Monday, May 19, 2008

Recognition, the economy, and everything.

My company added a new feature to its Recognition and Reward program in the form of "points" that you can accumulate throughout the year with the purpose of saving them up and "cashing them in" for prizes and gifts. The points never expire and people earn them at their managers' discretion. For instance, if I think John Q. Mangosalsa is doing a great job in my group, I can "reward him" with points in lieu of money. He could then theoretically spend those points on an iPod, a flat screen TV, a Weber grill, or one of hundreds of other trinkets in the online catalog.

Here are the problems I have with this new system:

1) According to my company's legal department, the only way to cash in these points and not be on the hook for shipping and handling charges or other fees is to tax the points themselves on a quarterly basis. Each point is valued at about $2.80 USD.

So let's say that I accrue fifteen points in the span of a quarter (since I'm ridiculously good at my job). I am going to be taxed on those fifteen points when the quarter is up whether I've used those points or not. I have a problem being taxed for something I may not use for years.

2) If there are ever budget cuts within the company you can bet on this being one of the first programs cut. That means that I could be left with a slew of meaningless points and nowhere to use them...after I've already been taxed on them and after I've been given these points in lieu of monetary bonuses or raises over the year(s). And if you think my company is going to let us cash those points in for money then I've got a hell of a deal for you on a bridge for sale.

3) Let's say that by some miraculous leap of logic and faith that the point program manages to survive, people accrue points for good work, and they have a chance to cash them in for stuff. How many points do you need to accumulate for anything decent? Let's take a look, shall we?

The average number of points alloted to each manager per person on their staff is fifty. Some will earn more, some will earn less, but let's use fifty as the average. The flat screen Samsung HD TV is 550 points; the iPod is forty points, and the Weber grill is 150. Do I really want to wait for eleven years so that I can buy a TV? Or three years for a freaking grill?

If someone is really interested in buying a grill or an iPod or a TV there are a hundred quicker ways to go about it. They could save fifty bucks a week and buy the same TV in two years, or the grill in 3 months, or the iPod in a month and change. Or they could put it on the old standby, the credit card. Hell, even putting it on layaway would take less time.

Is the point system a good idea in theory? If it were the 1970's then the answer is yes. But in today's "consumer whore"-filled world where nearly everything is available for the taking with a swipe of some plastic and more disposable income than ever before, who needs points?

I like the fact that if I wanted to I could take a 5-minute drive to Best Buy, pick out the TV I want, drive it home that day, and have it up and running by that night. I know that not everyone has that luxury but for someone like me who has a job that pays well, minimal bills, and a penchant for impulse shopping (especially when it comes to electronics, craft beers, and sushi), this is a no-brainer: count me out when it comes to points; I just want the cash.

But is it becoming too easy to get everything you want? And is that a good thing?

I'd like to say yes, I really would, but I don't think I can. In a society where many people have more financial flexibility than ever before, what's stopping people from going overboard and spending themselves into the poorhouse? Does anyone really think it's coincidental that after a decade in which more people had an abundance of money to spend, thanks to a booming economy and the marketing power of the internet, we've managed to fall so far? Everyone thought the good times would never end, even after 9/11. We were told as much by our leaders; "go on about your lives because we're America...fuck yeah!" Now the economy sucks, houses are being foreclosed left and right, and gas is going to hit four bucks a gallon by Memorial Day.

You think that someone in their right mind, someone who understands that the good economic times aren't going to last forever, someone who isn't so obsessed with consumerism, would really go out and buy a house with with a 5-year ARM and no backup plan? Really? More people must think that they and the American economy are invincible. Maybe they actually do. I mean, all I'm seeing on TV is how America is so much better than any other country on Earth and how we're going to be a shining light for the rest of the world to follow. We're constantly told not to question anything that's being done by our government or its officials lest we be labeled unpatriotic.

We're being led by two parties that wouldn't know their ass from their hands with a flashlight and a map. One party voted someone into office (twice!) who I believe may have an extra chromosome. Their current nominee for president is a shell of his former self who has completely turned 180 degrees on most of the issues he used to stand for and may also indeed be 180 years old. Is McCain really that old? Put it this way: the man is older than chocolate chip cookies, Bugs Bunny, penicillin, and Scrabble. That's fucking OLD.

The other party also knows who their nominee for president long as his opponent doesn't sue to have Florida and Michigan's delegates counted, convince superdelegates to ignore the outcome of the popular election and vote for her, or continue to give the GOP plenty of mudslinging goodness to throw at her party's nominee once the convention is over in July. The party is being ruined singlehandedly and no one even remotely involved in the process is smart enough to put a stop to it.

But I guess that's neither here nor there. The point I was trying to make before I got sidetracked was that America used to be the free-wheeling, free-spending country that had the world's panties in a knot tied by jealousy and now we're the laughingstock of the world. The euro and yen have never been higher and most Europeans could wipe their asses with dollar bills. Is it the work of unchecked consumerism? Shitty fiscal policy? The ease of credit companies and banks to forgo all common sense and hand out fake money left and right? All of the above? Does anyone really feel like the U.S. will get those good economic times back anytime soon, cyclical economic theory aside?

Maybe not; maybe that's why people are spending all this money. Maybe they all see the writing on the wall and are deciding to numb themselves by purchasing luxury items they can't afford just so they can enjoy the last few moments before the economy completely collapses and we're all eating turnip broth and rhubarb stew for dinner every night. Maybe people think it's too late to turn things around. Maybe it is.

In that case, I'll be over near my TV playing the Wii if you need me. Let me know when dinner's been boiled.

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