March 8, 2012


Filed under: business,documentation,work — mhoye @ 3:09 pm

A friend I was having a conversation with the other day noted, quite correctly I think, that while Joel Spolsky has said many very silly things in his time, he’s also said about five very true things better than anyone else, so well that much can be forgiven. One of them came up today when we were talking about the high perceived cost of decent ergonomics compared to the real, properly amortized costs of wrecking up your wrists, back and workplace morale.

One of the true things Joel has said, on the real costs of buying your employees great equipment or buying them junk, is this:

“[…] The bottom line is that an Aeron only really costs $500 more over ten years, or $50 a year. One dollar per week per programmer.”

“A nice roll of toilet paper runs about a buck. Your programmers are probably using about one roll a week, each.”

“So upgrading them to an Aeron chair literally costs the same amount as you’re spending on their toilet paper, and I assure you that if you tried to bring up toilet paper in the budget committee you would be sternly told not to mess around, there were important things to discuss.”

And bear in mind: those are just the costs you can measure right there on the balance sheet. If you think cheaping out on your people doesn’t have much higher hidden costs, you keep right on doing what you’re doing. I’m perfectly OK with it, it’ll make it easier for me when the time comes for me to start hiring.

I’ve said this before myself – over a computer’s life, the difference the very best box you can get and a piece of junk is pennies per hour. It gets more extreme when you start talking about chairs, desks and ergonomics: they’re expensive, but the amortized costs are negligible and the potential downsides are huge; one manager I know here says that if it says “ergo” on it, he doesn’t even bother looking at the price before he approves the expense.

The moment you can afford, both in money and time terms, to think like this you pretty much have to.

I’m trying to get a Thing off the ground here, wranging VCs and assembling a team, and I was asked what I thought about employee expenses, tools, resources and training. What I said was:

  1. If it’s for the job, we’ll pay for it.
  2. If it seems extravagant, I’m going to ask you to make your case. If you can do that I’ll pay for it. In particular, if we can trade money for time I’ll pay for it.
  3. If we get something wrong, we fix it promptly.
  4. If you fuck us you’re fired.
  5. If we need to make more rules because of something you did, we’ll make more rules and you’re fired.

1 Comment

  1. I’m quitting my current job with rules and regulations up the wazoo (the person across the way is fighting to replace her old computer with the better computer from someone who left, and losing) and going to a place more like what you listed, with the rules being more along what you listed. I like those starting 5 rules.

    Comment by Dave Stanford — August 6, 2012 @ 3:25 pm

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