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Unformatted text preview: Peter Bearman is chair of the Department of Sociology at Columbia University and director ofthe Institute fchocial and Economic Research and Policy. I The University of Chicago Press. Chicago 6063? The University of Chicago Press, Ltd, London © 2005 by The University of Chicago All rights reserved. Published 2005 Printed in the United States of America 1413 12 11 IO 09 08 07 06 05 1 2 3 4 5 ISBN: 0-226703969-2 (cloth) IsBN: 0-226~0397o-6 (paper) Library of Congress CatalogingeinePuhlicafion Data Bearman, PeterS., 1956— Doormen / Peter Bearman. p. cm. — (Fieldwork encounters and discoveries) Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN 07226~03969—2 (cloth: alk. paper) 7 ISBN 0226*03-970—6 (pbk.: alk. paper) 1. Apartment doorkeepers. I. Title. II. Series. HD8039.B395342 2.005 305.9'647241-222 2004028621 8 The paper used in this publication meets the minimum requirements of the American National Standard for Information Sciences w Permanence of Paper for Printed Library Materials, ANSI 23948—1992. ': Lima: W ' “ "mamas; "L" OOBMEN Peter Bearman The University ofC'hicago Press / Chicago and London C HAPTER 6 The Bonus Mz'definitely have anxiety with how to tip and everjdhing. The first year we lived here, we had never lived in o. building with o. doorman before and we did not know what was customary. So a. couple of my friends who work in. the ofiice live in really nice buildings on the East Side who tip in like the hundreds of dollars to their doormen. But I do not think that they expected that much ofa tip, but we thought that we should give them something and we baked cookies for everyone and the staff. 1% thought that was something a little more personal 7 we took time to do that. We were definitely a little bit nervous about it, but I think it was all right. — TE RANT, Upper West Side Cookies are nice but I don’t want cookies. Cookies are for kids, and I am not a kid. — D o ORMAN, Upper West Side Sure. My wife and I had a discussion. We kicked it around for a couple of weeks before [we] actually figured out that we were going to drop [to] the building superintendent and a couple'of other people more moneythan the other people. like, I said there are seventeen people and the majority of those people are not 7 they are just buildingworhers. people who work on the building, maintenance or handypeople. So, yeah, it takes a little time to figure we are going to drop two to three hundred dollars to these guys. - very year after Thanksgiving, merchants pull out their Christmas displays, the business section of the New York Times focuses on the re— tail picture for the year, children start actively campaigning to see Santa Claus, building supers suddenly become more visible, and doormen seem to improve their service. Most buildings start to sprout holiday displays, and tenants, especially newcomers to New York City, begin to experience a peculiar anxiety over how much the Christmas bonus should be. They don't attack this problem without help, of course. The Times runs an almost annual article on the standard tip aeross the various grades of workers one might find in a building — super, concierge, doorman, porter. Local newspapers m 171 172 Chapter Sit the Spirit on the Upper West Side, the Resident on the East Side— join the fray and offer more specialized guidance. But-strangely, rather than reduce anxiety, the apparent presence of norms for others simply heightens con— cerns. Leaving aside, for the moment, newcomers, whose ignorance allows them a certain freedom to commit social errors without approbation, talk about the Christmas bonus is reserved for close intimates —-like income, it is more private'than sex. As one tenant reports: I never asked anyone. Why? we know people in the building, but the people I feel comfortable asking don't live in the building. If I asked, I would worry that they would ask in return, and I am not sure I would want to share that. It would be for fear of being embarrassed that it is not enough‘ that I should do more. And i don't want to have to think about that. But at the same time, there is often also a strange undercurrent that runs through the buildings, an intensity of interest in exactly what one’s fellow tenants may be doing this year with respect to the bonus. So while it may be the Christmas spirit, one can also notice increased talk in the halls, by the elevator, and in the lobby {when the doorman is not around) between tenants often too busy at other times during the year to so much as acknowledge their shared presence in the elevator. They want to get to the issue at hand 7 how much to give 7 but it takes some social lubrication. So for awhile, the buildings take on a cheerier and friendlier light. It is a means to an end, thoughfigetting the right information? Perhaps, but giving the wrong information could also be more accurate. The dilemma tenants face is clear enough. The expectation is that door- men ought to get a bonus. So should the super. The conflicts when one comes to think about them can often be deep. The bonus is never not multivalent in the eyes of tenants. It is both a gift, a way of saying thanks, an obligation, and yet also a sign of expected reciprocal attention and an expression of social power. These contradictory meanings make the bonus difficult to talk about, and tenants often squirm in their seats (or cognitively) as they try to describe just what it means. For example, one tenant in an Upper West Side cooperative moves in the space of seconds from describing the bonus as a gifti “and I like giving gifts" — to a vehicle for achieving atten— tion, to a moral commitment, to social justice abstracted from the building entirely: The Bonus 173 It also gives me more power. For a certain time of year. the help focuses on what we are doing. It’s nice for them, too, aside from the demeaning aspect, because it feels like free money. I feel good about it, but at the same time the whole thing is demeaning them. You get caught in the system, and you can't find the owner and demand he give them a higher wage — the moral situation is unfair because we are the human beings. The burden is on me to help. It ought not be on one to rectify the sit— uation, but it is. There are two public ideas about the meaning of the bonus. They appear quite different at first glance, and alone, neither accurately captures the real dynamic that is going on, butit-is useful to start with them because the trick of the bonus w the way the bonus works ~ is that it unifies two simultaneous perceptions of temporality. On the one hand, the Christmas bonus is often represented as the acknowledgment of all of the assistance received during the past year. Because the norm is to not tip for little favors that are, in any case, potentially a part of the job description, tenants think about the Christmas bonus as a giant summary tip of sorts. Whereas tipping encodes the relationship too starkly as a service relationship, because the number of small favors is endless, the Christmas bonus symbolizes the value of all the little services over the past year. Call this the straighteservice or poste payment model. Doormen may also define the bonus as a summary tip, on a post-payment model, in whole or in part. Asked what he likes best about the job, for example, Eamon says: Christmas bonuses! Christmas, Santa Claus, Santa Claus is coming to town. You know why, not because we are greedy or anything; we service them well. Come Christmas they are supposed to take care of the service they have received during the year. Am I right or wrong? We give them good service; this is our time now. i know that in bigger buildings with a hundred and fifty—five units, these guys can make eight, nine, ten thousand dollars. Right here I make about four, but I know guys that laugh at me when I make four because they make eight. It’s not unusual for a tenant who likes you to give you a check for five hundred dollars. Tenants also often think about the bonus in part as a post—payment for ser— vices previously consumed during the year. As the tenant quoted earlier 174, Chapter Six who feels that the burden to provide a living wage should not rest on ' him says: It’s a conflict. It means a nice gift and I like giving gifts, but for them it’s not a gift, it’s a chunk of their-salary, so it’s not extra, it’s integrated into theirwage, their expenses._At the same time, it’s fun to get a bonus —it’s potent psychologically. It’s less fun to have that money evened out. One might think that if the bonus were simply the summary of not given past tips, that individuals would not experience so much anxiety about the size of their gift. Those who could anticipate such anxiety could easily record the number of times each specific doorman helped with packages, delivered dry—cleaning, or called a taxi; decide what the appropriate tip for each service would be; and pass that sum, or some fraction of it. along at Christmas. But it isn’t so easy. Breaking the whole into its Component parts is difficult practically. Ill/hat would the appropriate tip be? And what are the “tippablc” activities? More problematic, decomposing the summary bonus into a whole array of heterogeneous micro—services is psychologically ' as difficult as breaking down the minimum payment required on a credit card into the constituent purchases that compose it. Facing this, the post I payment model is often reported to be no more than a generic “thanks” — a bonus not tied to tied specific services 7 even if tenants often give different amounts of money to different doormen. I On the other hand, the Christmas bonus is often represented as a prem payment or down payment for the next year, an advance on the services to be received. Here the bonus is simultaneously a pure gift—for it is given in advance of service *- and a hedge for service in the coming year. On the one hand, if this was the model, tenants could easily reduce anxiety by doing what the gas company does when it calculates your monthly gas bill for those months that the meter reader cannot gain access to the meter 7 estimate the number of favors in the upcoming year as a function of the number of favors received previously. Since tenants are in the best position to estimate needs, given expected changes in household composition, the only tenants with anxiety should be those new to the system. This prepayment model then appears to be the same as the post—payment model with a year lag, presum— ing that the doormen who work at Christmas are still likely to be serving one in November. But this is a narrow interpretation, for the pres and post— payment models involve completely different psychological orientations and The Bonus :75 temporal foci. In fact, the trick of the bonus is that it is both a pre— and post payment. It is easier to see this if we think first of tips and then move to their cousins, the bonuses. THE BONUS AS A TEMPORAL PRISM Tips are given for services received in theory. I eat at a restaurant, where a waiter serves me. At the end of the meal e if social convention dictates —I pay my check and leave a tip for the service. At the hairstylist’s tips are expected, but there 'is no clear relationship between the value of the tip — as a proportion of the total bill — and the perceived quality of the haircut. I may need a taxi at the hotel. The doorman may signal to the waiting cab to come and get me. This service benefits the hotel by keeping taxis from clogging the entryway, yet I may still feel obliged to hand the doorman a dollar or two. Good service is theoretically rewarded with a higher tip, poor service with a lower tip, but as the latter case indicates, in many instances the client has no foundation from which to base assessment of service received.1 Economists often find that tipping is a challenge to standard economic theory. The paradigmatic challenge is usually posed in the form of a question that appears in its starkest form when repeated visits are not expected, for example, in a roadside diner somewhere that the guest does not intend to ever come back to. Specifically, many economists wonder why consumers leave money for strangers when they are not required to, will not derive ma— terial benefit from doing so, and will not return to benefit from their tip. The simple answer that most people have to this question is that tipping is norm governed and that people most often behave in normative ways. This may be 1. There is a large literature that shows that the relationship between the services one receives and tip size is very small. In theory, tipping systems are solutions to information asymmetries. In TCSTaurantS. Where managers cannot monitor the behavior of workers, structuring compensation so that it is dependent on lips places clients in'the role of supervisors,‘therehy ensuring better service. But clients are poor discriminators. In restaurants, small tricks of the trade are known to influence tip percentage. For example, even if “posh” clients might feel it tacky, waiters know that by introducing themselves ("I’m Sarah, and I'll be your server tonight! ") they increase their tip roughly 2%. Waitresses who sign their names and put smiley faces on the bills increase their tips by over 1%; waiters who do the same are penalized. Michael Lynn, "Seven Ways to Increase Your Servers’ Tips,” Cornell Hotel and RestoumntAdministrdtion Quarterly 37 (June 1996): 24,429. These tricks of the trade operate on the margins, though. The big action determining tip proportion rests in the norm. This fact is recognized by the state as well, which considers a large component of the tip as taxable income — that is, the tip is construed by the state as a right, as versus a favor — as "payment of money actually due." For the legal status of the tip, cf. Zelizer, The Social Meaning ofMoney.‘ 176 ChopterSizr because violating normative behavior makes people feel bad or because {01— - lowing norms makes people feel good about themselves, or both. For what- ever reason people tip strangers, the fact that they do so simply means that all behavior is not meaningfully treated as if it were economically rational.2 But if all tipping is not rational, some tipping may lac—especially in contexts where repeat visits are expected. One obvious idea is that people tip today in order to avoid bad service tomorrow. If seen in this light, the tip is not a payment after the fact for services received, but a prepayment on services to come. In this light, some tips are rational—those that are hedges for future services w and some areirrational sthose that are simply normative responses to the provision of service The bonus is a form of tip, but it is not just a tip. It is something better, and it is something better because it serves as a temporal prism; simultaneously a post-payment for services that were received and a prepayment for services that are to arrive. PRE- AND POST-‘PAYMENT AND THE PSYCHOLOGY OF THE TIP People prefer most of the time to prepay for things they want to consume in the future. This preference is not rational. That is, it violates economic rationality. And so it creates problems for economists. The rational con— sumer should not want to prepay for services in the same way that he or she should not tip servers that they will never see again. In theory, if payments are delayed, the consumer gets a better consumption experience. And the longer the delay, the better it is.3 But most people do not follow this rule. The classic case is how people approach their summer holiday. If people are given a choice w to pay for the holiday in six monthly payments one for each month before the vacation or pay for the holiday in six monthly payments after the'vacation, people prefer the former, even though it is irrational (it 2. Much behavior is governed by social norms. Why this is the case is the more interesting question. One idea from economists is that the causal direction is actually the obverse and that norms appear to solve economic problems. Here, tipping is seen as a decentralized solution to problems of supervision and monitoring. That may be true, but it does not solve the general problem posed by irrational tippingfi potential free riders, for example, tend not to switch strategies because they have a commitment to solving problems of market'failure, asymmetric information, and so on. If they are rational actors, they will let others solve the supervision, monitoring, or information asynunetiy problems they have. I 3. If there is any doubt about this, imagine buying a lawn mower today and being able to delay payment for as longr as one wishes. Theoretically, one could delay until death; thereby enjoying the lawn mower the whole time one was alive for. free. The Bonus 177 is irrational because they could invest the money they did not prepay and therefore earn interest, reducing the cost of their vacation).'Why do they have this preference? ' The general idea from behavioral economists is that people tend to eval~ uate both payment and consumption prospectively — that is, they look to the future, not the past. Consequently, most people would rather prepay first because at the moment they pay, the pain of payment is reduced by the idea of the vacation they are about to have and, second, because while they are on vacation they can enjoy it without thinking about the future payments that they will have to make. If they already paid, the vacation is experienced as if it were free. Paying after the vacation means that their enjoyment will be reduced by the thought of the unpaid bills waiting for their return. Worse, when they do pay after the fact, they have nothing to look forward to, no future pleasures wait to lessen the pain of payment — and so paying is expe- rienced as if it were paying for nothing, as versus getting something for free. Against this background, consumers thus have a psychological prefer— ence for prepayment. Since they have this preference, they may also have a psychological preference to think of some kinds of payments for services as prepayments. The tip for the hairstylist can be seen as aprepayment for the haircut to be received next month; the tip to the pizza deliverer can be seen as a prepayment for more rapidly delivered pizza next time; and so on. Even if thetip is rhetorically construed as a post—payment — a payment for a service already consumed—fit can be experienced as a prepayment, as a hedge against future services if they know they will receive future services. The repeat tip —the rational tip His a prepayment. It is a prepayment be— cause the client considers the tip as a hedge against potential bad service. The bonus is a prepayment par excellence. But prepayment as a preference runs into an awkward fact. Consumers would prefer * all things being equal — to never pay for items that they con- sume, or to delay payment for as long as they can, so that they can enjoy the consumption of the item withouthaving to pay for it. Put more starldy, if people prefer to prepay, why do people use credit cardsand prefer to use credit cards and buy more stuff when they use credit cards since credit cards are all about'post—payment? How can consumers prefer prepayment and yet simultaneously buy more stuff when they can pay for it later? The behavioral economics literature has a good answer here too. Credit cards decouple the pain of purchasing something from the enjoyment of consuming it. Imagine buying something. No matter what it is, thinking about the future payments 178 ChapterSix that one has to make for the thing that is bought will lessen the. pleasure of ' consumption. But if payment is psychologically separated from consump- , tion, the attenuation of pleasure caused by having to pay is reduced. Credit cards are the magicians of decoupling. They achieve this both by increasing ‘ the time period between purchase and payment (no interest or payment for twelve months) and by combining many purchases into a single payment (the minimum payment). The credit card bill itemizes the items purchased. But the bill is for the total amount or the minimum payment. Because individual items are combined into the total (or minimum) amOunt due, the moment of payment is completely decoupled from the specific consumption act. As magical, the fact the one can pay for anything by credit card means that the typical credit card bill covers a wide spectrum of commodities. The more diverse the spe- cific things consumed are a a dinner, a ticket, a new printer, some books, a visit to the cash machine, the hairdresser, and so on k the greater the decou- pling, for the heterogeneity of items makes it impossible-for the consumer to associate a specific item purchased with the specific payment that they are making. Thus, decoupling takes the pain away from buying and leads people to buy more than they would if they used cash/“With credit cards, consumers get the pleasure of consumption without the pain of paying. ' ' lf tenants construe the bonus as a summary of the heterogeneous services that they have received over the past year, then the bonus is a decoupled post—payment. The specific elements that make up the value of the bonus are decoupled. from the total paid. The heterogeneous services —packages delivered, doors opened, kids watched, taxis called, bags brought out, gro— ceries brought in "— are bundled together so that it is impossible to account for the value of any specific service. As one young mother of two children says about the bonus: We make a decision about how much we can give, which is pretty much based on how much we can'afford, how much we can give, and not what they have done for the past year. We don’t tip during the year, so it’s a thank you for everything you have been doing for the year. I don’t give different amounts. Everyone gets the same amount, except the super. 4.. There is a logical contradiction of sorts. If consumption and payment are decoupled such that the pleasure of consumption is not reduced by the thought of payment, then the pain of payment is not reduced by the pleasure of consumption. And it is for this reason that people experience their credit card debt as particularly alienating and aversive * even though they still spend. , The Bonus 179 As. important, the payment is temporally decoupled from the receipt of the service. Thus, the bonus is a decoupled prepayment, or put another way, simultaneously bot-h a post—payment and a prepayment. It is a prepayment because it can be construed as a hedge, as a prepayment for services to be received; it is decoupled because it can be construed as a post—payment for heterogeneous services already consumed long ago. The temporal decou- pling provides a vehicle for distinguishing the bonus from 'a tip, that is, from a routine expenditure. The bonus may be routine, but by temporal decoupling, it enters the world of social, rather than economic exchange, and can thus be construed as a gift. The bonus rests discursiver on the seams of two contradictory temporal— ities—the past and the future; How is this remarkable feat accomplished interactively? The interactive trick rests on the fact that the bonus is rarely acknowledged explicitly. Even if it is given at Christmas, it does not happen at Christmas. The bonus is the tip without time. As the tenant quoted previously who is torn between seeing the bonus as a gift or as moral obligation to rectify inequality says, his contribution is never acknowledged. , Around that time it seems they must have gotten it. You look for signs of people looking a-little more flush. You can detect people acting cheated or misused. I don’t see this. There is an extra friendliness that lasts several weeks past the holidays. It’s never acknowledged explicitly, no; but I take that extra friendliness as an acknowledgmentbut it could be, now that you have me thinking about this, just that this extra friendliness or extra pleasure or happiness has nothing to do with the tipithey need to reflect people coming in. So if people are acting happy in holiday time, they have to also. His experience is not uncommon. Most tenants report that their cards are not acknowledged—or more precisely, that while their cards may he sometimes acknowledged, the money is not. Tenants are not unhappy about this, necessarily. The explicit acknowledgment of the money is awkward. It is awkward because the quantification of a qualitative relationship is too naked to sustain the ambiguity necessary to make the lobby “work.” If individual acknowledgment is rare, generalized acknowledgment is more common. Thus, in many buildings, especially on the East Side, tenants are greeted after the Christmas holiday with a public note by the elevator thanking them for their generosity. In one building, tenants give cards to doormen indirectly and are thanked en masse by such a public posting. I 180 Chapter Sir We put cards in a big box in the lobby, separate cards for each person. We get a “thank you" postedto all tenants by the elevator. Abox is not uncommon. On the one hand, it solves the practical problem tenants have of trying to find doormen to give money to, allows tenants to give money to unseen workers, the night doorman, as well as porters and cleaners who may work odd hours. And it solves the interactive tension of encoding the relationship through quantitative exchange right at that specific moment. The box (or other system for giving without interacting) allows the bonus to slip through time. The box facilitates a specific kind of timelessness w drawing the bonus into the social world. Equally so, the envelope and the card insulate the money from the profane world of eco- nomic exchange, helping to transform the cash into a into something demarcated from ordinary exchange. And crisp new large bills unsullied by prior exchange help as well to distinguish the money in the bonus from regular money— and thus declare that this bonus is a gift, independent of instrumentality. While the rhetoric of the bonus is that it is either a puregift or is in some way keyed to service, either from the past or expected in the future, it is possible that the bonus has little to do with either. One idea is that the bonus is a signaling mechanism and that tenants and doormen use the bonus to signal and negotiate status. Consider the idea that tenants, concerned about their status in the building, fear making the kind of error that would lower their perceived position with the staff. Giving too little is _ obviously potentially damaging. Oddly, so is giving too much. The signaling takes place in a context where decrmen know that tenants have only a vague idea of their annual salary and tenants know that doormen are aware of the relative value of the-apartments they occupy. At the same time, the doormen believe that they have an accurate read on the incomes their tenants bring in, extrapolating first’from the rent or sale price of the unit and secondly from the “lifestyle” they observe. Their read is generally biased upward. Since they most often observe the public side of everyday life, there is a tendency to read the public (arriving in taxis, dressing up to go to dinner or . work, packages delivered, dry cleaning received, etc.) as accurately reflecting the private side.5 Tenants, on the otherhand, tend to estimate doorman 5. Tenants are also engaged in the same exercise —trying to determine the wealth of their neighbors. Though there is homogeneityby building in general, there are still higwealth differences. The Bonus 181 income as a function of their own income. Consequently, wealthier tenants’ estimations are significantly upward biased, whereas middleeclass tenants tend to underestimate doorman wages. Further complicating matters is the general tendency that doormen have to elevate the status of their tenants, if only to subtly elevate the often inchoate sense that their job is in some ways more important than it might be if the tenants were just completely ordinary. At the end of the day, however insulated from the profane world of exchange, the bonus is a number— and something happens to relationships I when money is exchanged. POSITIDNAL PREFERENCES Doormen of course prefer large bonuses. Tenants would prefer to give bonuses that are significant enough to make sure that the doormen and the super don’t consider them cheap, but not so large as to be wasteful or to appear tacky. Even if there were not a direct relationship between the size of the bonus and service provided (there is, but it is weak), and therefore tenants did not have to fear service withholding, most tenants would prefer not to occupy the lowest position in the bonus sweepstakes, all things being equal. This is also the case in numerous other contexts where rationality gives way to status concerns. Here, for example, tenants would prefer to give $50 and be in the middle of the bonus distribution than give $50 and be at the bottom of the distribution, even though the-actual value of the gift remains I the same. This preference, and the obvious mathematical fact that someone has to occupy the lowest positioniit would be better if it were someone else w creates upward pressure on the bonus, pressure__that is conditioned at the upper levels only by the fact that giving too much also carries risk. At the same time, tenants do not want to give $50 and find that they are on the top of the distribution.é And this balancing act keeps things from spiraling out of control. Like doorman, tenants use the evidence around them i the most important of which is apartment size. view, and history of recent renovation. 6. This is a classic instance of soecalled auction regret. The winner of an auction knows imme diately one awful thing: they paid too much for the item, relative to all the others‘ valuations. Such dynamics are worse in prB-bid auctions, where the dynamics of bidding cannot be observed; and it is one of the reasons that charity auctions often take this form — the auction regret that the winner experiences is couched in the language of a philanthropic donation. 182 ChepterSim The closeness of 'the relationship means that excessive giving is easily interpreted as an attempt to transform'an employer— employee relationship into a-master-servant relationship. While one garners status from giving, for the bonus, as in love, too much'givi-ng can lower the giver's status and delegitimize’ the intended meaning'of the gift. Too large of a bonus carries an uncomfortable odor, so somewhere a balance has to be struck. The balance b’etween too much and too little is derived from the distribution of other bonuses in the building, since the meaning of the gift is conditional on its position in the whole population of gifts— $500 means one thing in a building of other $500 gifts and quite-another when the next largest bonus is $50. Tenants know this, although they rarely articulate it; preferring instead to rhetorically key the bonus to service. But this keying is a device, little more. It is a signal that is essentially local ehaving little currency beyond the building. The optimal position for each tenant in the bonus sweepstakes is right at the top of the pile, but within close range of the others’. Little is gained from being in the middle; aside from avoidance of the bottom. The bottom quartile of the distribution is obviously exactly where tenants do not want to find themselves. The dilemma is that it is impossible to knowhow to position oneself without learning absut the expected behavior of the other tenants. And this is why, around Thanksgiving, tenants start to position themselves to learn what their fellow tenants are intending to do. Eventually, they will have to start talking. The staff often facilitates the talking by sending a little card around the building, wishing the tenants a happy holiday season. The card often lists the names of the staff, their positions in the building, and not infrequently, their tenure. Tenants may use these cards as an invitation to strike up- conversation with others, often indirectly and often focused on whether or not they (their new “friend” in the building) know one or more of the staff listed. This trickmaslcing'if the neighbor knows one of the doormenfiis more than a simple entree to the conversation, since knowledge of doormen is a particularly-valuable currency in the-building, and not to be taken lightly. I ' (SO-CALLED) OBJECTIVE ADVICE Before conversation starts, tenants can always consult the New York Times or other newspapers for advice. They do so at their own risk, though, as the messages are not always clear. In 1965 the Times reported, “The tipping The Bonus 1 83 custom is the most confused thing that ever was," quoting’Ralph Guild, then vice president of Brett, Wycoff, Potter, Hamilton, specialists 'in apartment management. Aparagraph later, they confuse the reader even more, writing: In Manhattan’s luxury apartment houses it is not unusual for a tenant to give $100 to the superintendent and at least $20 to members of his staff, which consist of round—the—Iclock doormen, elevator men, handymen, and porters. But then, a sentence later, they write: {A} superintendent of a 150-apartment luxurymclass building could receive $700 to $800 in tips at Christmas time, while the doormen could get $300 to $3 50, in addition to tips received the year—round for getting taxes and doing other favor[s] for tenants. So, somewhere the math got very mixed up, unless one imagines multiple supers and a staff of more than fifty. Simple math from-the first sentence suggests that the super should receive $15,000 in bonuses, and the doormen $3,000 to $5,000. Working back from the second sentence yields a different recommendation; assuming the same 150 —unit building, each household should give the super $5 and the doormen $2 to $5 for theyear. A typical family we discover, just a bit further on, living in a moderately expensive building on the East Side could expect to set aside $80 to $100 for Christmas tipping. In 2002 dollars, this would be roughly $4.00 to $500. With guidance like this, it is no wonder why people feel especially helpless, and even experts admit that the whole affair is “confusing”? In 1972 the New York Times couldn’t help but notice that “a sense of status, a sense of guilt, and a sense of uncertainty enter uncomfortably into the annual tipping problem.” In a year when the economy was slowing down, and at the start of the recession, the general advice was to hold back. Sonia Kamsky, who lived at the Imperial house on Sixtye eighth and Lexington, was planning to do just that; cutting back from $380for the eighteen employees of the building in 1970, to $220; Or maybe she just didn’t tell the truth. The article hints that Sonia is not alone; and in any case, if others would follow her (and their suggested) lead, she certainly would not be alone.3 But one '3. "Tips on Tipping in Apartments." 8. Hejnes, "It’s Time to Pass the Bucks.” 184, Chapter Six has to wonder if, even back in 1972, Sonia might not have been telling the truth. There would be good reasons for her to lie, as we will see. In 1975 the Times was more helpful; they clearly tell tenants what not to do and Why. First rule: Don’t ask the doormen. If you do, a more generous bonus will certainlyresult. According to the Times: I . . .An employee’s psychological-attack goes like this: To one group of tenants —rand he knows which one — a doorman will lament about how many people forgot him and how terrible he feels to find his work unappreeiated. This heart—wringing tale will make the questioner feel that at least he or she will do right by the poor soul. Result: A‘ more generous tip. Tol'the. other type the doorman will, with equal cunning, confide that he is so lucky to be in a building where the residents appreciate him and with surprising generosity too. Result: A competitive spirit emerges, a desire to out-tip the Joneses? Note that the Times presumes that doormen know what kinds of claims will work with which tenants, which is a good insight, since doormen can read their tenants’ psychological orientations well. rThe Times introduces some ambiguity, though. Are tenants concerned with what other tenants will think or with what the doormen will think of them, relative to other tenants? Here it is important to fix one idea: while it sounds clever to say that doormen will induce a competitivespirit among tenants, the tenants are not so interested in- what the Joneses think about them. They are interested in what the doormen think about them instead. The competition is in this sense asymmetric. _ In 1975 the Times tried a new tack beyond considering doormen strategies. Consulting the etiquette expert Elizabeth Post, the Times reported that the fiscally challenged tenant can tiy gifts of “warm gloves, a bottle of wine, etc.” But this is not really recommended, since “what most building employees really want in an otherwise warmhearted season is cold hard cash." So how much to give: here, the numbers are few and far between. The president of 1.]. Sopher, a building management firm, suggests $20 to the super— _intendent,,$1o to the doormen, and $15 to the porters. An unidentified tenant suggests somewhat higher bonuses: $35 for the super and $25 for the 9. Hejnes, “The Art of the Christmas Tip." The Bonus 185 doormen/ elevator operators.‘D In 2002 dollars, this would be around $60 to $100 for supers, and $30 to $75 for doormen and other staff. Strangely, these figures suggest little change from the first set of figures recommended in the mid—19603, despite relatively constant (albeit low) inflation. The children of the tenants in,1965 to 1975 are new tenants themselves. Like their parents , they could turn to the print media for assistance. In 2000, a quarter century after the last article considered here, the advice is more specific but equally unhelpful: ' There are two things to consider when you’re determining how much to give. The first is building size *the smaller the building, the larger your bonus should be. The second is the level of luxury. Lawrence Vitelli of Insignia Residential Group, which manages some of the highest—priced properties in the city, says supers at its big build- ings routinely get between $100 and$300 from each tenant, and at small buildings, $500 to $1 ,000 is not unheard of. But chances are you won’t have to shell out that much. For most buildings, $30 to $50 is appropriate for doormen, $50 to $100 for supers. Support staff like handymen and elevator operators are in the $20—to~$3o range. Ade justments Should always be made according to seniority, and if you’re planning on doing any kind of renovation in the upcoming year, it’s in your best interest to give the super more than usual.“ Adjustment for seniority does not mean that tenants who have been in the building a long time should give more or less. It does mean that staff with long tenures should be given more, independent of service, than staff with short tenures; though why this is the case, when the underlying argument for the bonus rests on the down—payment model (Planning to do renovation? Maybe give a bit more), is unclear. ' If the general advice is co nsistentiy unclear, the historical pattern is very clear. First, there is significant change in the value of the recommended bonus. In constant 2002 dollars, the average recommended bonus declined significantly over time. Second, the advice is increasingly less helpful. The 10. Rejnes, “The Art of the Christmas Tip.” ' :1. Brian Farnham, “Tipping Points: If It‘s True that Money Talks, What Are Your Tips Saying about You?" New York Magazine, August 21, 2000. 186 Chapter Six spread of the recommended values, even though the absolute value has deg creased, has increased significantly. One would expect that the spread would decline as the absolute value declined. Third, there is remarkable stability in the language used to talk about themeaning of the bonus. Is it a reward for service well done, or is it an inducement for services to be provided? The Times waffles throughout. The last sentence of the 2000 recommendations is clear: fer those. planning renovations, a bribe is necessary. Likewise, in a perverse twist on the traditional down—payment modei, Jodi Wilgoren, writing for the Times in 1998, makes the case for seeingthe bonus as a special kind of down payment, not for service, but to avoid negative outcomes. Here the bonus is presented as an anticipatory hedge against a Shakedown; in Wilgoren’s world, the doormen are a cross between the Sopranos and the squeegee men who offer to wash your car windows.12 No one really wants them around; the bonus makes sure that they do no harm, forgetting com- , pletely about the promise of service. It’s like the old days of Halloween when “trick or treat" carried an implicit threat: no candy and we egg your house. In this context, Wilgoren notes that while most people intervieWed in-Ghicago, seattle and Nevada said they tipped out of guilt er habit, many'New Yorkers were motivated by fear. At one Manhattan parking garage, the holiday tote board shows-that the guy in space 4.1 gave $4.50; other regulars might well wonder what 12. Maybe there is some reason to worry that not tipping your doorman could lead to bad out— comes. After all, this is what happened to C. Bai Lihme, who resided at 950 FifthAvenue in 1927. One morningwhile Mr. Lihrne was at his weekend house onWatch Island, the doorman John Healy, George Tiernan (the elevator operator}, and a friend took the elevator up to Lihme’s apartment, smacked on a ham found in the icebox, drank some whiskey and Canadian ale, and systematically destroyed the apartment, smashing a “WelteeMignon organ, with pipes ingeniously concealed behind tapestries and sound passages curiously covered with wrought iron decoration, so that when played in the salon on the twelfth floor, its music could be turned on or off in any of the other rooms of the tripiex apartment which runs from the twelfth to the fourteenth floor"; destroying a priceless chandelier. porcelain, and glass; ripping Flemish tapestries from the sixteenth century; and, perhaps, worse, slashing a Van Dyke and decapitating a Rubens. When arrested — and after being escorted to the police station in his "gray liver gloves. gold buttons, and braid" —Healy justified his actions by complaining that he was expecting a bonus and better tips than he had received. In an editorial the next morning, the New York Times noted: “Such a story should have some outstanding moral. But it’s hardto say exactly what it should be: whether that apartments should be kept strongly locked, that employees should abjure strong drink when on duty, that doormen should be kept contented by increases in salary and tips to suit, or that grievances should he worked off in other ways."."Servants on Spree Wreck Lith Home, Ruin Art Treasures"; “A Strange Case of Vandalism." This case is extremely unusual; and one cannot help but notice that the number of instances in which doormen have been arrested for robbing tenants is surprisingly low. The Bonus 187 could happen to their care if they failed‘to return the envelopes left on their Windshields. Likewise, some veteran city dwellers say, ignore the Christmas card from your building’s superintendent at your peril.13 The reality is that nothing written about the bonus escapes the same rhetoric, even if the advice jumps around. From seeing the bonus as com— pensation forpast or future service, or avoidance of a Shakedown, columnists and pundits seemed trapped an interpretive frame that encodes the bonus as an economic transaction. It is really a social transaction, in which am— biguity over valuation and ambiguity over timing and value of the return gift are the central elements. We may be able to make some progress if we rethink the frame and focus on the sociological significance 'of the bonus. Shifting frames should, at the leash-makesense of the fact that the value of the recommended bonus has declined over time. It will also help us to understand why many people lie when they report how much they give, often reporting less rather than more. THE EON-US AS A MECHANISM FOR ENCODING DISTINGTIONS Let’s ignore the economic “meaning” of the bonus, forgetting for the mo— ment whether it is a pre— or post—payment. Sociologicaily, the bonus is a simple mechanism to define two relationships.” The first is the relationship between tenants and doormen. The bonus encodes the status distinction be— tween doormen and tenants. The second is the relationship between tenants and tenants. With respect to tenant relationships, there are two frames of reference, first the frame for tenants thinking about their neighbors, and then for doormen thinking about their tenants. The first is Simpler. ln talk— ing With other tenants about how much they give, tenants navigate between two sources of potential embarrassmentigiving too much and giving too little. Giving too little is just potentially embarrassing. Many tenants feel 13. Wilgoren, “Tips Grease for the Gears of City Life,“ BUg. 14,. One could also imagine that the bonus is a mechanism to induce status distinctions among staff. Despite what tenants think, doormen do report talking about the size of their bonuses with some of their coworkers, but this talk is generally deployed as a disciplinary mechanism against doormen who are perceived to suck up to tenants too much. As in all work settings where there is a significant piece—rate element to compensation, there is a tension between individual gain and rate busting. The structure of this compensation also varies by shift; doormen who work the day shifts do much better than those who work either the swing or night shifts. 1 88 Chapter 812; conflicted about the bonus éthey know that they should give and that it is right to give and that giving should-make them feel good, but at the same time they often feel that things are tight all-around and especially at Christmas, when they have numerous competing obligations. Still, as onetenant on the Lower West Side told me about her neighbors: ' ' Iwould be embarrassed, I guess, if I didn’t give the right amount. Some of this is just me, because I am obsessive, yOu know. I wasn’t — I was brought'up to do the right thing. But I also don’t want them to think I’m really cheap, even though they-don’t really have any idea how tight things are right now. I I Nobody wants to be embarrassed, and giving-too little is potentially enr— barrassing. So is giving too much. The mental gymnastics can be quite complex. Tenants who rhetorically construe their gift as a gift— that is, as “thanks” iexpress concern about their neighbors; they tend to describe their neighbors as motivated by anything but altruism. These tenants worry that their neighbors will think they give too much; it is because they construe their neighbors as instrumental——as people who give bonuses not to say thanks, but to get better service or garner status. If their neighbors think this, then they'are likely to interpret their gift as instrumental. I want to give them a good tip. They do a good job. I want to thank them for that. And they thank you, too, you know, they appreciate it, so they thank you. It's little things like a nicer “good morning” or just unusual things. But others think that it is a putdown of them, of the doormen, if I give more than the suggested amount. Like, "What are you trying to do? " They don’t want to give,-so they think that if we give it is because we want something back._ But that’s different. So you don’t want them- to think you-think that you are superior to them. If one’s neighbors are not altruists, it is better torunderrepor’t than to be exactly accurate, especially if one imagines that they are on the high end of the distribution, which is Where altruists end up and instrumental givers want to be. But not all tenants are, altruists. It is not accidental that many tenants question the motives of their neighbors. If we focus on the bonus as a mechanism for encoding status distinctions among tenants (in the eyes of the doormen), we can understand better why when tenants tell their friends'and neighbors how much they give, they may often underreport rather than overreport the value of their Why would tenants, concerned The Bonus 189 about their image in the eyes of doormen, underreport their gifts, risking the approbation of their neighbors? One possibility mentioned above is that tenants do not want to be seen as instrumental by their neighbors. The second idea is that they are trying to influence their neighbors contribution, for instrumental reasons. _ It is clear that purely instrumental tenants perceive: that it is in their interest to maneuver for local advantage over their neighbors in order to reap status benefits from the doormen. To be in a position to obtain this advantage, though, they need to figure out how much money their neighbors are giving. This is why'they talk to each other or, rather, establishing what others give is the ostensible reason tenants. report talking to othertenants about .the bonus. Strangely, if they thought about it more carefully, they would realize that they talk to each other not to get information, but to give it — and often, to give bad information. What they often miss is the fact that, like them, everyone has an incentive to provide had information. Consider the problem as it unfolds. Each tenant is trying to decide how much to give. They want to give as little as possible. They want to avoid the bottom quartile of the distribution, they would prefer to be at the top, and they recognize that they gain proportionally little from being in the middle m but all things being equal, it is better to be at the tOp of the middle than at the bottom of the middle. Against this background, and looking forward to the upcoming year, tenants will find it in their selfeinterest to understate, when asked by others, the size of their bonus in the previous year. Consider the problem that tenants have when they try to ascertain, or when someone else tries to ascertain, how much money they give to their building staff. Here is what one tenant says: -I don't really tell the truth about this. If someone in'my building asks me how much I give to the doormen, I try to find out how much they gave the year before and match that amount. If they say $50, then I tell them I gave $50 too. If they say $25, I say I gave $25 as well. If they are new, ltell them I gave a little less than I really did. If I don’t really like them, I tell them even less. This is because if I tell them h0w much I give, then they will give more than that and then instead of being one of the better tippers, I become one of the cheaper ones. No matter what I tell them, they are going to give more than me, becausethat is what they are trying to find out anyway. They just want to know how much ' they-should give to make them look good, and no more. 1 90 Chapter Six The logic is simple: if all tenants give around $20, much is to be gained by $25 (and the marginal gain for $50 is minimal, and $100 is so out of line that it looks like an attempt to purchase favor, or in any case accomplishes nothing since one can get to the top of the distribution at a significantly lower cost). If I want to give $25, it is in my interest to tell others I give $10 or $20,- so that if they follow my advice, I will look good at minimal cost. But if we assume that everyone pursues the same general strategy, then it is obvious that the advice seekers will also try to gain advantage by'slight overpayment Consequently, the tenant who-stated she gave $20 should assume her neighbor will give $25, and so-she should give $30. If there Were a~ constant relationship between theamount actually given and the amount stated'as given, one would quickly observe a'rapid escalation of bonuses. But if the stated amount remains relatively constant over time, this pattern has the unintended consequence of 'slowing down the natural escalation dynamics that govern such bidding systems, although increasing (slowly) the gapbetween the real and the claimed bonus. Real bonuses will increase slowly over time, Whereas the stated bonuses will remain relatively steady. Consequently, the misrepresentation gap -will increase, all things being equal. And here, as it turns out, lies the explanation for the historical patterns we observed in newspaper adVice columns. Recall that the key findings are that in absolute terms the bonus has declined and yet (even considering the smaller absolute base, which ought to lower variance) variance has increased. The decline is associated with the steadiness of the claims (after all, newspapers can only learn what people give if they tell them), and variance is associated with the increased gap between claims and reality._The micro-mechanism at work then is simple. Tenants may say, and some may believe, they are asking for information when they set out to ascertain what their fellow tenants are contemplating as their bonus, but really they are engaged in providing bad information. Each tenant risks being considered cheap by the other tenants, but if all engage in the same general-model (which is to understate their bonus from the previous year), they. jointly construct a world in which everyone is cheaper than they really are. Hoping against hope that they convinced their neighbors to hold the line in the bonus game, each tenant adds a little more to the kitty. Because they cannot subsequently find out if their neighbors did the same thing, they then try to read the behavior of the building staff to ascertain if they got it.right for the year. One of'the key ways they read this is to ask their neighbors if they know specific staff, since they presume that such The Bonus 1 9'1 knowledge arises in part from special attention on the part of the staff. Tenants know that this is a relatively weak proxy, if cheap to exercise. Still, the little cards distributed each yearmake it easy to start conversations with other tenants about the bonus. ' The best information comes from watching the doormen. But watching creates a whole set of new problems. The bonus encodes distinctions be— tween tenants for doormen, but doormen are also savvy enough to create ambiguity so that reading their behavior is difficult and designed to be hard to interpret for tenants on either end of the giving spectrum. Before we consider the doormen, we need to consider one interesting innovation that tenants created in the unrealistic hepe that it would solve the bonus problem once and for all. Like most simple fixes that rely-on commitment to collective goods to succeed, this fix —— the introduction of pool systems — also fails in most instances. The reason for the failure of pool systems is relatively simple: given an opportunity, tenants will free ride. Perhaps oddly, the free ride does not involve withholding pool contributions, but in giving more money to the decrmeni just outside the confines of the pool. ‘ POOL SYSTEMS The tenants who live in the same building tend to be similar in social status. This similarity, whether at the high end of the wealth/income distribution or the low(er) end, leads some tenants to try to tackle the'local status game head on by devising a cooperative tipping strategy. Consequently, in some buildings, especially cooperatives, tenants agree in advance to collect money into a pool and then divide the total under an agreedeup'on' formula for distribution to the building staff. Managers of rental units may also seek to put into place a cooperative pool bonus system, in order to buttress formal bonuses that they may routinely allocate to staff. Some deer-men will report not liking this system, stating that it reduces the overall valueof their bonus. This is not actually the case. Generally, cooperative bonus systems increase the total amount of the bonus by raising the floor. The reason the pooled bonus plan is not preferred by some doormen is because some component of the bonus must subsequently be reported as taxable income since it is officially organized by the building cooperative,- thereby reducing the real value of the ho nus by roughly 25%. Pool systems are designed to rationalize the bonus, reduce anxiety for tenants, and more explicitly link doorman service to the value of the bonus, I: 192 ChapterSia: _ at least in aggregate, poolingboth time (here a year) and staff. Typically pool values are allocated as shares by seniority (like wages on a whaling ship), but in some instances, if organized by a management group, merit-based bonuses are put into place.” But pool systems typically fail to work the way that idealists imagine. They certainly fail to reduce anxiety. In fact, tenants in poolesystem buildings appear to be the most anxious“? First, if the value of the pool contrib‘utiOn is left'up to them, tenants have an incentive to provide the minimum to the pool. This minimum is essentially what they think they can give without the residents or managers responsible for collecting the money thinking they are too cheap. Since they can only establish what this amount would be through conversation, they have to go through the same process as if there were not a common pool. If the pool amount is defined _ for them as a range, which is often the case, tenants contribute the stated amount, but this amount is most often a lowest common denominator. The pool sets the minimum contribution; it provides just the baseline. After the baseline contribution, tenants have the same incentive to try to distinguish themselves from others, to raise their status in the doormen’s eyes, and possibly to thank the building staff and ensure service for the next year. But the psychology of the- pool is complicated. First, formally the pool does tend to lower the valueof the bonus k as declared income for doormen. Looking on the formal side, consider the following tenant, whose friend ' lives in a poolbuilding: i5. By pooling contributions across staff, management (or tenants) lose the capacity to use the bonus as an explicit monitoring—reward system. In restaurants, pools for tips theoretically create incentives for all waiters to assist others, thereby increasing client satisfaction. Given stochastic server—client flow problems as described in chapter 2, the pool makes sense as a strategy to alleviate momentary busyness. thus guaranteeing that multiple clients can he handled simultaneously under the same priority scheme. But the flow of work is too uneven to warrant pools from the doormen's perception. _ . ' 16. rl‘his could, alternatively, be a classic instance of endogeneity. It is well known, for example, that people who have the most fears 7 say, about contacting a sexuallytransmitted disease or of being murdered — are at significantly less risk that those who have no fears g simply having fears leads people to engage in behaviors that protect themselves from risk. In the case of STD transmission, for example. not having unprotected sex. In the pool case, those with anxiety are those most likely to take the time and effort to organize a pool system, ostensibly for their own self—defense. Butthe pool does not stop people from making individual contributions. Thus. these anxious about others getting advantage through generosity — the reason.er introducing the pool 7 find themselves as anxious as ever. Since we can assume that only the truly anxious have the energy to organize a pool, the fact that pool—systemtenants are anxious may simple be a stable trait — hence, endogenous — rather than caused by the presence of the pool. The Bonus 19 3 My closest friend lives in another doorman building, but she gives one check into a pool and it is divided-up across the doormen. I like that system because there is not a specific amount attached to my family and me. [If your building had a pool, would you give the same amount?] lwould give less. I guess lwould give about 30% less; It's a strain for us. T he'anonymity of the pool would result in a 30% decrease in the value of the bonus. Logically, then, 30% of the bonus — in her mind —is associated with the social pressure of having the doormen know that she specifically gave a bonus. While Louisa would not (if faced with the choice) give extra to doormen — “not in my building I wouldn’t" — Others are less constrained. In fact they want to give more, so that they are recognized. _ The trick of the pool is that many people give twice; less to the pool, and then more on top. The pool fails to solve the problem it sets out to solve; in— stead it may enhance it, which is why pool—based buildings yield on average higher bonuses than buildings without a pool. The problem takes the form of a distorted expression of the free—rider problem. Tenants have an incentive to break the deal that they established as a device for protecting themselves against each other (or that management created to induce cooperative work among employees) by engaging in side deals (individual tips) with doormen. Consider Jane, who lives in the Village: ' I I try to be fair and you know I'm always thanked. I do give people their tip and it is certainly not anonymous, it’s in a cardwith my name on it and you know a little wish for happy holidays. When in another building it was an anonymous pool, I always gave the guy on Saturday extra. Lori, who lives in a large coeop on the Upper West Side, reports: The other building that I lived in, in'Philadelphia had a pool where you put in a box. I didn’t actually like that because I felt like I was paying moneyand they didn’t know who it came from, and I wanted to hand it to them so they saw my face‘and knew it was from me; it is kind of like you are just throwing your money away with the pool. I would put in a hundred to the pool, which is not very much if you think about how much each doorman would get, and then the ones that were always there I gave them a separate envelope. When that time .comes, they certainly are a lot more helpful; they start working a little harder. 194. Chapter Six One young tenant on the Lower East Side, Amy, is even more explicit: we have a pool in our building. Wes-re asked to give $50 for all the staff. Then the totalis divided up adcording to how long a staff member has worked in the building and also his position. _I do not know the exact division. Now with five doormen, one porter, and a super, the $50 does not go very far. So I always give everyone a little more money, just from me, so they know I understand how much they mean to me. The doormen appreciate the bonuses they receive on top of the formal bonus, of course. Oddly, Amy (and most other tenants who add to the bonus) fails to appreciate the fact that many of the other tenants in the building are doing the exact same thing, just so the staff will be sure to remember them when, perhaps, they might need a special favor, or just to show how much they mean to them. Even the New Yorlc Times notes that the opportunity to free ride on the pool (after all, unless participation is required by the building management, the staff cannot tell who gave what and have to assume that each tenant contributed the requested amount) is hard to resist, though they at least resist the temptation'to actually endorse the practice. Some people insist on the personal touch. George Gorham, a doctor who lives in Manhattan House, a blockelong building on the Upper East Side, handedelivers about 25 checks to the staff instead of giving a lump sum to a fund that distributes largess." The doormen in this case are not too different from wait staff, who gener— ally prefer to work in restaurants that impose an automatic 15% gratuity for large tables as this guarantees that the bottom doesn’t fall out. Doormen with seniority in the building prefer pool systems not. because they guarantee the bottom, but because the pool raises the bottom without altering the micro- dynamics that shape bonuses in the building.=The only downside is that the pool component is. generally reportable as taxable income. Consequently, doormen make money on pools when additional compensation rises roughly 2 5% above what the baseline without pools would be. It invariably does, because independent of the cost of the pool (which if not voluntary is keyed to mean building income), each tenant has a micro—incentive to add “just 1-3. Kerr. uHoliday Tipping," The Bonus 195 a little bit extra” to indicate their-appreciation (or to avoid the presumed shakedown). r . As John, a doorman on the Upper West Side, says: We have seventy-six families in this building, and they all contribute $100 to a pool for the staff. We each get shares of the total, depending on seniority. So we don’t get that much officially. We have to report this to the IRS. But we always get more because most apartments give each of us more — under the table. And sure I know who they are and what they gave because I know they want me to remember them. Wilson, a doorman on the East Side, echoes the same sentiment. But there is a twist. The anonymity of the pool makes it difficult to assess who gave what, if anything. In this building, management gives a yeareend bonust/lt is not a Christmas bonus, but a year end bonus. They collect money from the tenants for the bonus'and then write a special check for you that comes with a card. The tenants don’t have to give money to the man- agement and I don’t think very many do, but see I don’t know if they did. But the tenants do sometimes give us a Christmas'bonus, and so that makes up for the small bonus we get from the management. I know those that gave a bonus then, but maybe others are giving money to the management bonus and I can’t see it. So we have to thank everybody, see. Actually the ambiguity is not so problematic. Though Wilson and others cannot see through the management pool to ascertain who gave or not, they know enough already since those- who do not contribute on their own, in addition, need not get special attention. PEAK SERVICE Tenants give bonuses that are real, in the sense that the dollar value is objective and fixed,'but the real social value 'of the bonus is unknown to them. Since the information they receive from other tenants about the size of their bonus is likely inaccurate, they cannot really assess whether they “gave enough” without some feedback from the staff. So tenants watch their doormen for signals about the value of the bonus they gave. The doormen 196 ChapterSix have a number of problems with respect to feedback. First, they do not want to appear as if the tenants own them; so changing behavior in the face of an unexpectedly large or small bonus is impossible. Second, they don’t want the tenants who gave them a smaller-than-ertpected bonus to draw the wrong conclusion. In this case, the wrong conclusionel gave the right amount this year— could be the product of no change in service or poor service.” And finally, they don’t want the high givers to think that they were somehow too high; but this desiretolretain ambiguity has to be balanced by some indication-that the high rollers were “inthe rightplace.” This'is quite a tightrope to walk. Inaggregate, it is best walked with one’s eyes closed a that is, without explicit acknowledgment.“ I _ _ _ The tightrope is crossed by playing on the duality ofthe meaning of professional service for doormen. On the one hand, professional service is linked to personal service. On the other hand, professional service is linked to the consistent application of uniform policies. Both rhetorical frameworks allow doormen to publicly declare that the bonus has no bearing on the serviee that they give, day after day, year after year.19 By rhetorically rejecting the idea that the'bonu's is tied to service, doormen hold the line on the relationships that they do have with tenants through the assertion of professional distance. This assertion means that tenants do not “own them," either because the bonus was extraordinarily large or because it was woefully small. Perhaps, ironically, the after—holiday claim to professional status is but— tressed by shifts in behavior over the course of the year. As noted before, tenants perceive that doormen are more solicitous just before Christmas than at other times of the year. This perception fuels their attitude that the doormen are walking away from the professional claim and signaling that there is a relationship between service and the bonus that everyone knows is 18. One can easily see how giving too little can appear to tenants as giving too much. imagine a system where doormen perceive the bonus to be a reward for the prioryear and tenants see the bonus as a down payment on service for the subsequent year. A small bonus at the end of the year may be associated with poorer service in the following year, thereby allowing tenants to think they gave too much. in any lag system sunh as this, the possibility for self? fulfilling prophecies is very strong. 19. This is a real sentiment, that is, doormen report that it is true for them, and we have no reason to think that the selfereports we receive are only strategic. There is no reason, by the way, that real sentiments cannot also be strategic. In general, what we call strategic management in business is managcment that shapes the self—interests” of those who are managed so that they are in line with unit goals. In this instance, the real sentiment that service is delivered professionally independent of the bonus has an affinity with the tangible interest doormen have in increasing compensation. The Bonus 19? “in the air." Bill, a tenant in a mediums-sized mid—West Side building, thinks that the shift in behavior is so obvious that it is embarrassing. After Thanksgiving, the doormen decorate the building, get the lights up. They also change their style a lot. Like before they get a package, they put it on the big table in the lobby, but right before Christmas they _ start to handedeliver them to each apartment. It is totally transparent that they want you to give them a bigger bonus. Where are they in the summer? They think we are really stupid, like we have such a short memory. But the proof might be in the pudding; Bill tries to give a-“decent bonus,” because no matter what extra they do during the holiday season, "the real thing is that the doormen work hard the whole year anyway.” Equally possible is the competing hypothesis that doormen use the weeks before Christmas to signal that they can step out of the professional role because they have a special relationship to their special tenants. The claim to professional role behavior makes anything they do that is slightly unusual “Special.” The test might be what happens after the holiday. if the operating model is enhanced service just for the bonus, service ought-to decline after the holiday season. Doormen Who imagine that their tenants really are like chickens (creatures with a two-week memory) should rationally withdraw extra services immediately after the holiday, since it won’t yield a dividend in terms of the subsequent bonus. But they don’t. In fact, most tenants observe that if anything, doormen step up their service delivery after Christmas, and. that they sustain a heightened level of personal attention for some time. Okay, the thing is, I know my bonus “works” because 1 get better service and faster. The other day I asked my super whether he had any . wood glue that I could borrow torepair a crack in the floorgThe next morning, the carpenters arrived. If I hadn’t given him-a good bonus, he would have just told me what kind of glue they used. The fact that service peaks after the holiday is ascribed by those tenants who give large bonuses as a product of the bonus. It is a self—fulfilling prophecy. Nor can these tenants rest too easily. Doormen will provide obe servably better service for all of the tenants during this period. For those who gave small bonuses, though, a peak in service provides the foundation for the claim that the apparent transparency of heightened service before Christmas was actually just professional behavior. By not slowing down, doormen get to 1 9 8 Chapter Sta: write the end of the sequence and therefore redefine the pre—Christmas ac~ I celeration as simply "doing their job" or “expressing the holiday feeling.” As long as the f'decay" to normal service is slow, the doormen can preserve the ambiguity over the actual meaning of the bonus. What makes this possible is the unusual content of the claim to professional status. ' When other groups strive to claim professional status, the simplest foun— dation is to aSSert a set of norms that give rise to behaviors that are equivalent across all persons. Doctors ascribe to norms that guarantee the facade of equal treatment across social-classes. Librarians provide reference assis— tance to all people, even if their requests seem unusual. Police are supposed to give tickets to all speeders, not just those in jacked—up cars. The idea is that doing medical, library, or police 'work involves doing work that is uniform across all the clients one encounters. In contrast, doing doorman work means that the content of the work shifts across tenants. The work involves knowing what the tenants like and providing that service. Since the claim to professional status is keyed to the delivery of a particular service, doormen can simultaneously pursue a particular reward (the bonus) without risking either loss. of professional status or'becoming-a “creature” of the giver. But they can only do this by denying the significance of the bonus — which they do. ' I I ' '_ _ In discussing the bonus, Chris, a doorman on the Upper West Side, says: Yeah, they get the list. They ask for the list because before they go on their vacations they want to give you your money and stuff like that, your envelope. So that’s how they basically do it. I guess they're comfortable with it, the president, they like the idea, that they don’t have to tip you all the time .' They’re really no complaints from anybody, ’cause some people, they make a lot of money. The doormen make a lot ofmoney. Let’s talk money, some of them take home at Christmas, four to five thousand dollars. One of the main doormen took home seven thousand dollars. They can’t really complain, I mean, people, you know, they do look you out, they give you money. I’m not complaining, you know. I’m there to provide the service; they don’t have to give me anything. That's my job; I get paid every week, you know, I'm happy. They don’t have to give .me anything, you know, that’s part of the job, providing the service, you know, that’s what I'm there for. Nor can doormen reject bonuses, however small. As With customers in restaurants who signify their discontent with the service by leaving an The Bonus i 99 exceptionally small tip (thereby trying to indicate that they know the norm and violate it byleavinga symbolic amount of money, five cents, a dime, etc), tenants will also hand doormen they find have performed poorly envelopes with just one or two dollars in it. As Frank says, it doesn’t matter: You were on my list, you didn’t give me anything, but if they don’t give you anything, there must have been something you did, or'something that happened that they don’t want to give you anything. Usuallypeople give you something, even if it's ten dollars. They fired a couple of guys because when people used to give them stuff like envelopes for the service, they used to send it back upstairs like they didn’t want it, so they used to get fired for that stuff. You haverto take it regardless. Even if it’s a dollar, you have to take it. The mistake these doormen made was to not deny the significance of the bonus. The right thing to do would have been to just take it, as Frank said. But just taking it is different from just saying thanks. It is just that —— taking it. The dilemma doormen face is that they need to be in a position to deliver personal service, in order to legitimately expect a bonus. So they need to train their tenants into perceiving either that the generic service they provide is personal or to develop preferences of their own. This is perhaps most easily seen when we consider how newcomers (to the building) have to be trained by doormen in order to have preferences. Until the doormen can train newcomers, they are at a loss.2°As Felix says: When someone new moves in, we have to decide whether they want 'us to call every time someone visits them, what to do with their packages, whether they need advice or not, and so on. They dont even know must of the time what we do. A lot of time I have to say we don’t do this or 20. Newcomers pose other problems in terms of interpretabilily of the bonus. Newcomers to the city either seem to assume that they have to tip extravagantly for service, or they are completely unaware of the bonus traditionl Very few really get the whole picture until they have lived in the city for a year or so. Often, newcomers distinguishthemselves by unjustified largess. Kathryn, the president of an activist lobby who moved from Washington to New York in October, says: "I had heard that I could Expect t0 g0 through $400 tippingthe people who helped me move in. SO I gave the super $80, even though he didn’t do anything, the doormen $20 ever-ytime more furniture came in, and like that. . . ." Such generosity carries little weight since some doormen may see newcomers as sheep just ready to be fleeced. The generous gift, even for doormen, has less meaning outside ofa comparison set. And if the comparison set is newcomers, either they give nothing or too much. u 200 Chapter Six that, but I also tell them: you need something different from what we do, just ask. The problem for Felix, and the other doormen, is that in order to pro— vide professional service, in order to sustain the claim for professional status, they have to be able to deliver pers'onaKized) service. if tenants fail to develop ~— or perhaps more accurately if doormen fail to develop in their tenants épreferences, doormen cannot deliver the kind of service they want. Here, the rules and regulations of each building, when the trash should be put out for collection, whether forms ought to be filled out for repair requests, what to do with guests, and so on, provide the raw material . for the generation of personal relationships since special service delivery has to be built from within the existing constraints and opportunities of each building. In all buildings, doormen are officially instructed to use for— mal salutations 7 Mn, Dr., Mrs, Ms, and so on— when addressing tenants, but they quickly learn who wants to have a more personal, and ironically more professional relationship, signified by the use of informal salutations. Likewise, as noted earlier, dODrmen help their tenants develop similar pref- erences for announcing visitors, receipt of delivered food or videos, and so on. The process of developing preferences is lengthy and involved, and is one of the reasons that doormen (and tenant) turnover is so rare —since both sides come to interpret the specific relationship that they have as unique — creating barriers to mobility for tenants and promising increasing returns toidoormen with long tenures. Doormen also uSe the rules to distinguish tenants in terms of service provision for seemingly more pragmatic reasons w to help nice tenants or to hinder those they consider to be'assholes. For example, while Felix cannot tell his-tenants whether or not their spouse is home, since his building does not require him to mark the exits and entrances of each tenant, Roberto can, although not all tenants in his building either know that their entrances and exits are recorded or have use for such information.” Sometimes, though he imagines that they do *- or would if they knew it was possible. Here, for example, Roberto imagines that he has helped one of his preferred tenants, 21. Surprisingly, not all tenants in buildings where such information is routinely collected know that they are being watched so closely and would be upset if they realized this information was collected on them. The Bonus 201 aware that he keeps track of'tenant comings and goings. Whether he actually helped him-is another question. So once Mr. comes home early for lunch and I know his wife is home with some other guy because I’ve got both of them on the list here, see like this. So he asks is his wife home. And because he is a nice guy, I say no she just left and so he leaves, too, because she isn’t there. _ Some other people are assholes and Iwouldn’t do that for him, I’d just say, “Yes, she is," and let them figure it out. Rickie also distinguishes tenants in terms of necessary versus preferential service. See, you don’t have to do the extra, you just do the job that you have to do. So to give an example, if people don't look at-the [package] list to see if they have something, I will come and let them know. Now if someone is giving me a hard time month after month after month, I let him find it — that’s why we have a list. And he may have that package sitting there a couple of days. I don't have'to let him know. You still do the work, but you withdraw the extra. Working to rule is one of the ways that doormen discipline tenants if they fail to deliver appropriate bonuses. The explicit claim behind working to rule is that uniform policies guarantee professional — that is, undiffer- entiated e service, although as the doormen know, their professional status derives from the particular local knowledge of the micro-preferences, hows ever constructed, of their tenants. Consequently, if doormen work to rule,- servic'e'provision can be delivered formally under the rules, sustaining the rhetoric that they do not work for the bonus, while simultaneously disci— plining tenants who should know better. Note that the tenants who do not know better, that is, those tenants who simply expect doormen to work to rule, are unlikely in any case to give large bonuses. As Duran says: “You make little allowances not going exactly by the rule because going exactly by the rule would be stupid.” _ _ Working to rule is stupid strategically with respect to the bonus. It is also stupid substantively, and doormen who make bad substantive decisions are at risk of losing their job, even if they are working to rule; or perhaps more . precisely, because they are working to rule. On example should suffice to make the general point: 202 Chapter Six One of the workers here, he used to work the midnight shift and he got fired, because the super gives us rules and we have to follow those rules, and-the rule is do not leave your post when you are working the midnight shift. There was an incident that happened upstairs; an emergency, someone felldown and hurt themselves and they called the ambulance and they butzed down to the doorman, the doorman said, "Look,'l can’t leave my post.” He says, “Yeah, but I want you to bring the ambulance guys up the back.” He says, "Fine, when they get here Fll do it. :But I really can’t leave my post. Send down your son and then I’ll go up. " From what I understand, he sent down his son and he did go up. But they wanted it through the back freight elevator. And he’s not supposed to run it, either, that’s our rules, not to run the back elevator in the middle of the night. So he did do it, and the stretcher didn’t fit through the back. So automatically, he had to come back down and go through the front. And the lady complained that he took so long and he hassled them, because he didn’t want to go up, and he got fired for saying, “No, I can’t leave the door.” Technically, yes, that’s a rule, you can’t leave the door in the middle of the night. Would I do it? Would I stay at the door? No. To the point where I don’t give a fuck what the hell my boss says. They’re the tenants; they’re paying my salary. Now they got a problem, l say, “Look, I did you a favor. I went upstairs. I left the door.” ' TIPS Some doormen also receive small tips throughout the course of the day. No tenants tip their doormen for opening the door, of course, but for other small tasks they may do so. Thus, tenants returning from a vacation with luggage may try to slip their doorman a few dollars for his help carrying the baggage from the street to the building or loading it on a baggage cart that is stored. in the back room. Likewise, tenants may tip a doorman for calling a taxi for them, watching that their car does not get ticketed ifparked illegally out front, or keeping an eye on'their kids who are playing in the lobby or on the sidewalk in fr'ont of the-building. These activities are not part of the standard job description and so tenants canrconstr‘ue them as out of the ordinary, even if, as we saw in chapter 2, they are routine for doormen. And at the same time, while routine for doormen, they are not routine for each tenant, since no single tenant returns every day from vacation, while ITheBo'nus 203 returning vacationers may be a daily experience for doormen in a building with 150 units. This fact creates an asymmetry in perception about what is a normal event in the course of the day, and the dual views thus induce some ambiguity about norms. Many tenants respond to this ambiguity by tipping, or trying to tip. In general, doormen report discomfort with small tips (of a dollar or so) that tenants give them just for “doing their job." In fact, most; claim that they refuse to accept tips from their tenants. Donald, for example, says: We don’t have many tenants. But they are very generous. And there are no tips during the year. Other buildings I worked for before there’s tips during the year. Here, they don’t tip. [If you are getting a taxi far someone, do they give you money?] You can't do that. lknow them and I feel funny, you know, personally, because I’m not used to getting it. And when they offer, [I say,]“l\lo, that’s not necessaiy." I mean, what is it, a couple of dollars? Especially if, you know, the person is very generous to you at Christmas, how can you possibly accept it? Adollar? Echoing these comments, Felix describes the situation is his building: Bight, well this building, I mean, it’s not really a good tip building, but you can tell the more genuine, because they’ll talk more to you. They’ll come down. If they order food, they might give you some. The problem doormen experience is that it is awkward to accept‘tips from their tenants from a phenomenological point of view. The tip challenges two aspects of their lifeworld. First, it inscribes the social distance between tenants and doormen into the lobby, fixing more firmly the inequalities in the relationship. The tip happens in a moment, at a specific time in response to a specific act. By giving the tip, the tenant defines the service received as over. The tip is the neutralizer of relationality. Second, because doormen bridge this distance by making an unusual professional claim—that they provide as part of their professional life a particular personalized service — tips for such services, on the boundaries of the formal job description, undercut the legitimacy of the claim. Consequently, they erode one of the core bases for doormen’s sense of self, of status. Thus, doormen would prefer to not have to confront the tip, even if they Would prefer, at the end of the day, to have some more money in their pockets. There are ways to avoid such direct confrontation, which may also make tenants uneasy as well, for the constancy of the services doormen provide makes them too close to tip with 204. Chapter Sir: impunity, as if the doorman were'simply an anonymous porter at a hotel. As Chris says, this is one of the many things that pockets were made for. They’d put it in my pocket. You know what l’m saying? And I won’t take it out of their hand, but when I'm closing the door, they’ll just put it in my pocket, or I’ll come back and I’ll see it. It is worth noting, in this context, that where social distance is greatest, tips are smallest, and the bonus at the end of the year more significant. Where social distance is least, tenants try to encode their social superiority more frequently through small tips for small services received. Doormen do not see this shift in behavior as social distance per se. Rather they use a richer currency, distinguishing between new and old money people. New money people, less secure than old, tip more often. But then they may need to in order to gain distinction, for their distance to the door is not as far as it seems. As Ian-says: 7 It all depends on the neighborhood. This neighborhood is one of the best neighborhoods in Manhattan. When I worked as a doorman at another building, the [root] , there was a younger crowd so you get more tips. lused-to make like eighty dollars on a Sunday, a hundred dollars on Sunday, and over here I don’t get that kind of tips and stuff like that. This area is kind of old money, not compared to the Upper East Side, where it’s new money, people just toss their money around. Over here, ' they hold on to money. I’m not saying they’re hard up or anything, but they are kind of stingy, well, not stingy, but they’re more like. . . It’s not like where I worked at before, the [tent]. People used to tip you all the time. It has a lot to do with the area; the area is the main thing. Gramercy, the people are ritzier, they still have the same money, they use it differently is all. OVERVIEW Since the bonus comprises a significant component of the doorman’s wage packet, doormen think about it quite a bit. But because it comes once'a year, they rarely consider it part of their annual salary and in this sense they do not work for it. Instead, they work for their salary and the overtime hours that accrue to them. The bonus is experienced phenomenologically as a bonus. This allows them to claim in all seriousness that they do not The Bonus 205 work for the bonus. At the same time, they do work for tenants, and they distinguish tenants in terms of their qualities. Some are assholes and s0me are nice. The assholes rarely give bonuses worth thinking about, and they reCeive services that are commensurate, that is, the-doormen hold back on the “extras.” These tenants perceive their doOrmen to be generally idle and of little use. But they interpret their. role in the building as minor—— mainly provision of security and announcing visitors. In contrast, most tenants are trained by doormen to develop and articulate preferences with respect to things that the doormen can do for them. Doormen justify this descent into p'articularism as the essential component of their job, and it provides the basis of their claim to professional status. Doormen walk a fine line between “being the slaves” of their tenants (that is, being subject to their whims) and delivering customized service. The bonus provides one mechanism for joint recognition of the professional nature of the job, ironically arriving as a gift, ostensibly therefore putting the doorman into the debt of the tenant. The doormen, though, turn the tables on the tenants. Refusing to allow the bonus to be interpreted as a down payment on the subsequent year, doormen enhance their service to everyone “bonus or not— immediately after Christmas. By doing so, they suggest that the pre— Christmas enhancement was in their tenants’ imaginations. Tenants experience more anxiety about the bonus than anything else in the building. They try to manage this anxiety by restricting the bonuses given by others, and by ending up on the top — or close to the top a of the bonus distribution sweepstakes. They provide bad information to their friends and neighbors to further their own ends. Even when they agree to share the bur— den collectively by creating a pool system, they cheat on each other. They do this because they want the doormen to like them. They want the doormen to like them so that the doormen will continue to treat them well. But also they are worried that the doormen know them too well. Psychologieally the bonus re-creates the distance between the doormen and the tenants broken down by the “professional” closeness of particular service. Oddly, if doormen always worked to rule, they would not be close to their-tenants, and so the latent function of the bonus, to rewcreate social distance,- would be absent. ...
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Bearman_Ch6 - Peter Bearman is chair of the Department of...

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