A Ban on Sex in the Stairwells at Zenefits?

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It’s just too easy to pile on to the bandwagon of critics of San Francisco based Zenefits and the frat house style culture there.  That culture is well documented by recent reports in both the Wall Street Journal, Fortune and other reliable sources.  When the Company sent a memo to the employees reproaching them for having sex in the stairwells of the building, however, Zenefits caught worldwide attention. I cannot make this stuff up.

To be precise, the exact note to employees in a company wide note read as follows:  “Cigarettes, plastic cups filled with beer, and several used condoms were found in the stairwell. Yes, you read that right. Do not use the stairwells to smoke, drink, eat, or have sex. Please respect building and company policy and use common sense …”

Sex in the stairwells??? Although I do not know the Zenefits building, the last time I looked, stairwells were cold dark places with cement stairs and iron railings.  And those are the nice ones.  Not the place for romance, in my opinion.  I suspect stairwells are also full of video equipment.

No doubt, there is a culture issue at Zenefits and that needs to change but enough about the Company, what about the people there?  The people are the Company.  Who has sex in stairwells?  What kind of judgment is prevalent? What are the consequences for inappropriate behavior?  Do people know that this widely broadcast story is hurting the brand of the company and the pocketbook of employees?

David Sacks is the new CEO, and to his credit, he is embarking on an immediate and major initiative to reform the culture at Zenefits.  Just last week Sacks banned alcohol at the office; a prohibition that makes the mind run wild about what the culture must have been like.  Kegs instead of coffee?  I would bet that somewhere in the Zenefits Employee Handbook there is a statement regarding Guiding Principals which details the importance of Integrity and Honesty and Judgment and so on.  My suggestion is to make it even simpler than that and revert to the high school rules of judgment since those seems appropriate in this case.

High School Rules for Zenefits Employees

  1. Be home when you promised. Or, at work, always live up to what you promised.  Zenefits people should promise to use good judgment and to not do anything they wouldn’t tell their Mom.
  2. Leaving a message doesn’t mean you have permission. No one ever has permission to have sex in the stairwell and embarrass the company.
  3. Let someone know where you are all the time. Typically, that does not include the stairwell.
  4. If you’re in trouble don’t negotiate. Enough said.
  5. In all cases, what ever you do, you will get caught. It may just be a matter of time.  Same at Zenefits.

Sounds simple but just like most simple rules, they are not always easy to follow, especially at work.

Zenefits is (was?) one of Silicon Valley’s hottest companies but has stumbled in recent months. The company is under investigation for potential compliance breaches, and its CEO and co-founder Parker Conrad recently resigned.  It’s never too late to change a culture and culture does start at the top.

Companies don’t change, the people in the company change.  I am cheering for you Zenefits.

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