Archive for July, 2011

Summer Office Attire: What’s Appropriate, What’s Taboo

In the old days, dressing for work was easy. All you had to do was ask yourself one question: Am I lady, or am I guy? Ladies wore dresses. Guys wore suits and ties. We’re not nostalgic for those times, especially when it’s 400 degrees outside and the idea of slipping into pantyhose or a long-sleeved button-down seems torturous.

However, we will say that the old-school dress code made things easier. Today, no one has any idea what’s appropriate attire for hanging around the cubicle. Below, a few ideas of what to wear for work when it’s hot, and what not to wear ever, for any reason.

Appropriate:
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Summer dresses. This includes your more modest sundresses, as well as the standard cotton shifts that everyone has been relying on for years. As a general rule, go for something with sleeves. And remember, if you can’t pull your skirt completely under your butt when you sit, it’s not a dress, it’s a shirt.

Short sleeves. Almost no one cares about this anymore, unless you’re working for the Vatican or a very conservative financial institution. Better to wear short sleeves than to sweat through long ones. (Note: fashion-forward folks caution that you’re generally better off going for a polo or even a t-shirt, if your company allows it, rather than doing the whole short-sleeved button-down thing. The latter, they say, can look like a badly made uniform shirt.)

Not Appropriate:
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Tube tops. If you’re dressed for work and you can stand behind an armpit-height cubicle wall and look nude, you should not be wearing that to the office. Period.

Anything you’d wear to the beach. This includes terry cloth, strategically ripped t-shirts, and actual bathing apparel. All of which we have seen in the office, often on a person who is sitting right next to an executive wearing a business suit. We live in weird times.

Up for Debate:
shortsatwork
Flip-flops. Some say these are never OK for the office. Some — especially those who work in creative fields in cities when temperatures topped 100 degrees this summer — say they’re just fine. It all depends on your particular office.

Shorts. Again, many people will tell you these are strictly verboten in the office. But the rise of formal shorts a few years back, combined with the general relaxing of dress codes across the world, makes shorts a gray area for professional attire. We will, however, go out on a limb and say that Daisy Dukes are never OK, in the office or out.

Images: 1. http://racked.com, 2. http://www.buddytv.com, 3. http://www.ehow.com

Is Your Boss Watching Your Internet Browsing?

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The internet has made getting work done a lot easier for a majority of folks slugging away in a cubicle.

It’s also made not getting work done a lot easier.

From checking personal e-mail to Tweeting to managing fantasy baseball lineups to finding out which faux-lebrity most recently made a fool of themselves on TMZ (for the record, it was Octomom), there’s not shortage of ways to kill productivity.

Employers lose $4 billion annually to internet misuse, according to the Center for Internet Addiction, as workers estimate they can spend as much as two or three hours a day on personal internet use at work.

Business owners are all too aware of the time their employees are wasting online. Many block employees from using the biggest offenders (Facebook and eBay, we’re talking about you) and half of all employers say they monitor internet usage, according to a CareerBuilder.com survey.

The sites they’re most concerned about?

  • Sexual or pornographic sites
  • Gaming sites
  • Social networking sites
  • Entertainment sites
  • Shopping sites
  • Sports sites

The lesson? Even if your boss isn’t sitting right behind you watching your screen, the higher-ups can still find out what you’ve been looking at online.

Policies and Consequences

Abusing internet privileges at work can have some very serious consequences.

A 2009 survey on Electronic Business Communications Policies & Procedures found 52 percent of bosses have fired employees for inappropriate internet usage and 26 percent have fired employees for e-mail violations, according to an article on switched.com.

Employers are not only concerned about losing hours of productivity to web surfing, but also they worry about potential damage to company equipment when files containing viruses are downloaded on to work computers.

Most companies have some sort of policy on internet usage at work. Employees are well-advised to be familiar with their company’s stance before watching another video on YouTube or shooting their mom a quick e-mail.

In fact, it’s probably not a bad idea to monitor your internet habits outside of work, as well. Trashing your boss on Facebook or blogging about company secrets will not garner you any favors at work and could also get you canned – examples of that include a waitress who was fired for complaining about customers on Facebook and teacher who resigned because of pictures of her on Facebook holding alcohol.

What About Smartphones?

More and more workers are attempting to dodge stringent internet policies by using their smart phones or other mobile devices to surf the web.

While technically, they’re not abusing work equipment, they could still be wasting time.

Not to mention, their co-workers are often more suspicious about the types of sites they are looking at on a mobile device than a company computer.

A study by business video provider Qumu, found that 74 percent of people thought that those using a mobile device at the office were more likely to be looking at sites they wouldn’t have otherwise accessed on a work computer.

According to an article on MSNBC.com, here’s what they think their colleagues are doing on their mobile devices:

  • 52 percent think they’re looking for a new job
  • 47 percent think they’re viewing pornography
  • 46 percent think they’re looking for a side job
  • 37 percent think they’re researching embarrassing illnesses or conditions.

And, no matter how discrete employees think they are by using a mobile device, as it turns out, someone is always watching. The survey also found that 63 percent of people have caught colleagues sneaking a peek at their device during a meeting and 47 percent have caught them hiding a mobile device under the table.

Photo courtesy of Alumroot on Flickr

5 Ways to Burn Calories at the Office

The internet has been a-buzz all year with the news that sitting can kill you. Ironic, then, that so many of us read about it while sitting in our cubicles, spines bent, core muscles slack, and heart rates decidedly unelevated.

To combat our sloth, the Department of Health recently released new guidelines advising people to exercise at least two and a half hours per week. Office workers, rejoice: according to the DOH, you don’t have to join a gym. Instead, you can fulfill these requirements by changing a few things about your daily routine. Here are five things you can do to squeeze more exercise into your day.

1. Tell your story walking.
walkingmeeting
Is there anything more loathsome than a day full of meetings? It’s bad enough to have to listen to your coworkers drone on and on, but knowing that sitting there is literally killing you makes the whole thing into a horror movie. However, if you switch to walking meetings, one of two things is bound to happen: 1) you’ll burn more calories, up to 228 calories during the usual hour-long meeting, or 2) people will stop having so many meetings, because they’d rather sit. Either way, you win!

2. Forget about IM.
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Oh, instant messenger. Part electronic leash, part cyber-water cooler, part productivity tool. Thanks to IM, there’s never any need to get up and walk two cubicles down to ask your colleague a question. This saves time, but does very little to stem the tide of the American obesity epidemic. Burn a few more calories by getting up and asking that question in person. It’s also a good excuse to take a break from staring at your computer screen all day: something we could all use.

3. Exercise at your desk.
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Some experts believe you can get your recommended daily dose of activity in short bursts — as little as 60 seconds of concentrated activity. That’s good news for cubicle dwellers. Sample exercise: “While seated, pump both arms over your head for 30 seconds, then rapidly tap your feet on the floor, football-drill style, for 30 seconds. Repeat 3-5 times.” (More workouts for the desk-bound can be found here).

4. Get a walking desk.
treadmill desk
More and more companies are investing in programs to encourage employees to exercise. This is probably less due to altruism and more because employee sick time costs up to 6 percent of payroll for many companies. Try using this information to your advantage, and convince management to give treadmill desks a try.

5. Take lots of breaks.
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Everyone has that coworker who brags about how they never take vacation and work longer hours than everyone else. And it might well be true, but being Employee of the Year hardly counts if you drop dead of a heart attack at your desk. Break up the work day by getting outside whenever you can. Take your lunch break, even if it’s only a short one. And for goodness sake, take a vacation. It’ll make you more productive in the long run.

Images: 1. http://adminsecret.monster.com, 2. http://www.fotolia.com, 3. http://shine.yahoo.com, 4. http://www.weightymatters.ca, 5. http://www.superstock.com

5 Innocent Comments That Could Get You Fired

What’s the worst thing you could hear from a human resources representative at work? It’s not that your work is inadequate, or that your management style is ineffective. Nope, the very worst thing you can hear, without question, is that something you’ve done is inappropriate.

That’s because “inappropriate” is the only adjective that is likely to get you fired in a hurry.

Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to tell the difference between inappropriate comments and innocent compliments. Below are some of our favorite seemingly harmless statements that got people ejected from their cubicles and shoved onto the unemployment line.

1. “You look nice today.”
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Stanley Bing’s workplace comedy/legal thriller feels like non-fiction to many readers. With management training programs advocating zero comments about workers’ personal appearance, the idea of a boss getting sued for telling his report that she looked nice today hardly feels like fiction at all.

2. “I like this.”
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Many companies now scan the Facebook profiles of prospective (and current) employees to make sure that their “likes” are in line with the corporate philosophy. Some even hire background check companies like Social Intelligence to make sure that employees aren’t “liking” things the company doesn’t like. Hit “like” for a page like “I shouldn’t have to press 1 for English. We are in the United States. Learn the language,” and you could wind up branded racist. But it’s worth considering that this means most of our grandparents could never get a job today.

3. “Does anyone else’s back hurt?”

Courts awarded UK firefighter Chris Bennett over $125,000 after he was fired for asking his coworkers if the new chairs at the firehouse hurt their backs. The issue here, according to the defense, was not his asking about colleague’s backs, but rather doing so over the office email system in breach of corporate policy. However, we suspect that someone’s nose was out of joint about the chairs, which cost nearly $650 apiece in public funds, and are now “gathering dust” in the office.

4. “Can I have a raise?”
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Most job counselors will advise you that the best way to get a raise is to ask for one. But can just asking for a raise get you fired? BNET commenter SueGallo says it happened to her: “I asked for a raise and was fired. I was a consultant, and my client asked me to become a division manager (which was a new pay level for my company) and thought if the company would bill more for my time for a position I won for the company, I should also be paid more. My company disagreed.”

5. “You have a nice smile.”
fakesmile
Compliment or harassment? Largely, it seems to depend on how creepy the complimenter has been in the past. If you like your boss, and don’t generally feel harassed, you’re much less likely to feel that you’re being abused currently. Still, it’s better to be safe than sorry. After countless harassment training seminars and memoranda, we plan to avoid making any reference to our coworkers’ physical bodies. The only safe way to go is to treat everyone we know like brains in jars in science fiction movies.

Images: 1. http://www.barnesandnoble.com, 2. http://thenextweb.com, 3. http://www.inmagine.com, 4. http://www.saidaonline.com, 5. http://blindgossip.com

Creative Office Perks: They’re Making a Comeback!

Remember back in the ’90s when dot.com companies were offering crazy perks to employees like luxury vacations, onsite concierge services, upscale cafeterias and massages?

Back then, venture capitalists invested loads of cash into companies with names like Kozmo, Flooz and Boo (We know, it’s shocking that they didn’t make it).

Employees spent hours upon hours writing code and doing other dot-commy sorts of things and were handsomely rewarded for it.

But, you know how the story goes: flimsy business models led to lavish crashes and all those sweet perks disappeared faster than that box of doughnuts someone left in the break room.

Well, good news for all you techie types hiding out in a cubicle somewhere. They’re back. And now we have the sudden urge to go learn a little more about coding.

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal detailed how tech companies are once again offering amazing perks.

Here are some of the highlights:

treehouse
Airbnb Inc.
Perks (or at least unique events) include, Moustache Mondays (employees don fake ‘staches), Yoga Tuesdays and kickball on Thursdays. Rapper MC Hammer is even scheduled to stop by a housewarming later this month. The office is outfitted with a tree house with a nap area, which makes us wonder: Is this work or preschool?

Yelp Inc.
The party room offers three beer kegs with iPads built in to offer information about what’s on tap (we now officially have party room envy).

kickball
Facebook
The social networking company holds an annual game day during which employees flash back to elementary school and play games like kickball and Capture the Flag.

Microsoft
The company headquarters in Redmond, Washington includes an onsite mall with 23 restaurants and shops for employees to enjoy.

Netflix
To demonstrate how it values freedom and personal responsibility, the company offers salaried employees — get this — unlimited time off.

pabst-blue-ribbon
UseHipster.com
The company is offering people the chance to win $10,000 and a year’s worth of PBR for applying for a job or referring a friend.

Offline Labs
This company offers catered meals and healthy snacks, a Macbook Air, Apple Cinema Display, Bose headphones, a Fitbit and an activity budget for exploring San Francisco.

ipad
Zynga
The game-maker offers free haircuts and iPads to recruits. Plus, employees are allowed to bring their dogs to work.

Is Your Office Covered In Toxins?

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Someday, an enterprising auteur will write a horror movie about cubicle dwellers who turn into zombies due to the toxic dust in their offices. We will all line up to buy popcorn and be horrified. Like all good monster movie premises, this will be based in fact.

Although the chemicals in your office might not make you stagger through the streets looking for brains, they are present, very real, and can definitely make you sick.

One prime suspect is polybrominated dipheny ether (PBDE), a banned flame retardant found in furniture, carpeting, and the polyurethane padding in older office chairs. A recent study found significant amounts of PBDE on office workers’ hands, especially if they spent more than 20 hours a week in the office.

High concentrations of this chemical can lead to thyroid problems, fatigue, weight gain, depression, and low libido. In other words, many of the symptoms you attribute to working in an enclosed space under fluorescent light might just be a side effect of a toxic environment.

To avoid over-exposure to these chemicals:

  1. Wash frequently, wash thoroughly. Workers who washed their hands at least four times a day had lower levels of toxic chemicals than those who skipped soaping up.
     
  2. Don’t bring home “products that have ‘brominated fire retardants’ or ‘deca.’” Deca is a common component in pre-LCD television screens and other flame-retardant materials. It’s yet another good reason not to swipe old school electronics from work.
     
  3. Vacuum your space with a HEPA filter, which removes many toxins and pollutants from the air, including PBDE.
     
  4. Dust with a damp cloth.

Managers can also combat in-office toxins by rearranging their workers’ spaces to include more natural light, fresh air (if possible), and fewer synthetics. In fact, a 2003 study showed that call center workers who were closer to windows had up to 12 percent faster response times, 25 percent higher mental acuity tests, and a significantly lower absentee rate than workers who were dependent on canned air and fluorescent lighting.

But what should you do if you’re just a lowly grunt in the environment wars? In addition to dusting and not taking home old equipment, you can cut down on the carbon dioxide in your atmosphere by programming your computer to go into sleep mode after five minutes of idle time. Also helpful: bringing the great outdoors indoors. Certain plants — Gerber Daisies, for example — absorb pollution and filter benzene and formaldehyde.

Image: http://www.123rf.com

9 Creative Ideas for a Relaxing Work Environment

Offices are not known for being holistic retreats.

Between annoying co-workers who provide minute-by-minute updates of their cats’ hairball problems and obnoxious clients who have asked you to redraft your proposal for the 83rd time, the typical office is less yoga studio and more wrestling ring.

Fortunately, there are ways to make your office more relaxing, without having to employ a full-time yogi or send everyone to an ashram for a year.

Here are some ideas for how to make work more peaceful:

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1. Hold walking meetings
Who says the only place you can meet with your co-workers is in a conference room? Holding a walking meeting will get your heart pumping and your creative juices flowing. Not to mention, the fresh air will improve everyone’s spirits.
Photo courtesy of sangy23 on Flickr

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2. Just add water
There’s a reason people love going to the beach and listening to waves crash: The sound of running water can be very soothing. And while you probably can’t get an office with an ocean view, you can have the sounds of a gurgling brook right on your desk with a tabletop fountain. Of course, we can’t guarantee that you won’t need an extra bathroom break or two.

metalwaterbottle_95683-13. Drink more H2O
Speaking of water, you’re probably not drinking enough of it. You can help your heart, increase your energy levels and get rid of those pesky afternoon headaches by simply drinking a little more water every day. Keep a water bottle at your desk as a reminder to drink more. At the very least, try subbing your 2 p.m. coffee break with water.

4. Stretch
Over time, sitting hunched in front of a computer all day can leave your body feeling achy and lethargic. Make sure to take breaks periodically throughout the day to stretch your back, arms, shoulders, hands and neck. Use that time to re-check your positioning in front of your computer. Avoid slouching or straining your eyes and wrists when using the computer. Make sure you have a chair that’s comfortable and supportive. Talk to a member of HR for tips on how to properly sit at your terminal.

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5. Listen to classical music
Putting on a little Mozart or quiet instrumentals can not only help block out the noisy office din, but it can also help calm and inspire you. Research has shown that classical music can reduce everything from stress and anxiety to crime. Its positive affects on your psyche are sure to improve your productivity.
Photo courtesy of pallaea on Flickr
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6. Get closer to nature
Access to things that remind you of the outdoors can help you stay calm when things get stressful at work. If you don’t get any natural light through a window, look for the next best thing: a lamp that imitates the full spectrum. Also, bring in a plant or two.

7. Take a breath
There’s a reason your mom told you to take a slow deep breath when you were really upset – she knew it would help calm you down. When you’re feeling stressed, or even if you just want to feel more relaxed, use the power of deep breathing. All that extra oxygen will do your heart good and keep your neurons firing.

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8. Work from home
Goodbye two-hour commute and cave-like cubicle. Hello independence and a window office (finally!). Telecommuting or going into business for yourself can reduce some of the stress that comes with sharing workspace with a mixed bag of people, and give you more freedom to boot. Of course, if you’re easily distracted or worried about being lonely, this might not be the solution for you.
Photo courtesy of Jeremy Levine Design on Flickr

9. Co-work
If you like the idea of being self-employed or of telecommuting, but don’t like the thought of sitting by yourself all day, co-working (sharing office space with other freelancers or telecommuters) might be a solution. It offers the comaraderie of an office, without the overbearing boss. You can have the best of both worlds – an office space with people around you to bounce ideas off of and the ability to set your own schedule.

5 Companies That Let You Take Your Dog to the Office

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Forget free soda and flex time: If current trends hold, the next big perk might just be taking your dog to work. One in five US companies is now “pet friendly,” which means anything from offering subsidized pet health care to sending employees on hikes with packs of pooches. But for a real pro-pet environment, you’ll want to work for one of these companies that lets your furry friends hang out in your cubicle.

1. Amazon.com

Between 24 and 36 dogs come to work each and every day at Amazon.com’s headquarters in Seattle, WA. There are rules, however: all dogs must be vaccinated and their owners have to agree to register the pooches before bringing them into the office. Dogs must also be on a leash at all times — probably a good idea if you’re going to have 36 dogs in an office at once.

2. Printing for Less

Although not as big a name as some of the other companies on our list, this commercial printing company, based in Montana, is huge when it comes to pets. Fifteen percent of the company’s 160 workers bring their dogs to work every day.

3. HUGE

And speaking of huge … Brooklyn-based web design company HUGE, Inc is pet friendly. Their site boasts the following stats: 150 million visitors to sites created by HUGE, $12.5 billion annual revenue of online businesses designed and developed by HUGE … and 14 (most dogs ever brought to work on one day by HUGE employees.)

4. Google

Our favorite thing about the Google dog policy is that they are not allowed on the sand volleyball court. If that doesn’t describe everything awesome about Google in one phrase, we don’t know what does. (Also, dogs have to be supervised at all times. But mostly, they are not allowed to play volleyball.)

5. Ben & Jerry’s

This was the least surprising company on our list. The inventor of such great ice creams as Chunky Monkey and Phish Food really should have an open pet policy. Also, Ben & Jerry’s is apparently a magic place: according to this, an employee who used to be afraid of dogs has gotten over her phobia and adopted two golden retrievers.

Don’t want to switch jobs, but still long for Fido’s company at the office? Try talking your boss into a new pet policy. You can start by reminding them that companies that allow dogs in the office have seen greater collaboration between workers, higher morale, and reduced stress. Also, and most persuasively: Employees who don’t have to go home to walk the dog stay later at work.

Images: http://www.baxterboo.com

Dream of Working From Home? Here’s the Office Setup You’ll Need

Many of us dream of working from home. Who wouldn’t want to trade in his boring cubicle for the comfort and flexibility of a home office? Not to mention that working at home would put an end to this whole “wearing pants” tyranny we’ve dealt with for years. But even if you do land that dream job — or convince your current employer to let you make jammies your new uniform — you’ll need a few things to make your nest into a proper home office setup.

1. Internet access.
internet connection
You can probably get away without almost everything else on this list, but unless you stuff envelopes or paint faces on baby dolls for a living, you’ll need to be able to get online. It’s good to note that quality of internet connection is important here, too. This is not the time to travel back to 1995 and your cheap dial-up. Many companies with WAH policies insist on steady internet connections as a way of keeping tabs on their employees, even when surfing the web isn’t constantly required for work purposes.

2. A desk.
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Specifically, you want a grown-up person’s desk with plenty of places to put all your papers and paperclips and cords and peripheral devices. You can get by with the cruddy plywood student desk you used when you were in college, but with actual mahogany and cherry desks available for not very much more, why skimp?

3. Ergonomic accessories.
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Don’t make your work-at-home experience into an ergonomic nightmare. You don’t have to get duded up like Tron to make this work: a few well-placed keyboard trays and monitors will make your WAH a much more pleasant and productive situation.

4. A phone.
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In these days of texting instead of calling, many of us forget about phones altogether. But if you work at home, you’ll need to make sure that you have one. Again reliability of connection is important here, so think about investing in a landline if your cell phone service is spotty. There’s nothing worse than being the person who’s always doing his Verizon Guy impression at every meeting.

5. Peace and quiet.
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Now is not the time to start dog sitting for the neighbors or to invite the entire third-grade class over to enjoy your son’s new playground set. You need to minimize distractions exactly as you would if you were in the office. Just think of your family as that annoying guy who talks on the phone all the time in the next cubicle over.

Got all that down? Now all you have to do is convince your supervisor that working at home will benefit the company as well as your peace of mind. The good news is that you might find her more willing to listen to your argument than you might think. Recent studies have shown that work-at-home employees are more productive and create better quality work than those who trudge into an office. Working at home might well be the ultimate win-win situation.

Just leave out the bit about working in your jammies.

1. Business Week, 2. VisualPhotos.com, 3. http://natureobuzz.wordpress.com, 4. VisualPhotos.com, 5. http://www.ayushveda.com

U.S. Congress: Office by Day, Bedroom by Night

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Did you know that 20 percent of freshman members of the U.S. House of Representatives live in their offices? Yes, you heard right. Forget the fancy row home in Georgetown; these guys rough it on couches, air mattresses and roll-away beds in their Washington offices.

CBS News recently surveyed all freshmen members of Congress and found that 21 out of 96 of them actually slept in their offices. This trend isn’t limited to the U.S. Congress; a blogger on AL.com found at least three Alabama state senators who sleep in their statehouse offices during the legislative session.

While members of the Alabama statehouse receive a $50 per diem to off-set the cost of lodging, many say they can save money by pocketing the stipend and sleeping in their offices.

“Once I’m here, I’m here to work,” Alabama State Sen. Bill Holtzclaw told the Huntsville Times. “It’s also a matter of, I guess, the most economical, safe hotel room I could find in Montgomery was about $80 a night.”

While rank and file members of the U.S. Congress make a decent salary ($174,000 a year), they don’t receive a per diem. If you think this is unfair, consider that for most of the period between 1789 and 1855, the only compensation senators and representatives received was a $6 per diem. (They probably had to sleep in their office!)

HoekstraConsidering how pricey rent is in the capitol (according to rentjungle.com the average rent in D.C. is $1,840 a month), it’s understandable why some reps opt for an air mattress.

Of course, several congressmen told CBS News that they had political reasons for sleeping where they work: they didn’t want to be perceived as being too much a part of the Washington political machine.

“I think it’s important that we show we don’t live here, we are not creatures of this town,” Illinois Rep. Joe Walsh told CBS News. “There’s so much to do the next two years, I don’t want to be distracted with another place. I don’t want to have to think about an apartment.”

It doesn’t hurt that these penny-pinching congressmen can tell their constituents how frugal they are.

So what do these offices that double as apartments look like?

According to TheBlaze.com, members of Congress have three-room suites, some of which have a bathroom and a small kitchen. For those without their own bathroom, there’s a gym where they can take showers. They can also stow food in their offices, or, as with one resourceful representative, in a supply closet next to dry cleaning.

While there are no rules prohibiting the practice, at least one watchdog group wants to launch an investigation.

According to the DailyHerald.com, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington say that congressmen sleeping in their offices poses an added burden to the housekeeping staff and that these representatives should be paying taxes on where they sleep.

We don’t know about you, but paying taxes for sleeping on a couch just sounds like politics to us.

First photo courtesy of TheBlaze.com. Pictured: Illinois Rep. Mike Quigley makes his bed.

Second photo courtesy of mlive.com. Pictured: Michigan Rep. Pete Hoekestra shows where he stows his pillow and sleeping bag in the office he slept in.