February 10, 2006

Playing computer solitaire on the job.

NY Mayor Bloomberg has a city worker fired after he sees a solitaire game on the man's computer:
Edward Greenwood IX ... 39, said he was dismissed with no notice, and no severance pay, after working there for six years. He earned about $27,000 a year for duties that included sending legislative bills to city agencies and copying and circulating office memos....

"I expect all city workers — including myself — to work hard," Mayor Bloomberg said during a news conference in Midtown Manhattan. "There's nothing wrong with taking a break but during the business day at your desk, that's not appropriate behavior."
Is this part of Bloomberg's new lefty politics?

UPDATE: What's with that name? The Ninth? The NYT examines the mystery. Great headline, by the way.

28 comments:

Goesh said...

Hmmm - one would think some less harsh disciplinary action would be in order first, like a written reprimand and warning, possibly a day or two suspended without pay. What's next, doodlers? I wonder what his employee evaluations were like? I got a crisp $20 says he was doing satisfactory work. This won't garnish him many votes from government workers, that's for sure.

anonlawstudent said...

Wait, I thought lefties encouraged "waste, fraud, and abuse." Computer solitaire is certainly a huge source of waste in the public sector. I have a solution! Let's cut taxes to starve the department, then subcontract with Halliburton the development of a new solitaire-free Windows-style OS (with xtra glitches).

Freeman Hunt said...

That's pretty harsh. If we fired all the employees who we ever saw playing solitaire, I think we'd be left with only the warehouse staff because they don't have desks and computers.

Macon said...

Hmmmm, I wonder what kind of harsh punishment would be meted out for someone who was blogging at work? *shudder*

wv: "viphxs" - the sound of me hyperventilating at the very thought!

Gaius Arbo said...

I predict a sharp drop in blog posts everywhere.....

Joan said...

I remember a time when I was prohibited from doing any productive development work. I asked my boss what I was supposed to do all day, and he shrugged. I played a lot of Tetris until the contract we were waiting on finally came through. It was one of the stupidest things I've ever endured as an employee of a software company.

Seems a bit harsh to be fired for solitaire playing, especially if there was no evidence it was impeding his ability to do his job.

SippicanCottage said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
PatCA said...

Who knows what the true circumstances were...but it does seem consistent with Bloomberg's nanny approach to governance.

I prefer a Rudy type, someone who takes care of big things like security and leaves the rest of life's little problems to individuals.

Freeman Hunt said...

To all you bloggers with the guilty consciences who'll rush to his defense, keep in mind that piecework has gone out of fashion, and was never de rigeur amongst the white collar set.

I think that depends on where you work and what your duties are. If your job provides an endless stream of work, then okay, you should be busy with work all day. But if your job is a job of specific tasks (like distributing memos when they are produced), what is there to be busy with all the time? There will be downtimes--why not play solitaire?

Telecomedian said...

Here's what I don't get - a New York-area resident making less than 30k a year. If I was only earning entry-level salary, I think Solitaire would be the last thing they'd have to worry about on my computer.

That guy made less in a year than Billionaire Bloomie's walking-around money. Cut him some slack.

Dave said...

I worked for Bloomberg in the past, both on his campaign in 2001, and for his company thereafter.

Some perspective is in order.

Bloomberg is known for believing that the resources an employer gives its employees should only be used by the employee for work-related purposes. He is of the mind that if you need a break from work you should get up from your desk and talk to colleagues. This is a cultural idea that he has tried to infuse in city government, and which is consistent throughout his company's global operations.

Whether we support it or not I think it is refreshing that a city employee can be fired easily.

As for whether Bloomberg is familiar with computer work or not: I would suggest he is not, at least as most computer users understand that term. The only computer he has ever used is his proprietray Bloomberg terminal, which is not at all like the GUI environment that 99%+ of computer users are familiar with.
As for the issue of the workplace: there are many who love Bloomberg's work style and there are many who detest it. (I am one of the ones who detested it, and quit his company not long after starting work there.) Is his stance petty? Probably. Is it at odds with common sense? Yes. But is he a rotten businessman? Well, his company kicks Reuters ass in every market in which they compete, so either Reuters is run by complete incompetents, or Bloomberg has done something right in his business life.

Finally, I would suggest reading between the lines here: I doubt playing computer games was the sole reason this guy was fired. Even Bloomberg is not so ardent and reactionary to fire a guy over something like this.

Dave said...

Telecommedian--

This guy worked in Albany, not New York City. Living expenses in Albany are significantly less than they are in New York City.

If you are wondering why a New York City employee would be working in Albany, well, NYC is held hostage by Albany's politics. It is therefore prudent to have a presence in New York State's capital.

Bruce Hayden said...

I actually find a version of solitaire (FreeCell) helpful for thinking. It is not as mindless as regular Solitaire on the computer, but engages just enough of my mind that I can slow it down to concentrate on something.

It may not be that it actually slows down my mind, but rather, that it distracts the left side of my brain while the right side is free to do its thing. Back, 20 years ago, when I was a software engineer, I used to something similar when busting system dumps. I would mindlessly go through a lot of detailed review, engaging the left side of my brain, until the intuitive pattern matching right side came up with the answer. I can't count the number of Aha moments I had then, or, indeed, how many I have had more recently while playing FreeCell.

Bruce Hayden said...

A friend of mine faced something somewhat similar recently. He was fired for looking at on-line porn on an office computer at work.

His job is of the hurry up and wait type. If there are no customers in the store, there is little to do. So, they really couldn't claim that he was wasting time at work, as this NY guy might have been. And, realistically, there probably weren't any women near him when he did it, so, a sexual harassment claim would also be questionable.

Nevertheless, the reason for his firing was viewing porn at work. Nothing more. There was no company policy prohibiting it (only common sense). He is looking for someone to represent him in a suit against his former employer. I sure won't.

Some of his other employers might have let him go using this as a justification. But here, I think that it was the actual reason for the dismissal - apparently, the owner is fairly straight laced, etc.

astrolabe said...

Further to Telecomedian's comment that this "guy made less in a year than Billionaire Bloomie's walking-around money", I did a little math. Forbes has estimated Bloomberg's net worth to be on the order of $5 billion. If the Mayor earns a 5% annual return on his fortune, in one day he would make as much as the hapless Edward Greenwood IX earns in 25 years.
That's beside the point though. One can reasonably argue for a stern warning in this situation. But by using Greenwood as an example, Hizzoner may be successful in getting his point across to other city workers.

37921 said...

This reminds me of one of my favorite cartoons. I had it posted on my bulletin board for years.

A lady in sitting at a desk in an office. She's laying down playing cards in the "Klondike" pattern as she talks on the phone.

"The computers are down today," she says, "so we're having to do everything manually."

Elizabeth said...

Having a game onscreen when a big boss is in the house isn't sharp. Being too stupid to act in your own best interests can get you fired.

But someone has to 'splain it to me: why is firing this guy "lefty politics"?

Sebastian said...

Bloomberg is known for believing that the resources an employer gives its employees should only be used by the employee for work-related purposes. He is of the mind that if you need a break from work you should get up from your desk and talk to colleagues. This is a cultural idea that he has tried to infuse in city government, and which is consistent throughout his company's global operations.

I think whether or not this is a valid way of looking at things depends a lot on the business you're in and the circumstances of the job. Knowledge workers need to be cut slack, because we spend a lot of time using our heads to solve problems. Sometimes you just need to turn your brain off for a few minutes and have some time to yourself. It's recharging, and lets you move onto the next problem fresh. Smart employers know this, and create flexible and comfortable environments. Small minded ones like to apply one size fits all solutions that tend to demoralize their employees by treating them like children or slackers.

Bloomberg needs to take a chill pill. I've worked for micromanaging pricks like him, and quite honestly, it sucks. People should be accountable for results. If an employee is doing the work their employer expects of them, who gives a crap what they are doing at their workstations or how they are spending their time?

Ann Althouse said...

Elizabeth: The links are there for a reason! There's also a little thing called humor.

Dave said...

Sebastian: I agree wholeheartedly.

That's one reason I left his company. I couldn't change it, so I changed my job.

PatCA said...

Sebastian,
I also think the big pool of desks with no privacy is awful. Even with one or two "roommates" it's impossible; I can't imagine a whole floor.

Kev said...

Macon: "Hmmmm, I wonder what kind of harsh punishment would be meted out for someone who was blogging at work? *shudder*"

Good point. At least he had the option of doing that; try working in the public schools, where sites such as Blogger and Xanga are usually completely blocked.

Hey Macon--small world! I had no idea you were an Althouse fan. (If you can't tell which "Kev" I am, we have a brother-in-law in common, as well as a couple of nephews--one who turned five today.)

Elizabeth said...

Ann, I followed the link! I suppose I'm not informed enough on Bloomberg to get the humor.

Ann Althouse said...

Elizabeth: It's not that complicated. There's one article in the NYT saying Bloomberg is adopting a lot of leftish policies and then another saying he's been bizarrely harsh to an employee. It's incongruous. I was being sarcastic. You didn't get it because you make assumptions about my politics.

Elizabeth said...

Ann, what I'm missing is seeing the incongruity in lefty politics and harshness to the employee. I don't automatically equate being a harsh employer with rightish politics. I wasn't assuming anything about your politics; I just lacked the tingle in my funny bone on that one. I'm well aware the left has its schoolmarms and the right has its Puritans and we'd all be better off if they weren't so intent on telling us all how to live. Is this perhaps a telling example that Bloomberg isn't about party or philosophy, and is instead about Bloomberg?

alsojsr said...

"He is of the mind that if you need a break from work you should get up from your desk and talk to colleagues. "


Great, so when needing a break, instead of quietly playing solitaire on the computer, you're supposed to disrupt the work of everyone else in the office.

W said...
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ChrisO said...

"Whether we support it or not I think it is refreshing that a city employee can be fired easily."

Yeah, I feel better about whatever petty frustrations I've had with a city employee knowing that some guy making less than $30,000 a year lost his job. Maybe he should have been beaten, too. That would really send a message.