Should I buy my own office supplies?
May 17, 2015 9:48 AM   Subscribe

I work in a startup. Our office chairs and some other equipment aren't ideal, and I'm considering buying my own stuff. Is that sort of thing done, or should I just suck it up? Is there another way around this?

So far, I've bought my own keyboard, mouse, and accessories for my laptop. I'm thinking bigger picture now, though. I spent at least 8 hours a day in my chair, and it's.. less than comfortable. As such, I'm considering buying a much better chair - a used Aeron, perhaps, or something similar. Some other folks in my company want standing desks, but the company won't buy them for them yet.

Is there precedent for people buying stuff like this for themselves? I can imagine it being awkward if you leave the company and you have this equipment that you have to transport to home, and then to your next company. But is it something that you've seen done before? Thoughts, comments?
posted by gchucky to Work & Money (15 answers total)
I've bought stuff for my office before. I know people who have brought in their own chairs (and I've considered doing it myself). I don't think it's that crazy, but it probably depends on your office's culture, and maybe your company's policies (I'd see more potential trouble with something major like a standing desk vs. a keyboard or mouse).
posted by primethyme at 9:50 AM on May 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

It depends on the culture you work in but I did this my first month at my current job (also a startup) and it offended my boss and my coworkers to no end. I would float the idea past your manager instead and say that you're looking to get a different chair to support your back and you were wondering if there was anything in the budget for getting one for you. See if they'll pay for a new one first. If not, THEN say you'd be willing to bring one in for yourself if that's okay. You may also want to get it in writing that it's okay. (Yes. Seriously.)
posted by Hermione Granger at 9:53 AM on May 17, 2015 [4 favorites]

Being comfortable while doing your work is important, not just for productivity, but also for long term health. I remember a contractor at a past job who showed up with a custom laptop arm and an extremely heavy and adjustable chair. He had cleared that with hiring manager before accepting the job. Having your ideal setup, and moving it when you switch jobs, isn't crazy. Check in with your manager, and then do it. Personally, I'm a fan of the employer paying for those sorts of things, given the importance of ergonomics, but it seems fine to buy your own if it's not happening.
posted by Phredward at 9:59 AM on May 17, 2015

A bad ergonomic setup can cripple you permanently, which is a longer time scale than most startup jobs. Do whatever you need to make your environment correct. Make sure you label your stuff. I have brought in monitors and stands and would have brought my own chair if they'd refused to provide a suitable one.
posted by w0mbat at 10:13 AM on May 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

I've worked at a startup before, and several people did this. It was no big deal. The nicer chairs, however, seemed to get re-located when their owners were gone. No one ever took them with the intention of stealing them, but they certainly got borrowed.
posted by Ostara at 10:22 AM on May 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

For me, it is a red flag if they refuse to get these things for you.
posted by rhizome at 10:26 AM on May 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

Depends. If your company is too cheap to buy you an acceptable chair, then nope nope nope etc. Do not let them foist this expense on you. Mention that you have to keep taking breaks because your shitty chair is so uncomfortable. Casually drop in once in a great while that ow, my back. Must be that shitty chair.

On the other hand, if the chairs are just not your favorite and you'd rather have a nice Steelcase or Aeron, then ask if it would be ok to buy your own. They should say ok IF it's clear that you bought your own and it doesn't look like somehow they bought you something everyone else didn't get. This might send them into an HR panic - what if he hurts himself in that chair on our property? What if it gets stolen? etc. but it should end up being ok.
posted by ctmf at 10:29 AM on May 17, 2015 [2 favorites]

I work for a Fortune 500 company, and I had to get a doctor's note for a standing desk. HR had to approve it and review it for approval in line with the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act).

If I were to bring my own chair in, I would be told to remove it immediately.

By contrast, I brought my own ergonomic mousepad (with wrist-support) and at one point had an ergonomic foot-rest under my desk. I paid for both out of my own pocket. No one ever said anything about me bringing these items in, and I certainly never tried to conceal that I did. That being said, my company did allow you to request ergonomic wrist-supports from the on-site nurse, and the company would pay the full cost - no doctor's note required. I chose not to use the ones they supplied because they were of shoddy construction.

So, while I think ADA is a factor in these decisions, they cherry-pick which ones they require a doctor's note for. I don't see how carpal tunnel is any less of a concern than the myriad of illnesses caused by prolonged sitting. And yet that doesn't matter to them: it's costlier for them to pay the labor hours to have your cubicle desk raised (don't laugh, it's true) as well as to special-order and pay for a chair that can be raised to standing-desk height. Before I had a standing desk, they made a big deal because I asked to have my desk raised one inch (one inch!) to accomodate the fact that I'm tall and had been slouching over my desk to make up for the too-short desk.

I have a friend who was working for a very successful internet start-up where a lot of people were using balance balls as chairs. So, YMMV. My understanding of ADA is not sophisticated enough to know if its application in these situations is arbitrary, required or dependent on other factors like the company's number of employees.

I'd check your state's labor regulations and, if it becomes necessary, try to get a free consult with a local labor attorney who can advise you of your rights in this situation.
posted by nightrecordings at 10:32 AM on May 17, 2015

Also: I would agree with ctmf that bringing in something as awesome and expensive as an Aeron chair puts you at (some) risk of theft. If it's possible and legal, find a way for the company to either pay for, or reimburse you for, the cost of said chair.
posted by nightrecordings at 10:37 AM on May 17, 2015

I worked at a HUGE 2 letter company and bought an Aeron because their furniture contracts wouldn't let them get anything I liked.

I joked about expensing it, and it got laughed off. But, like you, I figured I sit there all day. I want what I want.

I left, and took my chair with me.

I also have a heavy preference for good monitors, and I have brought my own to EVERY job, except, oddly, the one where I bought the chair. I let the IT po

No one ever blinked when I left and took my stuff, as I'd mad it abundantly clear it was mine.

Further, if you live anywhere near Seattle, since I left that job, I have an extra Aeron, if you should need one cheap.
posted by bensherman at 10:39 AM on May 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

It sounds like you're talking about comfort, not a need to accommodate a known injury or disability. In that case, it is entirely at the company's discretion to decide whether they want to purchase you a chair to replace one that you subjectively find to be uncomfortable. I just started a new job at a Fortune 100, and they actually had a two-page list in our orientation packet of what they would and wouldn't buy for us. I'm probably gonna pick up a wireless mouse and keyboard myself, and I'm definitely bringing my own pens but I would anyway.

I'm getting sidetracked. Point is, it's not unusual to bring your own small stuff. Ask them if they can get you a more comfortable chair; if they say yes THEN ask the budget and make recommendations accordingly (even with ADA they don't have to grant what you request specifically, just something reasonable). If they say no, THEN ask if you can bring your own chair.
posted by good lorneing at 10:40 AM on May 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

Every job I've had, I've brought my own stuff when I needed it. Chairs, keyboards, some software, pens, notebooks, etc. These are your tools. Chefs and carpenters show up with their own knives and their own hammers. You're the same.

IMO, the people that don't do this -- within reason -- suffer from learned helplessness and aren't good team members to begin with.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:41 PM on May 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

Ask if they are willing to split the difference with you (with the provision that you'll leave it behind if you quit). If you buy yours outright definitely you'll take it with you. If they paid for at least half you should probably leave it.
posted by kschang at 1:19 PM on May 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm a little amazed by the diversity of opinion. This seems like basic "funding the company" stuff.
posted by rhizome at 1:27 PM on May 17, 2015 [4 favorites]

This seems like basic "funding the company" stuff.

No, it's about big priorities that are often at odds with individual issues.

Surprisingly difficult for start-ups and large businesses. At the start-up, you're more concerned with actually delivering a product than thinking about all the little details that a large business has already mastered, and has the bandwidth to master. Purchasing plans for chairs? Please. We have to ship something first.

At the large business, you can already ship product, but now you're concerned with managing the details so you can ship millions of products. That means bureaucracy and red tape that might block acquisition of new chairs, because we have a Facilities department and didn't we already purchase 10,000 new chairs last quarter after a month of research and negotiation, so what's wrong with those now, we can't do this for everyone...
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:18 PM on May 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

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