Five workplace practices that should be over. Now.


1. Voice mail
It will come as news to most people over thirty that most people under thirty do not leave voice mail messages. Think about it: Voice mail takes a long time to retrieve and it’s almost never earth-shattering, so it’s not worth the time it requires. Microsoft is such a big believer in this that all voice mails you leave at the company go straight to email. And you can do the same if you use eVoice.

Young people treat their list of missed calls as a page system. And they call the person back. No extra step for listening to the message.

Except at work, where the old people leave messages. My twenty-three year old brother used to be an analyst at a big investment bank, and he and his friends were so annoyed with the managing directors’ obsessive use of voicemail that they used to make fun of it. For example, they would call someone and leave a message to say they were going to the bathroom. (My brother guest blogged about this here.)

2. The reply-to-all button
This button should be hidden in all email software. You should have to click through five menus to find the option because that’s how many times you should reconsider before you reply to all. This was a great button to have in 1993 when even the busiest people only got fifty emails a day. Back then reply to all was a way to have an inclusive conversation.

Now reply to all is only a way to annoy people and make yourself look foolish.

And here’s a love note to all of you who think you are being really efficient by hitting reply to all: When there are more than four people in the send field, I don’t read the email because I know that if there’s any action item in that email, someone else will do it.

3. The workplace candy machine
I’m not saying that work should be paternalistic, but I am saying that your employer should not be a crack dealer. And when I have sat within twenty yards of a candy machine, I felt like I had a drug dealer on my block. It is very, very difficult for me to have a hard problem at work and not let my mind wander to chocolate. And I’m not even overweight. So I can imagine it is much harder for people who are already not controlling their eating.

So I wonder, who feels good about the candy machine? The vendor, probably. But everyone else feels like crap after they eat a bag of m&m’s, and if you don’t feel like crap your body has acclimated to crap and the first culprit you should consider is the workplace vending machine. Instead, companies should have healthy micro market vending options which are becoming very popular in or near the workplace.

4. Soliciting money at work
What is up with people asking for sponsorships at work? If you want to do the breast cancer fun run, fine, but that doesn’t mean it’s my favorite charity. Why do we need to solicit at work for our charities? Why is that socially acceptable? I don’t get it. I don’t need my co-workers to choose my charities. They can choose their own.

Also, what is up with six-figure paycheck types asking me to sponsor them? Hello? Write yourself a check.

I think my bitterness over workplace check-writing comes from a few things. First, I was involved in a United Way campaign in the Fortune 500 where I was actually forced to go to a meeting in the middle of the workday about why it’s important to give to United Way. To me this felt like mixing church and state. I go to work to earn money, not to be told what to spend it on.

Second, I was the number-one girl scout in Illinois for cookie sales two years in a row. You know how I did it? My mom sold the cookies at her office. So I know the genesis of all those parents passing around a coffer for their kids stuff: Guilt. Instead of making your co-workers cough up bucks for your kids’ escapades, try this: Being personally involved. Then you won’t feel so compelled to make up for it with money.

5. The 800-person office party
The only thing a party like this is good for is anonymous hookups with the marketing girl you see in the hallway on Thursdays. Otherwise, there is no point in a party this big. Its way more fun to go out with people you really do work with after work.

It used to be that a big office party was a way to know your company cares. Now you know your company cares if they siphon money off to training programs. And you know what? Good training is so much fun, it’s like a party anyway.

79 replies
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  1. Shawn
    Shawn says:

    Don’t forget about the meeting to schedule a meeting to discuss a meeting. With all of the meetings, I’m still not sure how anything actually gets done.

  2. Joy
    Joy says:

    Penelope, I think that your logic on #3 is flawed. You’re equating someone being overweight with an inability to control eating habits. While, in fact, many overweight people may have issues with overeating, to lump all overweight people (those with thyroid problems, those who are just naturally heavyset, etc.) in this category as candy binging and out-of-control is offensive. You are in fact feeding (and perhaps truly buying into) the stereotype that overweight people lack control.

  3. Flying Squirrel
    Flying Squirrel says:

    People always use thyroid problems as an excuse for being overweight. Thyroid problems are easily managed with medication and are not the primary cause for being obese — I know from personal thyroid issue experience – I had to have a complete thyroidectomy because of a cyst. I did a lot of research about this and discussed my fears of becoming obese with my doctor. No endocrinologist would ever accept that the reason you are obese is because of your thyroid problem. It’s not the primary factor.

  4. Dan Martineau
    Dan Martineau says:

    Dear Penelope,

    Being of the older generation I am “comfortable” with voice mail. I know this is indicative of us 40 year old coots how? Because Penelope was kind enough to tell me (and a room of similarly dated professionals) this at a recent Recruiters conference in New Orleans. So, yes she’s right that leaving a voice mail indicates we’re of a certain generation which may also signal we’re clueless to many of the 25 to 35 bracket. That said, in my profession (Headhunter) voice mail has value. How you ask?

    Voice Mail allows me to convey tonal inflection and impart energy and enthusiasm which last time I checked, IM, My Space or even the soon to be old persons form of communication…email does not. For a Recruiter seeking to stimulate, articulate and then call to action, voice mail is a valuable tool when used in concert with the more Gen Y and X modes.


    Old Guy with the Attitude

  5. Lawyer's Right Hand
    Lawyer's Right Hand says:

    Amen to them all, but especially #4. Workplace solicitations are totally out of control. If it’s not candy sales for your kid (just make a donation to the school/team/club/band already!), it’s the United Way, or else it’s someone’s baby shower for their new Chihuahua.

  6. Steve Wilson
    Steve Wilson says:

    The worst part about those parties is when they have a band playing so loud that you couldn’t visit with your colleagues if you wanted to. However, I once worked for a company that did a great job of throwing big parties. They invited the whole family, had lots of fun activities, and plenty of time to visit with each other.

  7. Doug Kyle
    Doug Kyle says:

    Great article! I’m especially all for the death of voice mail, but not if it means using call display as a paging system.

    Typically, if I make a phone call, its because I need an answer right now and am hoping to avoid an email delay. If I don’t get an answer and can wait, I email the question rather than leave a voice message. BUT, if I can’t wait I’ll either go look for the person (i.e. in the office), find another source for the answer right now, or make the decision without that information. What annoys me is…

    *ring ring*
    me: “hello?”
    them: “hey Doug, I saw you called, what’s up”
    me: “I was just looking for some info but its ok now”
    them: “oh? What were you looking for…”

    If I wanted them to call me back, I’d have left a message (email if its a detailed request, text message if its a “call me” and voice mail if the specific case warrants it).

  8. Joan Woodbrey
    Joan Woodbrey says:

    Personally, I couldn’t agree more. Office parties are a joke. Why don’t they just take the money they spend on all the holiday hooplas and find away to give it back to the employees through incentives and what not.

    I also agree that voicemail is not only archaic, but extremely annoying. Email is a much better way to communicate. It eliminates the ranting, babbling, non-sense that most messages become and allows the person to collect their thoughts more cohesively. Plus, if it is referring to an actual document, invoice, whatever, you can have it right there for the person to see.

    This was a great article, Thanks for sharing.

  9. Joshua Long
    Joshua Long says:

    Brilliant post!

    I hate the fact that most people don’t know what the ‘BCC’ button is for and prostitute others emails in the hordes of stupid forwards they perpetuate every day. It is way worse than the reply all button, but I don’t work in a Fortune 500 Borg-like community.

  10. TS
    TS says:

    I had some issues with the article. I’m 23, and I HATE when people don’t leave messages. There was a reason you called, and if it’s not important enough for you to leave a message, then it’s not important enough for me to return your call. Socially, OK, fine, whatever, you’ll call your friend back, but not at work. On the same note, don’t leave meandering messages, be brief yet detailed. Don’t leave the time you called (voicemail will tell you that), but leave name, number, reason you called, and what you expect of me.

    Reply-to-all: useful because if you’re out of the office, someone else knows the situation and can deal with it. If not abused, wonderfully useful.

    Workplace Candy Machine: sometimes you’re in the office longer than expected and didn’t think to leave food in the car. There should be snacks somewhere in an office.

    Agree with the rest.

  11. Loopy
    Loopy says:

    After reading “My twenty-three year old brother used to be an analyst at a big investment bank” your credibility went out the door.

  12. ipad 3
    ipad 3 says:

    Astounding article bro. This kind of is just a exceedingly nicely structured posting, just the tips I was hunting for. Thanks

  13. miguel
    miguel says:

    And apparently some of the responses are from people that are not familiar with intimidation at work, they see it as innocent pressure.  Think of the evil of it.  Stop thinking about yourself and imagine someone who worked a lifetime to earn that job.  Now someone wants a piece of their paycheck to be magnanimous enough to not malign their career – that is extortion.  Is that sooo severe a characterization?  Think.  For someone up-topside to get a photo op they force people to remove money from far better charity (a neighbor, a religious organization) and stuff it into a group that is but a distribution center for the purpose of employment in positions of power.  No!?  Look at the evidence.  Look at how many web sites that removed the arrests of UW people.  The web site referred to in the response by leslie in 2007 is no longer active.  People are not aware that at GM in 1985 people were forced to sign cards saying they paid zero or the couple that came around would not leave their off
     ice.  This practice is taught and followed today, signing for their UW cards – do not sign, refuse, refuse again, and continue to refuse.  If you doubt that they could be evil watch how many times these usually good people are trained to persist that you sign that you are not giving (to THEM out of your charity’s pockets).  After watching several Michigan UW officials go to jail in the 1980’s I learned how to get caustically rude with these leaches.  What are you doing?  Think about it.  They are leaching money that other people need so that their face and name can get their glory.  It is all about THEM, the people administering the program.  There is very little charity actually involved – no, it is negative charity because you shift people’s budget to your self-centered career desires so you get credit for intimidating people.  Shame on you.  Additionally, it degrades the work product of the group by wasting time and angering innocent people that donate more than these self-promoting pimps.  To harsh am I?  Here in Oct 2013 are some of the links that do work.  And I copied the articles to tex as you should because they are going to disappear like the dozens in the Detroit Free press about jail sentences for several different U Way executives long before Aramony, during the 1980’s and none of them show up in searches.  He is just one of many, the corruption is endemic and the intimidation should be illegal.
    (Remove spaces in order to activate links.)
    www .nytimes .com/1995/06/23/us/ex-united-way-leader-gets-7-years-for-embezzlement.html
    www .highbeam .com/doc/1P2-790313.html
    www .rrstar .com/opinion/x1237130274/United-Way-needs-to-find-different-ways-to-get-money
    www .wdtn .com/news/local/montgomery/trammell-sentencing-scheduled-for-Wednesday
    https:// en .wikipedia .org/wiki/United_Way_of_America  [and go down to Criticism section]
    www .thenonprofittimes .com/news-articles/old-battles-and-new-challenges/
    www .nytimes .com/2006/04/14/nyregion/14united.html?_r=0
    http:// pediaview .com/openpedia/United_Way_of_America
    http:// philanthropy .com/article/Study-Charity-Fraud-Exceeds/61982/
    http:// blog .penelopetrunk .com/2007/10/09/five-workplace-practices-that-should-be-over-now/
    http:// www .bloggernews .net/122471
    http:// christopherfisher .wordpress .com/2010/10/07/the-united-way-scam/
    http:// econlog .econlib .org/archives/2012/02/how_deserving_a.html

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