Tag Archives: Common sense

The Bad Rules 

Bad rules irritate me.

Bad rules irritate me.

I handed the barista a $20 bill because I wanted to break it and leave her a tip.

“Thank you so much,” she said, “but we can’t accept tips.”

The Starbucks was co-located inside an elaborate new grocery store in my neighborhood. I gestured to my surroundings.

“Because you’re in here?” I said.

“Yes.”

“Feel free to not answer this question, but are you financially compensated for your inability to accept tips?” I said.

Without turning around, a second Starbucks barista behind her said: “No. No, we’re not.”

“So let me get this straight: The new Starbucks across the street has a bunch of workers in it and they all split the tips. You guys also work at Starbucks maybe 200 yards away and are paid the same wages, but can’t receive tips?”

“Exactly,” she said.

“Hmm. Sounds like bullshit to me. Thanks so much for the coffee.”

For all of capitalism’s faults, there is something beautiful about the freedom to pursue whatever work you want and for employers to be able to hire anyone they choose and pay them (so long as it’s at least the federally mandated minimum wage) whatever the employee is willing to work for.

Meaning, much of the responsibility lies with the employees who chose to work at a Starbucks where tipping isn’t allowed. They have the freedom to try to get a job at a Starbucks that does allow tipping. And they can get a job in an entirely different line of work if they so choose.

However.

I HATE BAD RULES.

Decision makers sit in board rooms and fancy offices and make decisions. These are presumably the smartest people in a particular company, so I’m always floored by the decisions that seem so poorly conceived.

I’m speaking out of school here about this particular Starbucks co-located inside this particular grocery store. I’m not privy to the legal terms of the two companies’ relationship, nor whether the Starbucks is owned by a franchisee and how that might factor in.

That said, I have a fundamental problem with a Starbucks employee doing the exact same job as another Starbucks employee literally across the street but making less money for it by virtue of a rule preventing that employee from receiving tips in a line of work where tipping is a common and expected practice and income supplement.

I know a guy who goes to school and works part-time at a Starbucks. I have no idea how many hours he works, but it’s not uncommon to earn an extra $50 per week from tips.

Quick and dirty math: If an employee is making $10 per hour and working 20 hours per week part time, they’re earning $200 per week, and $10,400 per year.

An employee earning an additional $50 per week in tips would earn $2,600 more per year than an employee not getting tips.

Thus, the tipped employee doing the same job as the non-tipped employee is earning about 25 percent more. Doing the same job! In the same town! Across the street!

And I don’t get it. And I don’t like it. Because it’s a bad rule.

And bad rules are bullshit.

Anyone With a Job Gets It

And if you don’t, you’re fortunate. Because many companies have bad rules.

For example, I have a job where in addition to my paid time off, I also have a week of unpaid time that I’m allowed to use. BUT. I’m only allowed to use it AFTER I’ve exhausted my paid time off. You know, at the end of the year when you’re spending the most money on gifts and travel and presumably have the least amount of budgetary wiggle room.

What would be the harm in letting employees use their unpaid time whenever they want?

It’s a “Because I said so” rule, and I’m particularly not fond of those sorts of edicts.

How about this one?: Single parent’s child gets sick and is forced to use vacation time to care for the child (and probably also get sick and use EVEN MORE time.)

You know what I do for a living? I write stuff. On the internet. And communicate via email with my co-workers, many of whom are close enough to speak to without moving from my office chair.

Millions of people have jobs exactly like mine.

Tools for the job? Functioning computer. Internet access. Maybe a phone.

If an employee can get her job done despite having a sick child at home (and won’t the proof be in the pudding based on production?), why are we punishing said employee simply because she can’t make it into the office?

Is she competent enough to stay in touch via phone and email and send in her electronic work electronically? I know I am. And I know that my superiors know how much work I typically get done in a day or week, and it would be simple enough to gauge how much work got done when I wasn’t physically present in the office.

I have every confidence that millions and millions of employees globally can do the same thing. Maybe the weather’s severe and driving conditions are dangerous and the kids have a snow day at school. Maybe a million different things that shouldn’t matter so long as the work is getting done at the expected quality.

But in many instances, they are punished for things completely outside their control.

One sick child equals one less vacation day. And for what? So they couldn’t be physically babysat by an adult?

It’s a bad rule.

And it’s bullshit.

We don’t have to tolerate bad rules and policies.

Slavery.

Women’s suffrage.

Prohibition.

Those are huge things that should not be compared to silly corporate policies, but are great examples of people rising up in opposition to things that don’t make sense.

There is A LOT of gray area in this world. So much that half of all voters in the United States believe something almost completely opposite of the other half about virtually every political topic. They’ll scream at each other and hurl insults in private conversation and on cable news talk shows.

It’s very frustrating sometimes, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. The open exchange of new and different ideas is how the world becomes better. And how we grow.

But sometimes there really isn’t any gray area.

Sometimes, things are just bullshit and make little sense.

We should do something about those things.

You.

Me.

When?

Now?

Yes.

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It Doesn’t Have to Be This Way

Have you heard? The earth used to be flat.

Have you heard? The earth used to be flat.

My uncle saw the yellow piece of paper stuck under the windshield and walked over to investigate.

A police ticket with a $175 fine.

One of the service vans he owns as part of his flooring store operation in a small Ohio town had expired tags.

The man makes plenty of money. $175 doesn’t mean much to him.

But the man is also principled. And the more he thought about the ticket, the more irritated he became.

It doesn’t have to be this way, he thought.

All of his friends and family told him not to. But he decided to fight the ticket.

His “guilt” was not in question. The van had expired tags that everyone at the company had simply forgot to renew.

But he was having trouble with the spirit of the law.

“If my van is sitting still in a parking lot with expired tags, is that somehow a public threat or nuisance?” he said. “Why not give residents a 24-48-hour warning period, where they can go pay the registration fees and get updated tags without the added penalty from the police department? What good does any of that do?”

I had never thought about this before. But he’s right. I’m all for making sure vehicle owners have an updated license and registration. But why tax people simply for being busy or forgetful? Why not give them a chance to do it right? An expiration date, where the fine is waived if they register in time?

What harm could that possibly cause?

My uncle argued with the judge in court. She got pissed, told him he was wasting the court’s time and piled on some community service hours in addition to his fine.

Six years ago, we were having a new garage built at our house after a large tree had fallen in a wind storm and destroyed our old garage.

We left town to visit family more than 500 miles away for the holidays. Because the contractors needed to back up trucks and equipment into my driveway while we were out of town, I parked my other car on the street in front of the house.

While we were gone, a snow storm hit.

There is a city ordinance requiring people to not park in the street when the snow plows are out. But because I was out of town, I, A. Didn’t know about the storm, and B. Couldn’t move the car even if I had known.

The city towed my car, and it cost a few hundred dollars to get it back.

That was bullshit.

The Things We Do

Why, I wonder, do we do all these things?

Who decided we’re all going to send our kids in herds to school and teach them the same things and tell them “Be yourself! Be a leader, not a follower!” but everything we do is encourage them to do the same things everyone else is doing.

When you’re a little kid, you don’t question why you’re doing anything. Your parents tell you and all your friends are doing it, so you just do it also.

WHY ARE WE DOING THIS!?!?

I want to know.

I want to know why we don’t give parents more choices. I want to know why we don’t let kids learn about whatever they want to learn about and help them master something. I want to know why we all seem to blindly agree and go along with this being “the way.”

Some less fortunate kids think all you do is get through junior high, hustle through high school, and try to live as long as possible in adulthood, dodging cops and bullets. Because it’s all they know.

Really fortunate kids like me were herded into school and encouraged to do well because we “HAD to go to college to get a good job!!!” and everyone else was doing it anyway, so even if you didn’t HAVE to, you just assumed that was the way.

We never questioned it. We just followed the crowd. The existing rulebook that said: 1. Go to school. 2. Go to college. 3. Get a job. 4. Get married. 5. Try to make as much money as possible. 6. Try to not die. 7. If you’re lucky, retire at 65 and have enough money to not live in poverty for as long as you can survive. 8. Die and pay estate taxes.

I sit in a cubicle every day.

It’s because I make just enough money where I feel like I can’t afford to quit. Why can’t I afford to quit?

Because I have to pay my mortgage. And for a car. And for cable TV and Internet access. And for my son’s tuition. And all these little things I’m convinced I “need.”

It’s a pretty good job and I’m grateful to have it. Very. I’ve been unemployed. It’s a real shit show. This is better.

But still I ask: Why? Why are we doing it this way?

We wear business-casual every day. Khakis and button-ups and polo shirts and dress shoes. And always arrive at the same time, even though the only thing I require to do my job is a computer with Internet access. I could do it from almost anywhere.

The company invests my salary and benefits package in me (which I appreciate!) and in return, I make them a lot more money than they pay me through strategic execution of my duties—many of which are measureable, and I take great pride in improving those numbers as much as I can.

But despite that value I—and all my co-workers provide—we still have to wear these clothes, and sit at these desks, and be here at this time, and leave at that time. We’ll all get almost-4 percent raises if we’re lucky that should end up almost offsetting the cost of rising healthcare.

I’m not bagging on my employer. They really are wonderful relative to “companies.”

But I am bagging on rules that no longer make sense to me.

Three hundred years ago, if you sailed on a boat too far in any direction, you would fall off the edge into a chasm of nothingness.

A hundred years ago, black people, women and people attracted to the same sex were commonly considered second-class citizens by assholes who look like me. Huge groups of marginalized immigrants experienced the same level of discrimination.

A hundred years ago, alcohol was illegal.

Fifty years ago, basically every single person smoked tobacco.

Twenty years ago, almost none of us had ever used the Internet.

Ten years ago, the iPhone was three years away from invention.

Today, marijuana is legal for medical use in 15 or so U.S. states, and legal for recreational use in two.

Momentous changes that we somewhat take for granted but required enormous courage and fortitude to affect for those passionate to the cause.

We don’t need to fly to Mars, but we could.

We don’t need to cure cancer, but we will.

We just need to be courageous enough to look at all the things happening around us and ask: “Why are we doing this? 

Sometimes, it makes a lot of sense. Sometimes, there are excellent reasons why.

Other times? Small business owners are getting fined because someone they employ forgot to pay $50 for a sticker with a new number on it.

So my uncle is going to run for mayor and try to change the law.

So I’m going to make my own job where maybe someday I can hire people and make sure all of the “rules” at our company make sense to everyone who is helping grow it.

How can we do this better? How can I help?

Because there’s always another way.

Because there’s always a better way.

Because it doesn’t have to be like this.

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