My Photo

Firing at Will

  • Check out Jay's new book on the riskiest thing you can do at work with your clothes on.

Follow jayshep on Twitter

Become a Fan

« Thanks | Main | Does your company need a smartphone policy? »


Frank Roche

I couldn't agree more. I think it's demeaning to create that kind of policy -- it's saying, "We trust you to do a ton of business for the company, but we don't trust you to make good decisions about how much to spend to eat." Those kinds of policies are implemented by little accountants and HR hall monitors who never travel. Treat people like adults, as you say. That's the winning formula.

Stefanie Devery

I absolutely agree. What I dont understand is: if you cannot trust your employees to make rational and appropriate decisions about corporate expenses, how do you trust them to sell your products appropriately?

Happy employees are productive employees. I bet if they ran some numbers of productivity before and after the policy was instituted they would see a change in the amount of sales their employees generated.


I am torn. I absolutely agree that employees should be treated with respect and that managers should address problems as they arise with individual employees rather than set micro-managing, company-wide policies to curb bad behavior among a handful.

That said, I do think setting expectations is an important task of management because "reasonable" doesn't mean the same thing to every person.

My managerial experience extends almost entirely to administrative personnel, so perhaps those managing more experienced staff will disagree. But I have found when you make expectations explicit, it leads to better employee performance and a greater sense of security among employees that their job performance is following the company's standard, rather than a fuzzily shared concept of reasonableness.

In this example, I think Lucy's company would be better to set a policy that "on days you are traveling, you have a per diem of $XX for meals. If your expenses exceed that amount, we will need your supervisor's approval before you submit for reimbursement."

This policy gives the employee latitude in how they spend their money, but also accounts for trips where meal cost may be higher or entertaining clients might be involved.


Yes, treat employees as adults, but without basic guidelines (and you agreed that the three put in place by Lucy's employer all make sense), an employer must determine case-by-case whether an employees' expenses are reasonable. And when it comes to reviewing meal choices and travel habits, it’s a safer bet to cap expenses than to audit line items, lest the corporate gnomes wander into discrimination territory

The company’s policy protects Lucy, too, because she can exercise discretion with a clear understanding of what’s allowed.

Employers should treat these policies like speed limits. Yes, people are going to bust the limit sometimes, but only the truly serious offenders will get nailed. And when they do, the company’s clearly communicated expense policy will provide firm footing should the employer opt to take disciplinary action.

By the way, has Lucy talked to her boss about getting the 75-mile rule changed to allow breakfast at the airport?

Wally Bock

Congratulations! This post was selected as one of the five best independent business blog posts of the week in my Three Star Leadership Midweek Review of the Business Blogs.

Wally Bock

Jay Shepherd

I'm honored, Wally. And we're in good company!

— Jay

Jennifer Hofmann

If restricting overall meal expense is a necessity to the employer, it might make more sense to give employees a meal budget (by the month or year) and let them decide how to use it.

I agree that "nickle-and-diming" is an affront to the competent employee.

christian chereji

I'm a mediator in Romania, Europe, and I have to deal all the time with business people from my city being in conflict with their employees — and I see these nickel-and-dime strategies going on one after another. What's more interesting is that employers to whom I've talked to, showing them with numbers how much they lose on specific cases of nickel-and-dime strategies they adopt, don't even bother to notice the facts. I think this is related to various theories of decision-making, saying that people are more in favor of decisions that have a known-in-advance result (i.e., I won't pay more than $17.50/meal/employee, which is already included in the company's budget) that of decisions that have an unknown, even if supposedly better result. Avoiding the unknown it seems to be a regular policy of companies throughout the world, even if it leads to mediocre results.

Tom "Bald Dog" Varjan

Great post.

I also believe that dishonest leaders create dishonest organisational cultures, attracting dishonest people.

And at one point leaders shout out: "Our dishonesty is expensive enough for the company, so let's crack down on other people's (employees') dishonesty."

Of course, through their eyes, even common sense actions are dishonest. They don't see the world as it is. They see it as they are, hence they see cheaters and liars in everyone.

As the saying goes, fish rots from the head.

Earl Owen

We have similar, although not quite as draconian as those cited, policies. I find them easier to live with than the over explanation we used to have to provide for each and every meal. For everything you gain there is something lost.

j drager

I have traveled for business in the past being paid for meals the same way. From my point of view, I was going to eat anyway, so I have to pay more for my breakfast just because I didn't get up 15 minutes earlier to make my own. I'm still eating the rest of the day on the company's dime. I would have spent my own for lunch, and I didn't have to make my own dinner. Why the complaints?

The comments to this entry are closed.