Fruit and Flowers – Pam Zerba

I read an article that asked people to submit the nicest thing they’d ever done for a stranger, or that a stranger had ever done for them. I remembered the Fruit and Flower fund.
About 20 years ago, I worked for a company that had small manufacturing locations strung out through Maryland and Virginia. Most of the locations were in the middle of nowhere, far from cities, or even crossroads, with stores or restaurants. They all had lots of vending machines. The profits from the vending machines were turned over to the company, and were used to purchase fruit baskets and flower arrangements. We had an older workforce, with almost 1,000 retirees, so we mostly used the fund for people who were ill, or for funerals.
Even after those expenditures we still had a lot of money in the fund, usually around $2,000 each year, so we got into the habit of sending fruit or flowers whenever somebody did something nice for us. Our attorney’s secretary helped us straighten out hotel reservations when our executives visited her boss? Flower arrangement! Our IT vendor listened to our pleas, and fixed our issue over the weekend? Snack basket!
Were people surprised to get these tokens of appreciation? No, they weren’t surprised. They were stunned. Once we realized the effect these baskets had, we looked for chances to send them, especially to the kind of people who didn’t usually get recognition. The phone calls and thank you notes we received in return were heartfelt, filled with amazement that somebody had actually noticed them. When people got the baskets at work, the receptionist knew about it, and everybody who walked past their desk knew about it. “Oh, who sent you flowers?” The recipients could then explain, with all due modesty, that somebody thought they’d done a good job.
Our company was actually part of a family of companies, all of which had their own benefit packages. Our English parent requested that I coordinate the combination of all the plans into one. I started with the 401(k), because the plans were pretty similar already. We picked a vendor to administer the new plan, and met with their representatives.
The woman who was to be our main contact, Eileen, was there, with her boss. I noticed that she was nervous, constantly looking at him, waiting a beat before she answered our questions, to see if he wanted to answer first.
Although the plans were similar, they weren’t identical, and there were lots of issues. Company politics were involved; the larger, more successful sister companies didn’t see why they had to change their plans, and the smaller companies felt railroaded. Eileen was great, thinking of compromises, working steadily so that we met our goal of consolidation on time, with a minimum of aggravation.
When everything was done, we sent her a flower basket, of course. But I remembered how nervous she had been around her boss. Did I still have his card? Yes, I did. So I wrote her a thank you note, outlining several instances where she had been especially helpful, and I sent a copy to her boss.
Two days later she called me. She was in tears. Did I realize what my letter meant, she asked me. It’s career-changing. I can’t thank you enough.
The letter took maybe five minutes to write, and I almost didn’t do it. I was busy, and I figured her boss would see the flowers and realize what a good job she’d done. But the memory of her eyes darting to her boss every time she said a word had stayed with me. I have no idea of what happened to Eileen, or her career; I never spoke to her again, after her phone call. Every time I see a commercial for her company, though, I think of her.

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