While visiting a manager, the first thing I noticed when I walked into his office wasn't the mess, but instead a printer cartridge and a large needle on his desk. When I raised an eyebrow, he simply explained, "Refilling these cartridges is easy. Every time I refill one on my own, we save a few bucks." With that, he pulled the trigger on the needle, fixing another cartridge.
A few days later at another small business, I glanced at the receptionist's desk and noticed she had a big stack of note paper next to the phone for quick messages and missed-call reminders. The note paper itself wasn't interesting -- what was fascinating was that the back of the notes contained snippets of business letters. The receptionist, it turned out, saved old business letters, used a paper cutter to cut bundles of them into fourths, and used the backs of those letters for note pads. "We all are constantly taking little notes. If we used Post-Its for this, it'd drive us into bankruptcy - or at least keep us from getting raises!"
It's an interesting principle. In times of financial trouble, individual people often turn to frugality to save a few dollars -- heck, that's exactly what I write about on my own website. I see it over and over again. In the words of Charles Dickens in his immortal novel, David Copperfield, "Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pound ought and six, result misery." The difference between happiness and misery is literally a few pennies.
Yet it stands out when I see those same frugal principles translated into the workplace. Businesses that are so focused on the bottom line tend to look mostly at the acquisition of goods at a minimal price and the production of goods at a maximal price. Frugality usually happens in the middle. You don't practice frugality when acquiring or selling goods, you practice frugality by maximizing the use of the items you already have.
For example, look at the items that are being thrown out in your workplace. Could that cardboard box be used to keep someone's desk drawers organized? Why not use the back of that paper as a notepad? Couldn't we just refill that ink cartridge? Maybe we could get $5 for that old printer if we kept it around and had a "parts sale" later on.
Similarly, look at the items no one is using before you buy something new. Do you need new light bulbs when there are perfectly good ones in that unused cubicle stuck in the sockets there? Do you need to get more toilet paper when there are dozens of rolls in the men's room? Do you need new motivational posters or could you just move around the ones you already have so different posters catch different eyes?
These seemingly little steps, when added up, make up the pennies of difference between happiness and misery. Over time, they add up to not missing an income tax payment (and accumulating late fees). They add up to being able to retain a great employee. They add up to all of those little things that separate a good business from the competition.
The best place to start, though, is you. Set a frugal example in the workplace. Don't spend your business money on an expensive "executive"-branded item. Instead, use the same equipment everyone else uses -- or use even more bare bones equipment. Modify an old cardboard box to be your desk organizer. Make this frugality a point of pride for yourself -- you can even use it as a selling point, as you're passing the value saved on this item straight on to your customers.
It's time to go out there, think different, and win.
Image credit: gezellig-girl