Beware of employers bearing gifts
In 1184 BC a combined force of a hundred thousand Greeks beseeched the Ionian city of Troy under the
auspices of saving Helen, the captured wife of king Menelaus, and for the actual purpose of conquering
their competition. After months of effort and loss, the disconnected armies of the Greek coalition began to
squabble amongst themselves and pull apart. Their leaders realized that they were not making progress
and their workers were beginning to seek self interest so they devised a new plan. Since they could not
defeat their advisory through outright force of arms (Troy was a massive fortress) they would do it through
trickery. They would also provide this new plan around which their disaffected workers could rally.
They spent days building a large wooden horse, with a hidden compartment inside big enough to fit
several men. They offered this prize up as a tribute to the Gods and a token to the Trojans. The Greeks
then got in their ships and sailed out to sea and out of sight. Seeing what was an obvious sign of victory
and without any Greeks visible. The Trojans opened the gates of their impregnable city and brought in the
horse. That night they celebrated their victory with wine and song. Then as they sleep the Greeks inside
the horse slipped out killed the guards and opened the gates for the rest of the waiting Greeks who had
simply sail off over the horizon out of sight and back. Troy was utterly destroyed.
This story if often told and for good reason. The lessons contained within are timeless. Don’t take things
at face value. Be skeptical. A currently more popular and politically correct version of this might be, “Trust
I am a student of history and I had to tell this story because in my experience it applies to the work
environment as much if not more intently then it does obviously to a battle field. It’s been said, “In the
modern era wars are fought in the market place and in the economy and that physical conflict is just the
visible sign of the invisible war.”
As a consultant, over the years, I’ve been in a lot of different offices and you can almost always find food.
In fact, I used to joke about not having to eat outside of work in order to survive. From bagels to
doughnuts, birthday sheet cake from Costco (also known as cardboard) to pies from Marie Calendars;
there is always food. Food is brought in for long meetings and company events, late nights and early
mornings. At the very least there is a jar of candy on someone’s desk somewhere. And food is just the
start, it is simple and obvious. How about a free stress ball, or logo pen, or coffee cup, maybe tickets to a
game that the company had bought for the big guys up stairs but since their not using them you can have
them. Or maybe something less direct, like letting you go a little early without taking it off your time card or
even giving you some slack when you don’t want to go to a meeting because you’re not prepared.
There is a give and take that develops when you engage in these things that is subtle at first but it grows
and becomes binding like the sticky web of a spider to a fly. OK, in most cases the offering of what might
be compared to medieval indulgences does not have a sinister motive but that is not the point you see
when you take or even just receive such things no matter how small you become indebted for them not
matter how little. Little things build up. A pattern of, I helped you now you own me develops. Even if you
don’t recognize it or think it, the other person; the company does. You will often develop a sense,
sometimes unconscious, of obligation. You think they have been nice to me and or done this or that for
me I owe them and I should do this or that for them even though I’m not getting paid for it: it would not be in
my best interest, I’ll go out of my way and make the extra effort. Here is the end of the trap. At this point
you are the fly stuck in the web and the spider is coming to feed on you. A work relationship is a contract
based on a stated trade off of time and effort for compensation. When they start offering you things
outside of that contract they want something from you but it is not stated. It is the gray, smushy area of
employer relations that blurs the lines and evokes emotional connections that, when as undoubtedly they
will be severed, causes pain and resentment and in the worse case scenarios, a crazy man walking
through an office with an assault weapon evening scores and venting aggression.
Nothing comes for free not even good feelings. When you are offered something be skeptical and think
what is this going to cost me. I am not saying don’t have a doughnut but be aware that just because you
are not handing cash across a counter does not mean you are not paying for it.
When you don’t pay attention you end up in situations that you did not expect.
The Brutal Truth:
Employers don’t do anything without a reason. They give, do, or allow whatever in order to get what they
want and or need. It is the bases for the relationship.