Beware of the golden handcuffs

As an investment banker I used to work very long hours (I still do) and we were almost always allowed to be reimbursed for dinner and transport expenses if we worked past a certain time (usually 9:00pm).

Subway station at Fortress Hill

Some times I would claim for these expenses, but other times I would not. And people found that puzzling.

As I grew older and stayed longer in the office, I discovered that some of the most simple pleasures at the end of a hard day’s work was simply just to take a 10-minute stroll away from the office or use the public commute back home, enjoying the outdoor air in the process. Taking the taxi on the other hand constantly nauseated me because of the enclosure and motion. It was partly because of that, I did not usually claim for any transportation reimbursement.

Likewise for meals and per diem allowances: Unless absolutely necessary such as dining with professional parties such as clients as part of the job, I would then claim for these meals. But I know of people who would go the full length to obtain all recoverable expenses as long as it was within the organisation’s HR policy. There’s nothing technically wrong with that. The rules that were set that way by the folks up there are also the same rules that are part of broader staff retention strategy, that is: To keep employees happy and contented so that they know they are well fed and taken care off.

It was only in my later years in banking that I realised making these claims were also a deeper cultivation of a subtle employee-mentality. By attempting to ‘milk’ the system and extract the maximum benefits, one subjects himself/herself to the dependency on the little privileged comforts of life. There’s nothing wrong with that, in fact I believe the banks wanted you to do that.

In Nassim Taleb’s words:

“Someone who has been employed for a while is giving you strong evidence of submission. Evidence of submission is displayed by the employee’s going through years depriving himself of his personal freedom for nine hours every day, his ritualistic and punctual arrival at an office, his denying himself his own schedule, and his not having beaten up anyone on the way back home after a bad day. He is an obedient, housebroken dog.”

So should one day I am unable to afford the ‘luxury’ of going home in a cab or rely on someone to pay for my meals, I would never feel insecure.

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