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Part I: Chief Operating Officer wins Office Raffle

beach photo-illustration franke james using licensed istockphoto as base. ŠiStockphoto.com/Franck Boston

Dear Office-Politics,

I work in a large cultural institution close to a major metropolitan area. As in many not-for-profits, the employees love the institution and their work, but morale is low due to cutbacks in staffing and pay raises for several years in a row. However, as is often the case, the upper level management (Director, C.O.O., Marketing Director, etc. are quite well paid, to a factor of 4-5 times the average worker’s salary. For the holidays, as a morale booster, a raffle of a plane ticket to an exotic place was held (several airlines are major donors to the institution). The second prize was getting one’s birthday off in 2008 (it was a distant second in terms of desirability). All the employees were entered, and a lot of people were hoping to win a ticket that they couldn’t afford otherwise.

When the raffle was held, with much fanfare, the winner turned out to be the Chief Operating Officer, who made her delight perfectly clear, much to the dismay and shock of everyone else in the room. Not only had she been fortunate enough to travel to the country designated on the ticket, she was easily in a position to afford another trip. Virtually all of the people I have mentioned this to, inside and outside the institution, said she should have put the ticket back in the pot for another drawing. I know she is not required to do this, but would it be the honorable, ethical thing to do? The morale has also declined further, as a side effect of this episode.

The Luck of the Draw?

timothy johnson

Dear The Luck of the Draw?,

Well, the ideal solution would have been that the executives did not have their names in the drawing at all. If the raffle was to build morale, they screwed up tremendously with this gaffe. But yes, if you are looking for affirmation on a fair solution, she should have politely declined and returned her name to the box for someone else to enjoy the trip.

I could stop there, but I won’t. Your letter has too many other office politics potential topics to share. The first topic is on motivational gimmicks to raise the spirits of employees. This one really is directed at management, so you employee-level readers can skip to the next paragraph if you want.

Management: If you are going to implement some kind of contest or event to raise morale, please put some thought into it. I’m generally not a fan of once-a-year morale builders, because you tend to ignore what you do the other 51 weeks of the year. Morale and corporate culture are intertwined, so if you feel the need to do a morale booster every now and then, it probably means that your day-to-day behavior isn’t cutting it. Also, I’m not a fan of events where there are one or two happy winners and a lot of sore losers. Granted, you’ve made one person’s day extra special, but at what cost? If you’re going to attempt to make employees happy, try to ensure that you’re maximizing your motivational budget. Finally, give some thought to possible outcomes and reactions when the motivational plan is announced. How will people feel about it? Will this backfire? I could regale you with stories of such well-intended events and programs that blew up in the faces of those who created them. All I ask is that you think it through.

Employees: OK, for the employee set, I’m assuming you read the prior paragraph even though I told you it was just for management. That’s OK, because now you’ve seen that management doesn’t always think. Therefore, it’s going to be necessary for you to suspend your perceptions of what you think is fair or unfair from time to time. Sure, you can still voice your opinions, but if you have a management team that lacks self-awareness, you’ll always be unhappy. Motivational theorists starting with Abraham Maslow have demonstrated that the strongest motivational pull is that which is generated from within. If you are looking to management to motivate you, then there will frequently be ill feelings of unfairness floating about (if not from you, then probably from a few coworkers). “Fair” and “unfair” are rarely objective terms; they are filtered through what we think fall into those categories.

I hope this helps! Thank you for writing to Office-Politics.


Timothy Johnson, Author & Consultant

Timothy Johnson is the Chief Accomplishment Officer of Carpe Factum, Inc. His company is dedicated to helping individuals and organizations “seize the accomplishment” through effective project management, strategic facilitation, and business process improvement. His clients have included Harley-Davidson Motorcycles, Wells Fargo, ING, Principal Financial Group, and Teva Neuroscience. Timothy has managed projects ranging from a $14 billion class action lawsuit settlement to HIPAA compliance, from software conversion to process reengineering, from strategic IT alignment to automated decisioning, from producing a training video to creating a project office environment. He is currently an adjunct professor at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, teaching MBA classes in Leadership, Managing Office Politics, Creativity for Business, and Project Management.

An accomplished speaker, Timothy has enthusiastically informed and entertained audiences across the nation on the topics of project communication, office politics, creativity, and meeting management. He has written two books, both business fables: Race Through The Forest – A Project Management Fable and GUST – The Tale Wind of Office Politics.

  1. 3 Answers to “Part I: Chief Operating Officer wins Office Raffle”

  2. Thank you so much for these two replies. We are thrilled to know that we are not crazy. We truly appreciated the feedback!

    By Letter writer on Jan 9, 2008

  3. I saw something like this at a place the year before, only the senior level highly paid manager got a car. It was so obviously FIXED as to be laughable, the company was about to be required and all of the senior managers were getting perks left and right to keep them from leaving. Then at the raffle the company owner pulls out a ticket and announces the winner is a guy making a 1/4 mill salary at the company.

    Oh, the regular employees didn’t get a bonus that year and all received a 3 percent pay cut after the acquisition where the two owners each got 50 million in cash plus ‘unspecified stock options’. I’m so glad I left. Nice way to take care of the people who made you.

    By John on May 20, 2008

  4. Funny follow-up 1 1/2 years later: The same COO was being sold a raffle ticket the other day by a staff member and said “Oh I never win anything.” When it was pointed out that she indeed had won a trip to anywhere in the world she said” Oh that was staff, that didn’t count.” The staff member pointed out that to other people in the room it did count, and was met by peals of laughter. Absolute power corrupts absolutely….

    By Letter Writer on May 14, 2009

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