The Lollipop Guild

Company Culture #2 

After I said I’d take it, Daniel explained the job he was offering me, so I’ll briefly explain it to you. If you don’t give a damn, that's OK, just skip ahead two paragraphs.

Our job was to make sure newly-issued insurance policies were correct. Does the name and address match the application? Does the policy’s value match what the customer paid? Are all documents properly signed? There were eleven factors we checked, on every policy. If everything was correct we’d print and mail it, and if something was wrong we’d make it right, or send it upstairs for a do-over. 

My team had five people, auditing and mailing policies all day, every day. As work it was monotonous brain death, but it was a good fit for me. I don't mind being bored if you pay me, and anyway, I’m persnickety about words and numbers. I enjoyed finding and fixing other people’s fuck-ups. 

On my first day as a full-fledged employee, bossman Daniel turned me over to Duncan, the guy I’d be replacing, and he showed me how to audit polices. Duncan was about half my age, young but not an idiot. That sounds like something an old fart would say, and indeed, an old fart just said it. I was 55, and in my opinion a lot of 20-somethings are idiots. Duncan wasn’t an idiot, so I was impressed.

The company was impressed with him, too. He'd been given a job upstairs, a promotion from our team’s work. A year later, Duncan became his team’s lead. Two years after that, he was made assistant manager, and a year after that he was his department’s manager. It’s eight years later as I’m writing this, and he’s an Assistant Vice President.

Look, I’m absolutely not a guy who’s looking for a promotion — I hate that crap, and don’t want the pressure. Promoting someone who does good work is always smart, though, so you gotta take the story of Duncan as a good sign.

Another good sign was that our team’s lead, Nanette, had been working for the company for almost 25 years. Several others in the department had been there for 15, 20, 30 years. Olivia had worked there for 45 years. This place actually offered careers, not just jobs.

Contrast and compare: When I'd worked at Macy's corporate office (boo, hiss), there’d been an unspoken rule that people were laid off after ten years. It didn’t matter whether you were a worker or manager — if you’d been there ten years, your job was in jeopardy unless you had fantastic productivity or were related to an executive. You’ve accumulated too many annual raises, and it’s cheaper to hire someone new, so buh-bye.

Having so many long-term workers at my new job implied that this place was better than that. What impressed me most, though, was a quick conversation in the elevator with Linda, one of the company’s Vice Presidents.

I’d briefly met her a few weeks before, but she was my boss’s boss’s boss, so I wasn’t going to say anything to her in the elevator. She spoke to me, though. “You’re Doug, right? I hear you’re coming aboard as a permanent employee?”

“Yes,” is all I said. I hate chit-chat, especially elevator chit-chat, and especially especially elevator chit-chat with a bigwig.

“Well, we’re happy to have you,” she said with a grin, “and I think you’re going to like it here. You know, this company has never laid off anyone.”

Say what? The sign in front of the building said, “Founded 1910," so she was telling me that this company had gone through World Wars I and II, and the Great Depression, and the dot-com bubble-burst, and all the rest of American history since my grandparents’ time, without laying off anyone, ever?

“Ever?” I said dumbly.

“Never,” she said, still smiling. “We’ll fire people for cause, of course, but we try to treat employees fairly. Whenever there’s a reorganization, everyone’s always offered a comparable position.“

“Good to know,” I said, and then the elevator went ‘ding’ and we were at Linda’s floor. 

“I hope you like working here as much as I do,” she said and walked away.

So … this company did not do layoffs, and they had senior executives who’d talk to new hires in the elevator, as if we were the same species. She was ‘Linda’ — at most other companies, she would’ve been ‘Ms Guerrero’, and she wouldn’t have said diddlysquat to me.

Over the next few weeks, the company kept surprising me, in good ways.

My starting pay wasn’t an insult, and they said there’d be a raise in 90 days.

They had decent health and dental benefits, and I was covered on my first day — no waiting period.

They had a pension plan, something most companies had eliminated years earlier. 

For accrued benefits like vacation time, the day I first showed up as a temp would be considered my starting date with the company. I'd been temping there for three months already, so on my first day as an employee, I'd already accumulated some sick leave and paid time off.

There were black people working there, and a few flamboyantly gay workers. There were female executives. There was a black female executive. It seemed to be a progressive place, and that's something I liked.

They had a company picnic every summer, and a party at Christmas. I’d never go to either, of course — no social interactions for me, thanks — but it said something about the company culture.

They had regular bake sales and swap meets for charity. 

They had an employee chess club, a knitting circle, and a softball team.

On random days every few weeks, we’d get an email announcing that tomorrow's lunch would be delivered — for everyone in the building, at no charge. It was usually just sandwiches and chips and cans of Coke, but about 250 people worked there, so the company was spending, what, a thousand bucks to feed us, and asking nothing in return.

On the first Tuesday of every month, employees were all emailed a survey, and asked to rate the company and their boss. The questions changed every month, and there was also an open-ended question where you could ask or complain about anything — anonymously, if you wished.

A week later, there would be a follow-up email, explaining the results of that month’s employee survey, and printing and answering some of the questions and complaints. Employees’ suggestions were often implemented, with lines like, "Great idea, we'll do it!" and the survey results were always impressive — 90+% employee satisfaction. Every month.

Apologies to anyone who’s stuck like Fred Flintstone working in a quarry, but I’ve had some craptastic jobs, too. This was something different. Obviously, I was working for the Lollipop Guild.

It was better than most jobs in 21st century America, and I barely even hated Mondays, but no, it wasn’t a fairy tale. We occasionally had bastard co-workers. The phone rang, and we had to deal with angry customers. A boss in a different department was a notorious butt-head. Some days sucked, because all jobs suck, and someone I worked with got screwed over by a situation that the company didn’t handle well — but that’s another story.

Company Culture

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  1. OK, now we need to know what happened to that job? Did the company go under? Was it acquired by another company that sucked raw eggs? Did you go into work one day and start screaming, "I can't take this anymore. You're all too nice! I need to work for complete bastards!"

    1. Funny you should ask — it's the job I still have but won't for much longer.

      It's been an odd experience, working at a very well-run dare-I-say ethical company, and watching as it rebuilds itself into something exactly like any other company.

      I'll be writing more about the company's self-destruction, whether anyone wants it or not.

    2. I enjoy it. Sounds like it was a sweet gig for a while.


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