Temperance at Cisco

Cisco's "drink responsibly" signs are observed and mocked by weary workers

August 27, 2001

3 Min Read
Temperance at Cisco

Thinking about having another soda on your 3 o'clock smoke break? If you work at Cisco Systems Inc.'s (Nasdaq: CSCO) San Jose campus, you may have seen signs that call upon your conscience to reconsider. A group inside Cisco has put up full-color, glossy posters in break rooms all over Cisco's campus, admonishing employees to help the company save money by drinking less and recycling more, sources say.

Like other big companies (especially in Silicon Valley), Cisco provides free bottled water, coffee, sodas, and fruit drinks for its employees (see A Return to the Kitchenentals). Now that the economy's hugging the commode, however, Cisco and its peers are discovering that such perks add up fast when one multiplies a few cents per soda by tens of thousands of employees.

(Another increasingly popular -- and daring -- cost-cutting measure being pursued by some Silicon Valley companies, such as Sun Microsystems Inc. (Nasdaq: SUNW) and Network Appliance Inc. (Nasdaq: NTAP): encouraging employees to take time off without pay.)

To nudge folks in the right direction, Cisco has printed and hung signs (on recycled paper?) that encourage conservation. The signs in Cisco's break rooms ask employees to "drink frugally" and "drink responsibly," sources say.

And don't operate heavy equipment.

According to a Cisco correspondent, one sign, with an accompanying chart, explains that each worker taking one less cold beverage per day could save Cisco more than $2 million annually.

The problem: In a corporation that traditionally has avoided luxuriant excess, some Cisco insiders feel that the signs add insult to injury, especially in light of recent budget cuts.

"In my group, people have been laid off, there are no raises for anyone this year, most employee stock options are under water, we have been moved from reasonable-sized cubes to mini-cubes, funding for training and supplies has been cut, meeting room sizes have been cut in half, etc. All are arguably reasonable actions, but it hasn't been good for morale," writes one employee.

To help ease the sting of such corporate crackdowns, some Cisco folks have put up a Web site that pokes fun at -- but doesn't protest -- the signs. The site, which was recently spotlighted on F*ckedCompany.com, suggests some other cutbacks, such as washing only one hand after using the restroom.

"I was just trying to lighten things up," writes one of the site's authors in an email to Light Reading. "Of course I would rather pay for drinks than try to find a new job."

The thirst suppressant signs are just an isolated -- and perhaps extreme -- example in a series of several internal adverts that encourage frugality at Cisco. In fact, Cisco employees contacted by Light Reading praise their employer for not being "draconian" in response to California's ongoing energy crisis. "They set the thermostat a few degrees higher and told us we could wear shorts -- mostly common sense stuff," says one Cisco worker.

"There are signs all over Cisco that encourage employees to act frugally in various ways," says a Cisco spokesperson contacted for this story. "So write frugally."


- Phil Harvey, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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