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Win Big at Work with a Mega Ball Lottery Ticket? You've Got to be Kidding Me!

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Actually, I'm not.

Have you ever heard those stories about groups of workers from meatpacking plants to law firms who all chip in to buy lottery tickets - three, eight, fifteen people or more - and they win the big jackpot?

The individual takeaways range from small to obscene. A group of cooks, dishwashers, bartenders, and wait staff at Friar Tuck's Restaurant in Fond Du Lac, Wisconsin rang in 2008 with an 18-way split of a $1 million prize in the state's Holiday Millions Raffle. And in March of this year, a lucky group of Chubb Insurance employees from Whitehouse Station, NJ shared a $216 million Mega Millions prize. (Now there's a group not losing any sleep over this tough economy).

Then there are the less lucky ones...such as the four city workers in Piqua, Ohio who were out sick last December on the day the office bought the winning ticket for the $207 Mega Millions jackpot. Their lawsuit against their former co-workers (you didn't think the winners would stay on the job, did you?) for breach of an oral contract to share in any winnings is still pending.

Even in the more heartwarming cases, however, trouble often seems to follow. Unfortunately, it always seems as though we see the winners a few years later on some tragic Oprah special about the misfortune of lottery-made millionaires. There are those who gamble it all away within a couple of years, and others whose distant family and friends have suddenly come out of the woodwork expecting a share. Then Oprah - who has won her own unique lottery - laments their woes.

Here is my favorite part of those stories: have you ever noticed how the TV news clips about office lottery winners always conclude with an interview of the unlucky employee or two - the "non-believers" - who never joined the weekly lottery pool? Unless they're those disgruntled plaintiffs in Piqua, OH, these employees come across as if they don't care about not joining in, but you know they do. Yet they act like they have better things to do with their dollar.

Yes, we all know how miniscule the chance of winning the lottery is. So before you start writing to me, step back and realize that "office lottery ticket pool" is really just a metaphor for those who will keep their jobs in this economy... and those who won't.

Nonsense, you say? "Viscusi, cutbacks are a budgeting thing." These e-mails come pouring into my inbox every single day. I love when people write something like, "My boss bases firing decisions solely on performance and hard work" or "If my company is hit, the HR department will decide who to downsize based on objective performance-related criteria."

My response is: yeah right. I don't care if you're working at a department store like Macy's or if you're a techie who fixes computers. It doesn't matter if you're a furniture saleswoman or a creative geek who works for a company with a pool table in the lobby and a 26-year-old CEO. Guess what? Relationships count, especially during a recession, when keeping your job is really a matter of being able to negotiate with your boss.

In other words, fitting in really counts during these tough times. And being the odd person out just makes you...stick out! If you "stick out" you are likely to be chopped off. Get it?

If you're the employee who never likes to conform to your office culture or be part of the work community - dare I call them the "family" we spend more time with during the day than the family we come home to at night - then watch out. You're probably the one who will be fired first.

Somehow the person who never joins in the lottery pool (or whatever it is in your office - a fantasy football league or simply buying girl scout cookies from the secretary's daughter) always seems like they don't fit into the spirit of the company. Maybe they're even perceived as a killjoy. Are you the Omarosa of your office?

If you're ready to take out that dollar, not so fast. Are you sure your co-workers are inviting you to participate?

Last week I had dinner with my friend Brenda, who recently graduated from an Ivy League law school. Born and bred in Manhattan, Brenda began working a few months ago as an associate at a suburban, almost country law firm (yes, some companies are still hiring). Although the work itself was everything she had hoped, Brenda was worried that coming from a big urban background, she might not fit in with her co-workers. Not to mention, she was rarely able to join them at the local bar for post-work drinks because she was always running to catch the train back to Manhattan.

As Brenda walked into the restaurant to meet me, she was grinning from ear to ear. Had her boyfriend proposed? Was that the source of her smile? As she joined me at the table, she began gushing like she was Sally Field accepting the Oscar in 1984 (you know, "You like me. You really like me!" And yes, I know that's not exactly what Sally said, but that's how everyone remembers it, and I'm sticking to it.).

The day of our dinner marked Brenda's 90th day at the firm. And that day, they had asked her for the first time... yes, you guessed it. Did she want to participate in the office weekly Mega Millions lottery ticket pool? Brenda felt validated. Her co-workers did indeed like her!

As I always say, when the "R-word" is used - RECESSION - it's a blank check for companies to fire anybody they want. These companies use fancy words like "downsizing" or "rightsizing." Or perhaps they offer you the infamous "package" or "buyout," which basically means "take this money, sign this release, and please don't sue us."

Don't be a victim of what I call "human resources murder." Sure, you went to a good school and have years of experience in your field. Who cares? In a recession, that all gets thrown out the window along with your good performance reviews, hard work, loyalty, and then your laptop.

So why did the guy who used to sit next to you at work keep his job while you were shown the door? He joined the office lottery pool. So should you, and then read the other 49 secrets in my book, Bulletproof Your Job (HarperCollins).

Stephen Viscusi is the author of Bulletproof Your Job (HarperCollins) and the founder of BulletproofYourResume.com, a customized resume-writing service. Friend him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter (@workplaceguru)! He can be reached at Stephen@viscusi.com.

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