Potlucks Yield No Return on Investment

  Potluck or bad luck? I say both.

If potluck is not my least favorite kind of luck, it’s in a close tie with bad luck. Just like bad luck, potluck usually comes as a surprise. I have been to my share of job interviews, and not once has a prospective employer given me any indication that if hired, I would be expected to cook for my coworkers.

When an interviewer offers me the opportunity to ask questions, I manage to come up with something good, like “Will you be paying me in real money?” or “Will I have Casimir Pulaski Day off?”

Never once have I asked, “What is your policy on potlucks?”

Maybe if I had, I could have disclosed some sort of moral objection that would exempt me. Since I was not so clever, I find myself participating in potluck season once again. The reasons I loathe potlucks are numerous, so I will list just a few.

  • Fear of the unknown. My imagination conjures the most nauseating images of snot-nosed children helping prepare something yummy for Mommy to take to work. Because health inspectors do not pay visits to private residences, I picture cats jumping on counters, dogs licking spoons and animal hair flying everywhere. I imagine my coworkers’ kitchens looking like those featured on Hoarders.
  • Fear of the known: When you work with people, you learn who does not wash her hands after using the restroom.
  • I do not like green bean casserole, chili or just about anything people traditionally bring to potlucks. Most kindergarteners have more refined palates, and I am fine with this little quirk of mine. I am not fine with going hungry.
  • My lunch hour is normally my time to escape for just a little while. Since I am not being paid for that hour, I feel entitled to spend it however I see fit, rather than spending two minutes pretending to put things on my plate and 58 minutes back at my desk, working for free. Even if I just hit the drive-thru of a fast food restaurant, I feel liberated. To do so on potluck day, I have to fabricate some errand I must run.
  • I barely like to cook for myself, let alone a bunch of people to whom I am not related. When I leave work at five o’clock, my evening is jam-packed with all sorts of exciting activities such as laundry, homework and having some semblance of a life outside work. I do not have time to prepare a side dish and then get up extra early in the morning so I can load a Crock Pot into my car and reheat it at the office.
  • Some guy always shows up with nothing. Still, he manages to fill his plate at least once.
  • Some may call me a cheapskate, but I prefer the term frugal. Whether I buy all the ingredients and make something from scratch or pick up something from the grocery store, I am always disheartened by the dollar amount that I invest into potlucks. The way I see it, the whole point of going to work is to earn money to pay for my own household bills and food, not to spend it on some social activity that would not exist if I had no job.

All of these factors lead to one conclusion. Potlucks yield a pathetically negative return on investment.  ROI may matter to the business bottom line, but employees have little regard for the concept. To calculate ROI, I must consider the benefits. They include eating a roll and a piece of the cake I brought, the very cake of which I could have easily eaten half if I’d left it at home.

Now, let’s divide those pitiful benefits by the costs: contamination, starvation, captivity, an hour of free labor, resentment towards those who do not contribute fairly, and the fact that I just spent three times on a potluck what I would normally spend on my own lunch. Using this formula, I calculate potlucks to be a poor investment and myself to be the worst killjoy there  ever was. Happy potluck season, everyone!


Devil with a Sundress

Knowing what to wear at work can be confusing at times, but I like these ladies’ style. (Photo Credit: Library of Congress)

Dress codes are like butt cracks. Everyone has one, but the jury is still out on whether employees should be subjected to them. Personally, I cannot decide which I find more annoying, and if I were in any position of real power, I’d have a hard time resolving these conflicting sources of dread. Make all employees wear high-waist pants to cover their butt cracks, the angel on one shoulder would whisper. Oh really? the devil on my other shoulder would say. Sounds a dress code to me. I thought you hated dress codes.

If you work from home, consider yourself lucky. You wear what you want, and you never have to face the dilemma of whether to stare or to avert your eyes when that voluptuous girl from marketing bends over at the water cooler and reveals three inches of fleshy backside, complete with thong. Maybe four inches, not that you’re actually measuring. Or, consider yourself unlucky. Like I said, the jury is still out.

While I have my own personal code of dress that extends beyond the office and above my midriff, I dislike formal dress codes simply because they make no sense to me. There are a few exceptions. Construction workers must wear hard hats and steel toe boots for their safety. I see the merit in that one. Astronauts need space suits to breathe, and actors at haunted houses should be required to look spooky. I get it.

I have no complaints about uniforms, either. At least they take the guesswork out of dressing in the morning. What really confounds me is the murky category of dress commonly referred to as business casual. It’s that purgatory somewhere between pinstriped suits and overalls. Does a cubicle-dwelling customer service rep answer phone calls more efficiently in khakis than in jeans? My practical side wants to know that there is a valid reason for the seemingly random clothing restrictions employers impose on their minions. The common argument is that professional clothing helps maintain a professional demeanor, and I agree that in the first few weeks at a new job, one can feel pretty sharp in his or her newly-purchased career wear. After the newness of the job and the clothes wears off, though, those clothes lose their power to fool anyone.

I have to wonder if the people who create dress codes are pulling random articles of clothing out of hats or actually messing with us. Just ask my summer dresses. For years, these sleeveless beauties enjoyed frequent wear, as they were cool alternatives to pants on 90 degree days when I was not allowed to wear even the dressiest (whatever that means) of capris. Paired with sandals, these dresses were cuter than my humble cubicle deserved. Then, I changed jobs.

I was delighted to learn that my new employer allowed jeans. Better yet, I could wear capris and flip-flops in the summer. Yes, flip-flops. It doesn’t get more casual than that. However, all those cute dresses from the prior summer were forbidden at my new office because they were sleeveless. Plain tee shirts were fine; sleeveless blouses with collars were not. In a world where flip-flops are acceptable but bare shoulders are taboo, it is easy for an employee who has no face-to-face interaction with customers to feel a little discombobulated, especially when her boss fails to address employees’ ever-falling waistbands.

If you’re still not convinced, go talk to my pants. Like most women thirty years my senior, I prefer the waist of my pants to sit at my waist, not below my hip bones. I hope never to be mistaken for a plumber while squatting at the lower drawer of a file cabinet, and I wish my coworkers would take the same precautions.

I dream of an office free of cleavage and strong perfume. I want everyone to retire all items of clothing that have cigarette burns or that have become pilfered from thousands of machine washings. See how crazy I sound? If I were in charge of establishing a dress code, employees would probably find it even more absurd than all others, so why stop there? Instead of neckties, all men would have to wear one shimmery glove like the King of Pop. Women would wear tiaras and candy necklaces. I could have some real fun.

I’d sit back and laugh and laugh, while I waited for my tailor to deliver my new jacket with the special, extra-long sleeves that tie at the back.