Thursday, November 02, 2006

I received an e-mail the other day: "My firm just removed the vending machines stocked with sodas, water and fruit juices. In their place, there are new vending machines stocked with red bull (regular and sugar free), coffee drinks and coke (diet and regular). No juice. No water. What's wrong with juice and water? I like juice. When I'm in the office, which is all the time, it was my only source of vitamin C. I'm not happy."

His firm should be ashamed of itself. Why has it taken them so long to make this obvious change? Of course you want your employees hyped up on caffeine (or worse) whenever possible. Red Bull, coffee, bowls of amphetamines in the supply closets, it's all part of what makes a firm function as well as possible. This past season, major league baseball banned the use of amphetamines, leading to a whole series of articles in the mainstream press about how players relied on the pills to get them going -- especially for day games that followed night games the day before -- and how players were going to have to learn to adjust. At the firm, we don't have the luxury of letting our associates "adjust," and pretty much every day at work is a "day game" after a "night game," with an early-morning scrimmage and maybe a 3AM conference call in between. So of course we want to provide every means possible to make sure our employees are awake, alert, and drugged to a point where they can't think straight about what we're doing to them and what their lives have turned into.

Of course, my e-mail correspondent does have a point regarding the Vitamin C. It's not in our financial interest to have employees sick with scurvy, and it's certainly not in our interest to make employees have to leave the building to find juice or other standard vitamins and minerals they need to remain healthy and productive. That's why we started delivering our associates nutrient-rich fluids intravenously throughout the day, in a pilot program we began last spring. We selected two dozen test cases, based on a battery of medical and psychological tests we administered to the entire firm one Sunday morning at an off-site conference, implanted catheters in their arms, and installed the necessary medical equipment in their offices. Whenever they are at their desks, they just plug in and are "fed" everything they need to stay alive. During meetings, when they're forced to leave their desks, we supply them with a cracker, or a few slices of fruit, in order for them to keep their strength up. The unavoidable downside for them is that because of the around-the-clock requirements of the IV feeding, they are no longer allowed to go home. Early results from the pilot program are mixed: while the associates are billing more hours than ever before, more than 40% of them have died. We are constantly looking for ways to refine the program before rolling it out to the entire firm this Christmas.

Incidentally, we've found vending machines can be great moneymakers for the firm, since our employees are a captive audience and have few other options. We've been raising prices slowly but consistently over the past decade, and a 20-ounce bottle of soda is now up to $42.00. We've brought in the companies that stock hotel mini-bars to consult on this initiative.

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