Enterprise Money Traps (Biggest Wastes of Money)

Updated: February 10, 2011

Governments are often criticized for wasting far more money than businesses do. (The Pentagon paying $10,000 apiece for toilet seats comes to mind.) But for all these undeniably foolish expenditures, let's not let corporate America totally off the hook. Spending a few moments in the typical office will reveal questionable purchases from the puzzling to the palpably absurd.Here are some of the most wasteful and comical offenders:

Premium Office Furniture

Many startup businesses are eager to look the part before actually succeeding (or even closing their first real sale.) Often, this leads the founders to sink precious operating capital into premium office furniture: mahogany desks, banker's lamps and other assorted eye candy. What novice businesspeople fail to realize is that none of these accoutrements add a single cent to the bottom line.

In fact, it's worse than that. Spending thousands of dollars on furniture leaves the company with less money to grow. The very items purchased to make the founders look successful are, in fact, actively harming their chances of success. Don't be that company - never let "that sweet new conference table" stop you from upgrading the hosting package. Take a lesson from Walmart, whose executives used lawn chairs and folding tables to start out.

Flat-Screen TVs

Nothing is more hilarious than listening to an executive justify why he has a flat screen in his office. But unless your company is part of the entertainment industry, you're deluding yourself. Not only are high-quality flat-screens expensive, they also reduce per-hour productivity. By watching TV at work, you incur what ThePersonalMBA.com calls the cognitive switching penalty:

"Neurologically, multitasking is impossible. You are not really doing two things, you're switching your attention from one thing to the other. Productive multitasking is a myth. Your brain spends time and energy thrashing, loading and reloading contexts."

Be truthful with yourself. You're not multi-tasking, you're not "breaking up the monotony" - you're just putting off sales calls to watch Dancing With The Stars.

Office Branded Everything

Ever been to an office where everything was branded with the company logo? Mousepads, t-shirts, coffee mugs - the works. To the executive signing the purchase order, it's a noble attempt to foster pride and teamwork. To outsider visitors, it makes your office feel like a perverse, corporate version of Jonestown. Not only is the message not getting across, the money is producing no returns at all. Trust us - if you want to build loyalty, skip the company branded merch and just put it in the employee's paycheck. They would greatly prefer more spendable dollars to a tacky doo-dad with their employer's name on it.


We're not sure which company rode its tank of lizards to the top of the Dow Jones. Amazingly, the lack of connection between critters and profitability has not stopped aquariums and even free-roaming dogs from filling America's offices. The belief seems to be that if employees and executives have cool animals to play with, they have to be more productive. Unless you run a zoo or a customer-facing business (like a fancy restaurant) there is no reason to squander company cash on animals. It might be fun to point out all the interesting fish in your office, they aren't doing a damn thing to boost effectiveness. The fact that anyone on your payroll spends even some of their precious time buying algae eaters and changing fish-tank water is a corporate atrocity.

Exotic Artwork

Artwork is typically a two-for-one deal: where there are workplace animals, there will be quirky paintings. Sadly, paintings contribute no more to productivity than Siamese fighting fish or company-themed softball hats. There could be a case for graphic design studios having artwork around the office, but even then, it should probably be their artwork. Don't hand Sotheby's a $30,000 check for an "awesome conversational piece" for your conference room. In fact, the fewer conversations you have in there, the more time you'll spend actually working (and the more successful you'll ultimately be!)

Motivational Seminars & Training

Every year, executives who are desperate to instill passion for corporate goals put their employees through motivational training. These events take on many forms, including:

  • Trust falls
  • Ropes courses
  • Wilderness adventures
  • Fire walks
  • Motivational speaking

In his book The Art of Demotivation, E.L. Kersten points out that these programs virtually never deliver on their huge promises. There is scant academic evidence tying these programs to higher profit or performance. Furthermore, they tend to repel genuinely motivated difference-makers, who find such events patronizing and pointless. The hard-working middle manager from sales doesn't want to fall into your arms, he wants your office (or at least one like it.)

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