As we entered the holiday season, several readers responded to our September story about recruiting by describing the kinds of gifts they thought companies should give employees in today's cutthroat job market. Another reader provided some year-end reflection on a fellow high-powered CEO.

Please please me
In his September article, " The Appeasement Trap," senior staff writer Christopher Caggiano asked how far employers should go to recruit and retain staff in a highly competitive job market. One reader wrote in to say that he believes the sky's the limit, while others explained that they simply want employers to appreciate them and respect their time.

I think you missed the mark in your story "The Appeasement Trap." Employee compensation should be a matter of supply and demand.

I'm a programmer who is happy to be in a profession that's in high demand. My compensation, like that of a movie star, is merit based. Movie stars come to the table with charisma and acting ability and box-office draw. I come to the table with a proven ability to solve what seem to be intractable problems and to work miracles for companies that create a river of money. Only a few hundred programmers in the world can do what I do.

Caggiano seems upset that I would act like a Hollywood star and sell my services to the highest bidder. Jim Carrey gets $20 million a picture because his films gross $100 million. If I lead a team of five engineers to create a product that grosses $100 million, why shouldn't I get $20 million?

The money should go to the talent that generates it. Put another way, many business owners no longer own the means of production for their products; we, the programmers, own that equipment -- our brains. And like movie stars and professional athletes, we want a fair share of the gate.

Tony Castaldo
Independent contractor
Device Code
San Antonio

The business owners cited in "The Appeasement Trap" don't quite get it. The reason that it's hard to hire people is that lots of businesses dump on their employees. Business owners should remember that the middle manager they dump on is the guy that keeps the place going from day to day.

Owners live to work; we work to live. It's not an adventure; it's a job. In addition to requiring that employees put in 50- or 60-hour weeks, too many companies think that one week of vacation a year for new hires is enough. If they want people to stay, they must start with an adequate benefits plan and increase it each year that the person stays. Time off from work is one of the most important benefits a company can offer; it gives employees back some of their life. If companies find out what's important to their employees and respect those things, they'll be on the road to recovery.

Rick Wilson
Engineering manager
Barton Manufacturing
Decatur, Ill.

Your article "The Appeasement Trap" came at the right time. For the first four hours of a recent business trip, I sat mulling over my work life, wondering if I was being appreciated and given the proper credit and salary to go with the endless hours I put in. Then I read the article. It gave me hope that things will fall into place. Thank you for showing me that employers out there are thinking of different, creative ways to keep experienced people.

Dahlia el Gazzar
International marketing manager for public relations
Puma
Westford, Mass.

Fuzzy math
In a two-part series on federal employment law (" Stifled Growth," September 2000, and " More Stifled Growth," October 2000), staff writer Mike Hofman listed the regulations that kick in with a company's 11th, 15th, 20th, 50th, and 101st hires. This reader astutely asked how those regulations apply if a professional employer organization (PEO) is involved.

Let's assume that you have 5 employees but are in an employee-leasing situation with a PEO of 5,000 employees. Are you subject to all the rules covering companies with more than 100 employees? Do you have to give family leave and tell employees that they have that option? What regulations do you have to post? What liability does the PEO have in a lawsuit, and what is your liability?

Charles J. Read
CEO
Rmark Services
Lewisville, Tex.

Mike Hofman responds: Those are excellent questions, and ones we posed to Martin Babinec, CEO of TriNet, an Inc. 500 Hall of Famer that provides outsourced human-resources services.

Babinec, whose company is headquartered in San Leandro, Calif., and has 10 regional offices across North America, told us that the rules a company is subject to vary, depending on such factors as the state it's located in, how it has structured the relationship with its service provider, and the business model of its particular service provider. For example, he says, there's some latitude regarding the Family and Medical Leave Act. "Some PEOs aggregate all their companies and make them comply [with the FMLA]," Babinec says. "Others say, 'No, each company stands on its own." He suggests that company owners go to the Web site of the National Association of Professional Employer Organizations ( www.napeo.org) and look in its legal-services directory for a lawyer in their area who is familiar with PEO contracts and can help them vet one.

One such expert is Bill Anderson, a partner in the Palo Alto office of Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison LLP, a 700-lawyer firm with 10 offices across the country and one office in London. Anderson believes that some PEOs "mislead" clients about how much liability they assume, and he advises companies to make sure that the language in their contract matches the sales pitch. "It's typically quite clear from the PEO-client contract that if a lawsuit arises due to actions of people at the client's, then the client is liable and has to indemnify the PEO," Anderson says. "This would cover actions such as wrongful termination and discrimination claims. Frequently, PEO clients think that they're covered on this, and they're not."

When it comes to posters, your PEO should tell you directly whether you're on thumbtack duty. If you are responsible, you can download 10 employment-law posters free of charge at the Department of Labor's Web site ( www.dol.gov).

Stop the presses
In her September Best of the Web column, " Start the Presses," Inc. Technology senior writer Anne Stuart profiled several Web sites that offer self-service online printing. This reader questioned the value of such sites, arguing that it would be cheaper and more efficient for companies to use a professional graphics service instead of designing their own materials online.

Your article has a glaring omission as well as some dubious advice from the "panelists." First of all, how could you possibly include a copy shop like Kinko's (which in my opinion is limited in art capability) and omit a versatile international print shop like AlphaGraphics? Moreover, I think that iPrint, the only other print house among those you selected that I've heard of, is too high-priced and is geared to huge jobs. Second, and more to the point, why waste time trying to have a staffer design and write copy for printed material when professional graphics people are everywhere, online and off? It doesn't make business sense. The learning curve is so steep that a business will actually lose money trying to save money on menial elements.

J. Lloyd Luff
President
The Communications Group
Benicia, Calif.

Anne Stuart responds: At least 40 companies offer self-service online printing, too many to compare fairly in a single article. So we rated a cross section of the market, including generalists and specialists, veterans and newcomers. As indicated by our results, some of the least-known companies scored higher overall than their brand-name brethren -- just a reminder that today's "no name" could become tomorrow's category killer.

Voice of experience
Readers continued to write in about their admiration for go-getter CEO Pat Cavanaugh, whom senior writer Susan Greco profiled in our August issue in " The Nonstop, 24-7 CEO Salesman." This reader, however, tempered his praise with a warning for the fast-moving entrepreneur.

My style, as I built my company from $0 to $500,000 a month in sales, was exactly the same as CEO Pat Cavanaugh's. Cavanaugh's total control of the sales process and his ability to micromanage his staffers, as evidenced by his follow-up of their to-do lists, are both admirable. However, I caution him that his approach may be a formula for disaster: before you know it, you literally run out of hours in the day -- even the 24-hour day.

That's what happened to me. Even though I had a chief operating officer and a staff of 70 people, my employees were paralyzed when I ran out of hours in the day. They were waiting for my direction, intervention, and assistance (even to remind them of their to-do lists). I spent 18 painful months shrinking our sales and staff for the first time in the company's history, and we started to grow again only recently. I now have to sell most of my company to outside investors to save it.

When a company becomes bigger than its CEO, it's important that the employees are able to keep up the pace on their own. I urge Cavanaugh to read The E-Myth, by Michael E. Gerber . It's about a very simple small business, but its underlying concepts about how to build a company are enlightening for guys like Cavanaugh and me.

Michael Claggett
CEO
Microwave Communications Corp.
Valencia, Calif.


House of Amplification

The two unidentified actors in the photos accompanying September's " Send in the Clowns," by Leigh Buchanan, are Sarah Gee and Bob Kulhan.


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Published on: Dec 1, 2000