Sunday, March 03, 2019

Should I choose to save my company money even if I don't have to?

A reader we're calling Louis works for a company that covers the cost of his cellphone and cellphone usage. The company will pay for the cost of a new cellphone every two years and will reimburse Louis for whatever he pays on his monthly bill.

Louis has been with the company for about a decade. He likes to hold onto his cellphones for as long as possible rather than trade them in simply because he can, knowing his company will foot the bill. Over the past decade, he's acquired three different cellphones on the company's tab.

Several weeks ago when Louis noticed that his current cellphone was beginning to act a bit off and was freezing or sluggish to respond. He decided it was time to shop for a new phone. By the time he settled on a model and called his cellphone provider to make a purchase, which he could pick up at the cellphone's store located a few blocks away from his office, his old phone was truly beginning to fade, often proving challenging to turn it on at all.

While on the phone with the cellphone provider, Louis was informed there was a promotional deal going on for the model of phone he wanted to purchase. He could pay full price for the phone if he paid it all up front. Or, if he spread the cost over 24 months, he could save $300 off the total cost of the new phone.

With either payment plan he chose, Louis' company would reimburse him. He could submit his receipt for the full cost or he could put in for reimbursement each month when he submitted his cellphone bill. The one advantage to paying it up front, Louis figured, is that if he left the company before the two years were up he'd be stuck paying the remaining balance on the cost of the phone.

Louis says that he's happy with his job and his employer and has no intention of leaving or looking for a new job. "But what if I change my mind?" Louis asks.

Now he wants to know if it's wrong not to take advantage of the promotion to save his company $300 just to make sure he's not out of pocket any money if he should leave before the 24 months are up.

In other words, Louis is asking if he should care about saving the money since his company will reimburse him one way or another.

Technically, I suppose, no rules are being broken if Louis chooses either option. If Louis were paying for the phone himself he would clearly choose the less expensive option. If employees start spending more than they have to simply because they can, it wreaks havoc on a company's bottom line and suggests a culture exists where employees simply don't care about the long-term health of the company.

Louis has a pretty sweet deal going with an employer willing to foot its employees' cellphone costs. If he respects his employers, the best right thing is for Louis to choose the less-expensive option even if it means getting reimbursed for the phone over time as the monthly payments come due. 

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a senior lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of, a blog focused on ethical issues. 

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 


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