sake, hadn’t seen a vacuum in I didn’t want to know how long. The employee refrigerator was growing mold in rainbow colors and the condition of my computer keyboard would have caused a board of health inspector to shut the whole joint down. Surrounded by what was probably an off the chart bacteria count, I finally had to ask the artist across from me when the office was cleaned.
“It depends.” She said casually. “Every so often we all pitch in and clean the place up.”
Nice. Pin a star on that skinflint boss for chutzpah.
Depriving your employees of a clean, healthy place to work is one thing, but depriving them of an even more basic human need is another. This little ditty took place on a sweltering summer day when, held up in traffic, I had to double-time it to make an appointment at a small non-profit. I was on time, but just barely. While waiting in the small reception area, I caught my breath, and in need of some water to cool down, I asked the receptionist where the water fountain was. “Sorry,” Was the reply, “we don’t have any water here.” For a few moments I processed this. Then: “Are you saying there’s no place to get a drink of water in this office?” Yes – that’s what she was saying. She added, “There’s a place downstairs in the lobby where you can buy some.”
Lovely. Would these employees soon be charged for sucking in oxygen too?
I learned early in the game, that when it came to saving money, there was no point too low for some skinflint bosses to stoop — including bending down and rummaging through grubby trash baskets.
Years ago, on my second day of working as a staff designer in a small advertising agency, the agency head walked into the art department with a big armload of crumpled up paper and dumped it on my desk. His face grim, he began unfolding the crinkled papers, revealing them to be preliminary layouts I had done the day before (this was pre-computer days, kids). They were rough designs I had done prior to completing my finished designs. At the end of the day, their usefulness finito, I had tossed them in the wastebasket.
“What are these?” he asked accusingly.
Contemplating my layouts, I wondered if this was some sort of trick question, or if I was somehow missing something somewhere, or if this nut, who was my new employer (groan, what had I gotten myself into?), was truly bonkers.
“Look at these,” he ordered.” Look at all this wasted paper!”
Still at a loss, I stared at the wrinkled paper without comment. Which irritated him further. “Look at all that blank space!” he demanded, pointing at small spaces between each design. “This is expensive paper! You can’t waste it like this! You’ve got to butt your layouts up against each other and stop wasting all this paper!”
The “expensive” paper came from utilitarian, tracing paper pads. Momentarily visualizing my designs, all mashed together with no breathing space to see them clearly and evaluate their progress, I had a flashback to my previous job at a fashion magazine. The world class neurotics at that upscale publication had come close to driving me over the edge, it’s true. But no one, no how at that circus of neurotics had ever messed with my, or anyone else’s, work or creative methods.
So during that first encounter with what turned out later to be a thankfully sporadic parade of skinflint bosses, I immediately began putting together a game plan for my departure. Skinflint bosses take note: while you’re squeezing pennies out of your employees, their attention may well be focused on plotting exit strategies to saner pastures.