Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Swag and fairness

You all probably know what swag is, if not, it's the small little trinkets that you get at recruiting fairs, like little pens, slinkies, plastic toys, (or in my company's case, plastic hearts) all printed with a company's logo on it. Stuff that's totally cool when you see it on the recruiting fair table, but totally useless once you get back to your dorm (or office). Stuff that's likely made overseas for pennies, and sold back here to college students and trinket collectors, who probably throw the stuff out anyways.

There's this law firm that we work with for our patents, and in the past, once our patents applications have been submitted, they send us a $5 amazon gift certificate for our work. Only $5! I've always had mixed feelings about this, because we put in a lot of work for these applications, I'm sure the company pays a lot of money for these applications, but for all of our work, we get a $5 gift certificate. Since this reward is so small for the amount of effort, I feel like it's an insult and would rather that they'd keep the money. (or maybe discount the company's price by $5). But on the other hand, I also realize it's a free $5.

Recently, I read an article in the Economist about some neuroscience researchers who looked at very similar behaviour in monkeys. (See link to the original Nature article) These monkeys prefer eating grapes over cucumbers. In this study, they had monkeys performing a certain task. Half of the group was given grapes as a reward for completing the task, the other half were given cucumbers. When the cucumber group saw that grapes were being given to their colleagues, they refused to perform the task and refused to accept the award. Sound familiar? It's almost like the monkeys had a similar feeling that I did when I received the $5 gift certificate, the reward is simply not up to par with the work, and they'd rather receive nothing than an insulting reward. (Link to the article in the Economist)

How does this two seemingly separate topics (swag and fairness) relate to each other? A few days ago, I received two packages (year-end gifts?) from this particular law firm... one was a nice hardback book, and another was a hand-crank radio/light/survival kit. The radio was definitely some very nice swag, definitely worth more than the $5 gift certificates and it made me think: are they trying to earn favor with us? Or is it simply a gift?

1 comment:

Lees, the savvy travellers said...

If fairness is measured by the material values then it is hard to pleased everyone. Think about how much a minister with a doctor's degree in divinity would get for his or her salary.