Expense reports and other perks..
…find my Stetson!
Long back, the story goes, a Texan working for an MNC was on a business trip. Being a Texan, he and his favourite Stetson were inseparable, perked jauntily on his head. On a particularly windy day, as he tried crossing a busy road, his hat flew off and was crushed under a car. He was disconsolate. Anyway, he went back to home-base and submitted an expense claim for his trip. It had many pages of expenses, details of trips, mileage, lodging, meals .. for it was a long trip. It came to more than a thousand dollars, USD 1097.37 to be precise. One of the items in the claim caught the eye of his manager; it was towards the purchase of a Stetson hat.
The manager called in the employee and asked him to remove the offending item; “we can’t pay for your hat, Bertie”. The Texan took back the claim without a word and came back an hour later with the revised claim. Now it still was 1097.37. “How’s the total claim still the same? Where’s the Stetson?” asked the manager. “Precisely”, said Bertie. “Now, find the Stetson!”.
Expense reports are always “interesting”. They often hide more than they show. In some distant past, I was signing off on a small 2-man remote office’s monthly running expenses, when suddenly the electricity charges seemed rather high; in fact, as high as our much bigger office. On investigations, it came out. My staff in the remote office, were actually living there; the beds were hidden under the sofas and tables during the day. The AC bills gave the game away.
Then, there was the advice given by my senior colleague, specifically assigned the task of house-training me in my first job. “Your daily auto-bill, should be enough to pay for your daily packet of cigarettes. Remember, from here to Janpath is always between Rs 15 to 17.”
Different companies have different policies. In one, we scrupulously followed, “the junior-most pays”; useful when the gang goes out for a drink and the boss signs off the expenses, especially if he is among the ones drinking. But, most MNCs follow: “the senior-most pays”, which is designed to curb exactly such practices!
Then, there is the matter of entitlements. A soft drink major, had a very simple travel policy for their salesmen: “just pick the most expensive hotel to stay in”. This was of course very useful 🙂 , especially seeing that the only hotels that the sales guys were able to find in the interiors where they were traveling for 20 days in a month anyway, were unikely to have even clean bed-sheets, forget star ratings! I am also reminded of the time when my one-time employer implemented draconian limits on the amount we could spend on food per day while traveling but forgot to do so on the type of hotels. So, we were stuck staying in 5-stars where the price of breakfast was more than our entitlement for the day.
But, what if you were not traveling? Were there ways of getting your company to spend on your nourishment? Well offsite meetings (what the BJP calls Chintan Baithaks) were a godsend. The purpose was the same; after a particularly bad quarter, the senior managers: guys who screwed up, got paid to unwind in some nice resort (at least a 5-star hotel even if in the same city). And, I had a boss in a different city who was constantly monitoring outstation visitors who he could take out to lunch!
In more liberal times, it was permitted to take a colleague from another department out for lunch and legitimately claim “business lunch”. I do not know how much business got done, but, many romances have blossomed thus, subsidised by the company. Also, I wonder, now that we are thriftier (and wiser?), can I still claim “business lunch” if I am on a conference call while having my lunch, all alone?