I recently changed jobs and with my job change came a change in culture.
I recently left a job in the midwest. The town where we lived was dominated by old-country Germans. Most of the families had lived in the United States for three or four generations, but the habits and lifestyle was still present. Neat yards, sausage, sauerkraut and punctuality were critical elements to our daily lives. Our workday began at 8 am sharp and lunch was clearly defined. If we took 30 minutes for lunch, we could leave the office at 4:30 pm. If we took a 60 minute lunch, we had to work until 5:00 pm.
I then took a job in one of the western states and we live in a suburb of Denver, Colorado. The culture here is a bit more eclectic and laid back. At other workplaces in the area, I have observed individuals arriving 30 minutes late for work and not being reprimanded. Employees at my particular place of employment can show up anytime between 9:30 am and 11:00 am. In fact, when I was hired, I was not given an arrival time, my supervisor simply told me to “get your job done”. Lunch can occur anytime between 11:30 am and 1:30 pm and can last more than an hour and a half. (To be fair, there are times during the year where the employees in my line of work put in a great deal of overtime – nights, weekends, travel, etc.)
So far, while I am a little unnerved by the laissez faire approach (Mrs. Rocket is a western girl and loves it), I am beginning to adjust – although I am still the first one to enter the office every day. The area where I am having the most difficulty adjusting is in what is spent on food and beverages. In my previous job, everyone either made coffee at home or brewed some kind of inexpensive brand in the office. I didn’t spend more than $3 a month on work-day coffee. In my new office, there is no place to brew our own java and everyone who uses caffeine in the morning, stops off at Starbucks on the way to work.
Lunch is the most treacherous part of the day. In my old office, most people “brown-bagged” a sandwich to work. The few who didn’t bring a lunch, lived close enough to run home and eat. Going out for lunch was an exception, usually paid for by the boss and an event planned well in advance. At my new workplace, everyone goes out to eat every day. No exception. And it is kind of an uneasy situation because sometimes the “boss” buys lunch and other times, we all pay for our own – and I never quite know in advance whether I am paying or when someone else is going to pick up the check.
Who’s buying is critical information.
To make things worse, every lunch at this office seems to be a working lunch and there is a lot of pressure to go drop $6 or $8 or $10 on an unhealthy meal that I can’t afford. There have been a couple of situations where my boss has basically ordered me to go to lunch – on my dime. I am still the new guy, and I don’t want to cause too many waves, but going to lunch even one time during a week busts our budget. Mrs. Rocket is pretty consistent about making a lunch for me when I remember to ask the night before, so I took a lunch every day last week and got a way with it – primarily because most of my office was on vacation. I have been playing along and paying the price for the last few months, however, I must cut back.
If I dig in my heels and say that I am not going to lunch,
- My office mates will probably volunteer to buy lunch for me.
- At some point, I will need to reciprocate and I can’t afford that either.
- When my office-mates buy lunch for me, they think that they are saving me $10 or $8. What they don’t realize is that they are only saving me about $1.50 per day.
- We are not dirt-poor or in need of charity, but for some reason, brown-bagging at this office seems to imply that we are one step from applying for food stamps.
- They don’t understand that I like the lunches that my wife makes. Mrs. Rocket makes a mean sandwich – turkey, pickles, tomato, lettuce are typical ingredients and Mrs. Rocket’s lunches cost less than $2.00 despite the inclusion of fruit, chips or crackers, cookies, yogurt etc. . . . and her lunches don’t clog my arteries quite as much. Although, the chocolate chip cookies make me wonder.
- If I refuse to go (which I have done a half-dozen times), they will still go without me and will not have input in the discussions that take place.
- I fear that I am gaining the reputation of a skinflint or worse: anti-social.
Here is the irony: my fellow employees cannot afford to go to lunch either! From what I can tell, they just do it as a part of the job. I suspect that several of them are racking up significant debt in the process. I estimate that they spend $40 a week on lunch, that’s over $2,000 a year! And what if you buy for someone else once in a while or take your spouse out to eat on the weekend? I think some of these folks are dropping $3 to $4K a year at restaurants! They just seem to think that $8 to $10 lunches are a job expense just like proper clothing or gasoline. I know that the restaurants in our area appreciate that kind of thinking . . .
A further irony is that salaries are approximately 15% higher (for virtually the same work) at my new job than my old job – yet the number of complaints about compensation are far greater here in CO than in WI. I believe that with a minimum amount of effort, they could give themselves a 10% to 15% raise without begging from the boss. I have not taken much of a stand on this issue up to now, but I am quickly approaching the moment when some kind of discussion will need to take place.
Maybe I will start my own personal finance movement called the “brown bag factor” in my office.
How have you dealt with a clash of finance culture in your workplace?