Friday, February 27, 2009

Returning Microsoft's Money

Originally uploaded by .ultraviolett

Do you care about values and your character or the blind pursuit of money?

This past week it came to light that Microsoft had made an accounting error when sending severance packages to approximately 1,400 employees the company had laid off. Many received $3,000 to $4,000 more than they were supposed to. When the error was caught, Microsoft asked them for the money back. This kicked off a PR nightmare. The media, bloggers, and many others have been highly critical of Microsoft for having asked the for the money back. Microsoft has since taken it back and said they can keep the money. But, I'm concerned about more than bad PR.

Do you care about values and your character or the blind pursuit of money?

I have a different take on the situation. One that probably isn't as popular and will be considered insensitive to the recently laid off employees. I think they should return the money. Why not return the money? Wouldn't it be the right thing to do? Technically, it is not theirs, right?

Let's look at it this way. If the cashier at your local grocery store gave you too much change, would you give it back? I think you know the right answer. The principal is the same. Whether you're giving the money back to the cashier or to Microsoft. In the end, it's about your character. Your values. Your honesty.

Do you care about values and your character or the blind pursuit of money?

"No legacy is so rich as honesty." ~ William Shakespeare


the Fat Lady said...

I must admit, that was my first thought also - if it's not yours, give it back

Dick Carlson said...

"Ethics are what you do when nobody is watching."

Andrew Weaver said...

@the Fat Lady - Exactly. The temptation is to think "they're Microsoft. They won't miss the money." But, that is not the point.

@Dick - Great quote.

I think if you narrow it down to the cashier in the grocery store it can be a little easier to see. If she stops you before you walk out the door because she caught the mistake, do you say, "Sorry, too late." and walk out the door? It's the same principle.

Chris McDaniel said...

I wouldn't be so hasty to decide on this one -- we have no way of knowing the whole story.

This DID happen to me in real life, just last year. My former employer fired me just before bonus time, weeks after the incident that supposedly let to my dismissal, but mere days before a large bonus payout. They also had a clerical error that led to me being overpaid by about $2600 after being let go.

I kept it.

I kept it, even after they sent a letter demanding it back, once they discovered the error. I made them sue me to recover it, wasting several hours of some very highly-paid employees' time. Further, I made them resort to garnishing my wages to collect -- it will be well over 2 years from now before they get all of their lousy 2600 bucks. I would estimate that it has cost them another $500-1000 to collect.

(Incidentally, that's just about what the bonus I earned would have amounted to, had they done the 'right thing' and paid it.)

In spirit I agree with you - honesty is usually the best policy. Just saying, these things are rarely black-and-white.

Perhaps it was bonus time at Microsoft.

Andrew Weaver said...

@Chris - How did I know this would come up? :) I respectfully disagree with you on this one.

Anonymous said...

Dick Carlson nailed his quote on this one.

Kudos to you if you follow that guide. Something I bet even the writer of this blog struggles with. ;) If you haven't yet deduced, I follow this blog from time to time just to see how far the hypocricy flows.
He has great thoughts a will give him that but struggles with the practice.

As for Chris, I wouldn't have expected anything less from you either. Thanks for proving my assumptions of you correctly.