Company benefits and perks

by Grace aka costofcollege

Inspired by a CollegeConfidential discussion about Work Holiday Perks I began to wonder about the most common or latest types of employment benefits.  Long-term parental leave has been in the news recently, with New York City one of the latest to offer this to some of its employees.

A young person I know scored big with time-off policies when he recently changed jobs to a London-based employer.  They offer at least 24 vacation days to everyone, plus they close the week between Christmas and New Year’s.  He was thrilled because most employers only offer 10-15 vacation days for their U.S.-based junior employees.

Flexibility is an important workplace perk for Totebaggers.  What other benefits do you value?  Do you see any trends, positive or negative, in job benefits?

Happy New Year!  There will not be a post tomorrow, but maybe you can share how you rang in the new year and any other topics on your mind.

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121 thoughts on “Company benefits and perks

  1. Almost everywhere I’ve worked does “early dismissal” on the last day before a major holiday. I always thought that was nice.

  2. The employer mentioned in the post goes even further than early dismissal; they said everyone can “work from home” on Christmas Eve. Needless to say, not much work got done that day.

    Does anyone know of employers who give out turkeys or hams at Christmas. That used to be common years ago, and it was mentioned in the CollegeConfidential thread, but I haven’t heard about it for years.

  3. Citigroup’s new Manhattan office has no offices. I thought this trend was dying.
    http://www.wsj.com/articles/citigroups-new-office-plan-no-offices-1451125806

    The nation’s third-largest bank is making the shift to an open-plan layout—a vibe more identified with tech startups than global banking conglomerates—where no one, not even CEO Michael Corbat, will have a door. Most employees won’t even get their own desks.

    My oldest works at an office space like this, and I don’t think they even have lockers for personal stuff.

  4. Hmm. I primarily value the flexibility I have where and when to work, and to drop down to less if I choose. I also value the end-of-year extra 401(k) deferral.

    Other than that, it’s really the “perk” of having the best assistant ever, which allows me to basically toss a pile of receipts in my outbox, or tell her where/when I need to travel and have her know all my preferred airlines/hotels and FF numbers, etc.

    Man, I have it good.

  5. In the last few years HR has worked hard to compare our benefits to others in the industry, then deemed our benefits above average, and has been taking away perks a few at a time. For example, no tuition reimbursement, no longer can buy extra vacation days, or return unused vacation days, if you leave the company with PTO leftover it is no longer paid out to you.

    However, we have a great medical plan, and some soft perks – early dismissal before holidays, jeans on Friday, and during the Christmas weeks. Flexibility is a HUGE perk for me.

  6. LFB, are you able to hire/fire your assistant? One person I know with a horrible assistant — once she mixed up Washington State and Washington DC in planning a business trip — has virtually no control over his assistant. The office manager supervises them, and it’s very difficult to change assistants. It reminds me of NYC public schools where the principals had no authority over janitors, who took orders from some union boss.

  7. Free turkeys are alive and well in my neck of the midwest. MN is the #1 turkey producer. I don’t get a free bird, but many of my friends who work for agriculture/food companies do.

  8. CofC,

    I love those kinds of offices. I’ve had my own office before and I hated it. It’s so isolating. Cubes are the worst, it’s the worst of being in an office with the worst of being out in the open. Terrible.

    The funniest office I ever had was the time they put me in a giant empty conference room with only one desk for me. I felt like Mussolini:

  9. That conference room office story reminds me of a business trip where the only room left at the hotel was a conference room. The room wasn’t quite as large, but imagine having to sleep in a bed out in the middle of Mussolini’s office. Yikes, the nightmares!

  10. I love the flexibility of my job. There aren’t too many direct patient care jobs that provide it.

  11. CofC,

    Speaking of first world problems. At my current hotel, due to my status, I get upgraded to the suite one below the presidential. The bedroom is literally 30×30. One of my friends at the hotel also gets upgraded and she often sleeps on the couch in the living room as the bedroom is too big to feel comfortable in.

  12. Rhett, where are you supposed to put your hand lotion and hairbrush and M&Ms?

    In your purse/laptop bag?

  13. RMS,

    Although since I don’t see any laptop bags, jackets, etc. I’m going to assume they have cubbies or lockers for their personal effects.

  14. These open spaces have rooms with doors for confidential phone calls and such. However, that seems very inconvenient, for example when you’re playing phone tag with an important contact.

  15. Rhett – are you an extrovert or not sensitive to noise? That workspace looks awful.

    On my desk I have chapstick, kleenex, eye makeup, pens/pencil cup, post-its, post-it flags, paper clips, binder clips, headphones, decorative paperweight, etc., in addition to the office phone, mobile phone, keyboard, mouse, monitor, and a few files (whatever I am working on right now). In my credenza drawer lives my gum, candy if I have any, cards, extra post-its etc., then in a separate drawer toothpaste, deodorant, heels, ladyproducts, face wipes, shout wipes, etc., AND I have an extra blazer on the back of my door. Where would I put all my stuff? And my files? (I have probably 20 redwelds on the top of the credenza and then 20 more inside it, not counting the 2 file drawers I have outside, and that’s with already having sent stuff to storage.)

  16. More on topic – my work underpays IMO, but they DO match 401k up to 5%, which is something…not much, but something.

    One thing I don’t like is the FSA debit card. Every single freaking time we use it they ask for independent 3rd party receipts/documentation. That is the whole point of having one of those things, so that you can use it at my kids’ dentist (for example) and not have to prove that it is a medical expense!!!! Gah.

  17. for example when you’re playing phone tag with an important contact.

    With JP Morgan doing away with v-mail, I’m going to assume the vast majority of business is conducted via email, IM and txt.

  18. I know more than a few people who use the phone extensively in their jobs. Interestingly, my 20-something kid who used to scoff at anyone who relied on voice for communication now uses the phone a lot on his job.

  19. I don’t know, Rhett, I still spend plenty of time on the phone. And like L, I’d have my Tampax and spare stamps and ibuprofen just rolling around on that exposed desktop, or turn into one of those ladies that hauls around a giant purse plus two tote bags every day.

  20. not sensitive to noise

    I find open offices to be quieter than cube farms. I think people have a better sense of the need to keep their voices down. Back when I had the guy in the next cube building a house and on the phone all day with his wife and the contractors (for months on end I might add) he probably wouldn’t have done that if I were able to give him the stink eye.

  21. The best benefit DH receives is free tuition at his university for our kids. And, amazingly, it’s still not taxable.

  22. In the last few years HR has worked hard to compare our benefits to others in the industry, then deemed our benefits above average, and has been taking away perks a few at a time.

    This seemed to be the trend at a former employer.

    My current org:
    – does the ‘early dismissal thing’ before long weekends/holidays. I expect we’ll be outta here by about 3 today…there are about 4-5 of us here vs the usual ~25 in the immediate suite.
    – contributes (not a match) ~6% of pay up to about $50k then ~10% above that to our 403b, so it works out to >1 month’s pay per year that gets put in.
    – offers an HSA and if we stay completely in-network the family deductible is only $2650/year, then 90% paid up to $6500 out of pocket, then 100%. And the network seems to include everyone we’ve gone to, so I’m pretty happy about the medical plan. My monthly share of the premium is $27.00
    – vacation allowance is 5 weeks starting at a fairly low level after only 7 years…the only downer is that in my role / group it’s near to impossible to get a whole week Jan-May, so vacation is pretty much all crammed into June-Dec.

  23. I have flexibility and times when I have to take two hours or so off in the day, and I have said that I will record those hours as PTO hours off, my managers have said not to bother. That said, during busy times or work that has to be turned around quickly, not only myself but the entire team has done a good job of making sure it all gets done. Without both individual and team cooperation we couldn’t have the flexibility we enjoy. No one wants to be forced to come into the office and lose their flexibility if they can help it.

  24. Biggest perks: flexibility, the week between Christmas and New Years off, and an office. My pay is below average for my credentials, but if I stay here a few more years, I also get a small pension.

    Our health care plan is just ok. However, it is a health care plan and I’m grateful for it. I purchased an individual plan for my family for 9 years and employer provided healthcare is awesome.

  25. “contributes (not a match) ~6% of pay up to about $50k then ~10% above that to our 403b, so it works out to >1 month’s pay per year that gets put in.”

    That sounds very generous.

    “I’m pretty happy about the medical plan. My monthly share of the premium is $27.00”

    That’s pretty amazing in this day and age, I think.

  26. Whoa. My monthly contribution to the health care plan is about $1080 (pre-tax), and that’s not including dental either.

  27. Mr WCE’s employer just increased new parent leave from 2 weeks to 4 weeks. (It was 3 days about 8 years ago so it has been increasing a lot.) However, when Baby WCE was born, his group was trying to hire three people and his manager had just had a baby, so if Mr WCE had dropped out of the interview process, they would have continued to be overwhelmed. As he explained to his manager, because he’s the Dad of a new baby and not the Mom, it wasn’t too hard to interview candidates and submit paperwork from home. I don’t think that should be a normative expectation though. The six weeks of maternity leave for Mom breadwinners was inadequate. I’m glad they’re up to 10 weeks now. It’s still low by global standards.

  28. L – re your comment on the FSA debit card…do you have the HSA option? I easily use the debit card that’s linked to my HSA at MDs, DDS, pharmacy and never have issues. Of course, maybe the HSA route is not available to you or just not something you find suitable to your situation.

  29. “Every single freaking time we use it they ask for independent 3rd party receipts/documentation. ”

    I feel your pain. We get frequent requests for receipts, as well. Pain in the a**

  30. The best benefits we get through my husband’s job is health ins with no monthly premium for us and no copays for in network stuff and a 401(k) contribution that is the IRS max. When I worked, the best things that I got were a gift certificate to honey baked ham and an assistant who routinely messed up my stuff. There is a reason I am the one who quit :)

  31. My friends at Amex have the hotel office/lockers in lower Manhattan. They don’t like it when they’re in the office, but they love it for flexibility because it’s not obvious if you’re working from home.

    They have a benefit that I love which is FREE access to a college advisor/counselor. The firm is known and even though it is through phone/email, it is saving my neighbor the money she would have spent on a private counselor.

    I had 12 weeks paid maternity plus free pump, and free access to a counselor for breast feeding.

  32. When I worked at the software company, they used to give out jugs of fresh apple cider the day before Thanksgiving. They also did the early dismissal, which I don’t like because it is so unpredictable – you had to wait until the email message came out, usually around 2 or 3, saying “go home”. My husband’s company has the same infernal practice, plus if he is in the middle of something, the “go home” doesn’t really apply to him.

    Speaking of which, even though he took vacation the week of Christmas, he still got a work call on Sunday morning, and spent much of the day on his computer trying to fix some issue. My sister was still visiting, and we had plans, so it was really annoying.

    Back in the 90’s, I used to consult at a local branch of a German pharmaceutical company. Because it was German, the regular employees got 4 weeks of vacation, plus they didn’t have to work on Fridays in summer (and no, they didn’t have to work extra on the other days). The company was also really sane about working hours.

  33. I detest open offices. They remind me of being a grad student. Ick, ick, ick. The best setup I ever had was at the software company where we had our own offices – real offices, with doors and walls to the ceiling. Interestingly, it was the most collaborative place I ever worked. Why? Because you could actually have meetings in your office on a spontaneous basis without disturbing everyone else. You could stop by somone’s office, and knock a little (doors were usually open signifying “I can be disturbed”) to get their attention. When I worked in cubeland, everyone worked with giant headphones on, which was very isolating. You couldn’t get anyone’s attention, because everyone resolutely faced away from the corridor, and couldn’t hear anything. So we did everything through IM and email, even cube-neighbors.

    We have cubes where I work now, which is weird for academia and violates FERPA in a major way. I hear every detail of every student’s problems as they meet with their advisors. We are moving this week, though, to new space. The new offices will have actual walls, though they are tiny. Our dean actually refused to move us until the university agreed to real walls. She cited FERPA constantly – it was amazing how much of a battle that it was.

  34. Related to FERPA, I wonder if thin walls in doctors’ offices violate HIPAA. A few times I’ve overheard TMI from next door while waiting for my doctor to see me.

  35. My benefits are standard, nothing especially generous. They are tight wads and the Christmas party was pretty awful. No formal early dismissal but my immediate manager just decides that we are both leaving early. My company is really good about closing the office or dismissing us during bad weather. My previous employer left it up to each department, and the SVP that ran our group never allowed weather be a factor in anything. In his eyes, if you weren’t on site, you weren’t working.

    I have 15 minute commute which I love, love, love but I’m also underpaid, the company isn’t doing well and they will miss their bonus target for the second year in a row. So, I’m reluctantly looking to move on, especially since I will be paying two college tuitions for the next 4 years.

    I travel to remote locations at least monthly and I’m usually working in conference room. I’ve got to the point where virtually everything I need is in my work bag. I like traveling light. On the other hand, it’s very easy to accumulate lots of crap in my office over time. Every so often I pack up a bag and bring a lot of it home or throw it out.

  36. Yes, that absolutely violates HIPAA. They are getting a lot stricter though. My understanding is that the rise in private hospital rooms is driven by HIPAA

  37. @CoC — yes – we are large enough that if we have problems with an assistant, we can ask for a replacement. But it also depends on availability – we have @3 attorneys per assistant now, so it doesn’t always work and sometimes takes time.

    I also realized that I get full employer health insurance (employee-only is free, dependents/family is significant upcharge. Something that I used to take for granted but is becoming rarer.

    DH’s favorite benefit ever was when he was working at the national lab and started at 5 weeks vacation – the salary wasn’t top-tier but was more than sufficient for a single guy, and it worked great once we started dating cross-country. Now he has a pretty good 401(k) match and a cash balance pension, which are about the most exciting things. And reasonable medical insurance for the kids (Kaiser).

  38. My favorite perk is flexible hours – i.e. if I need to come in late or leave early, it’s not a big deal. The focus in on whether your work is done by the required deadlines – not on whether you clocked in by 8 am. Also, I really appreciate that my boss is also a father of a teenager and is very supportive of taking off an hour here or there for kid-related activities. For example, last year my then 4th grader really wanted me at his Halloween class party. My boss is aware of how short the time is before they don’t want you showing up at their school and really encouraged me to go.

  39. I totally don’t get the appeal of that open office environment. It seems to me to reinforce the message that we are all replaceable widgets, and if I don’t show up one day with my laptop and headphones, they’ll simply just get Generic Corporate Drone 6127.3 to replace me. I have all sorts of crap in my office, from kid pics to old Far Side strips to fetishes; it makes it feel like my space, like I matter as an individual and not just a function to fill.

    Not to mention that you just can’t do that as a lawyer without blowing the privilege, so that’s a nonstarter for us, hallelujah. There are also more state laws that address private personal information (eg, combination of name and social security or driver’s license #). I don’t think the corporate world has even thought about how those kinds of laws might affect them – it seems strange that you can spend tons of $$$ on IT security measures to protect computer data, but no one thinks “hmm, what about the guy at the next desk over?”

  40. I am watching the craziest thing…. They have gone ahead with the Dubai fireworks extravaganza at the Burj Kalifa despite the fact that across the street the 63 story Address hotel is fully engulfed in flames.

  41. We have decent benefits. We have an employer match for the TIAA-CREF plan, and good health insurance (though I pay a good bit for it). We have free tuition for ourselves and family members, and participate in a tuition exchange plan with a bunch of other universities. That is huge, and I know it is a particularly huge benefit for the support staff. We have a nice gym, which I never use because it is crammed full of 18 year olds, but ostensibly we can use it. We are expected to go to conferences, and only get reimbursed 50%, so I can’t really call that a benefit even though the university claims it is. Vacation is obviously weird for faculty since you don’t “take vacation days”. Taking time is both really flexible and really inflexible. For example, we all crawl in to teach even when really sick – I have taught with laryngitis for example. Cancelling class at the last second creates terrible scheduling headaches, so it is just not worth it. And unlike K12, we don’t have subs. There is also the predilection of many faculty and administrators to schedule meetings in later afternoon and evening, which is difficult for people with kids. On the other hand, when not teaching, no one cares when we work as long as it gets done.

  42. New employees start 7 hours per month vacation (2 weeks), cannot use during the first 6 months; 12 days of sick leave (up to 8 hours of which can be used for parent teacher conferences); 15 holiday days (not really – only if they fall M-F, if July 4 is a Saturday – tough – so usually 10 are realized). Then every 2-5 years (funny schedule) more vacation, so max is something like 18 hours a month after 30 years. 100% paid health insurance for employee, a portion paid on dependents; options to purchase dental, short/long term disability, life, ADD and long-term care.

    Now – agency heads CAN award extra time. Over the years I worked for those who did and did not. Most common – close early day before Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve Eve; give Good Friday or close early – same for New Year’s Eve; give Friday before or Monday after with July 4 falls on a weekend; 4 hours of “shopping” time to take between Thanksgiving and New Years.

    Sounds like a lot of time and it is, however, when you do the math on salaries paid per hour worked, that actually makes the government salary line up with private sector in our area. It is a good deal for people who want the time, but not for people who need the money.

    Flexible hours in general at my level of government, means not 8-5 and/or compressed work week, but once you set your schedule, it is fixed.

  43. Since I go to different facilities, I need to bring everything with me. Fortunately I don’t need much, but I definitely miss having a desk where I can leave things, put pictures of my family, etc. And some of the facilities don’t have a lot of space, I have to cram in on a desk somewhere.

    I agree with Rhett that cubes are worse than open desks because they give the illusion of quiet and privacy.

    Speaking of HIPAA, why hasn’t that guy in the middle of the Peyton Manning story been charged with HIPAA violations yet? Whether or not any of it is true, talking to the media about your patients is pretty blatant.

  44. Oh, forgot – traditional defined benefit pension plan, with same insurance premiums for retirees as working employees with 10 years of service or more. Some additional perks of how you pension amount is calcualted if you save up and roll over vacation and sick time.

  45. Cancelling class at the last second creates terrible scheduling headaches, so it is just not worth it.

    What scheduling headaches? Whenever I had a class cancelled, it just wasn’t rescheduled.

    Mooshi, Off-topic on the fiddlers, have you ever heard of a band called the Levellers? They are are a British band with a great fiddler.

  46. We are going to more of a take the available workspace of the day approach with more teleworking. We are growing, but have a bureaucratic process to get more space. New employees in certain areas can’t telework until fully trained which takes several months and you need the experienced ones to train the new ones, so in several departments most people telework 2 days a week. Also, very few work 8-5,the early folks start as early as 6:30 am and the latest folks come in at 9:30 am.

  47. What are everyone’s plans for New Years?

    As for me, it’s a quiet evening at home, which I LOVE. I’m going to a New Year’s Day party tomorrow, instead.

    Happy New Years, everyone!

  48. The scheduling nightmare is because we have a lot of lab sessions and projects that are preplanned. For example, most of my courses have weekly lab assignments done in class, and typically 4 projects. The tests and review sessions all have to get moved around too. All of those have to be shifted and compressed when a class is cancelled, and then you have to make sure everyone is notified and you still get students who claim they didn’t know. The other factor is that in NYS, there is a rule that says that if more than two sessions are cancelled, you have to do mandatory makeups. That means that if there has been one snow day, and you have to miss class for a conference or meeting one day, then if you get sick you will need to do a makeup. This means, at my school, a Saturday session, and no onr will show up except the poor schmuck professor. So you can see, everyone wants to avoid this scenario. Last year we had 3 snow days that affected Mon-Thurs classes, so everyone had to do makeups.

  49. Ah. I was just thinking of lectures. But even though you’re a private school the state can still dictate class scheduling rules?

  50. “however, when you do the math on salaries paid per hour worked, that actually makes the government salary line up with private sector in our area…
    Oh, forgot – traditional defined benefit pension plan, with same insurance premiums for retirees as working employees with 10 years of service or more.”

    As far as I know, nobody in the private sector has a traditional defined benefits pension plan, and that is worth a whole lot of money to the government worker. In many places, for many workers, if you can get on with the government in some capacity, you are considered to have it made. People with 401K’s, as Rhett often reminds us, typically are very poorly prepared for retirement.

  51. Oh yes, the state regulates both public and private. We can’t change much of anything without state approval, in fact. And “just lectures” are falling by the wayside, at least at teaching oriented schools. We are all about interactive activities and engagement now.

  52. What I am doing right now: scheduling all my lab assignments in Blackboard for the spring. Very tedious.

  53. What are everyone’s plans for New Years?

    We have an oyster roast to go to tonight, but it’s a kid-friendly event so it won’t be a late night (hurrah). Tomorrow we are going to a turkey fry during the day, then hosting dinner for friends and their kids here.

    I’ve been manically cleaning today here – something about the New Year always makes me want to start with a clean house.

  54. Lots of college football the next two days…starting with the most important tonight. Tomorrow will be spent cleaning house and taking the tree down (sorry Mooshi, I can’t wait until Epiphany).

  55. Our New Year’s plans are to hang out at my inlaws’ tonight with food we’re not hungry for because we’ve been eating so much, watch some football tomorrow, then head home tomorrow night and try desperately to get the kids back on something closer to a normal sleep schedule before school starts Monday. It’s been a good trip, except my golf game sucks. But ready to return to a more normal schedule and my own bed and all that.

  56. I’m going to play Magic the Gathering with the kids tonight, and we have a bunch of frozen appetizers and artichokes to eat for dinner. If we make it, we may watch the ball drop. Tomorrow we are going into Manhattan to do some museuming. On Saturday we have tix to a hockey game

  57. We’re hiding indoors from the cold! Might have otherwise gone to see the fireworks, but at 0º F, forget it!

  58. I have been cooking all day and am tired!

    I smoked a turkey, made gravy and stuffing, a broccoli and onion casserole and noodles marmaduke (a family favorite and very fattening). Tomorrow will be leftovers and football and then on to our traditional new year’s diets and back to school and pretending to work.

    I confess to being somewhat holidayed out and am looking forward to the routine resuming on Monday.

  59. We had the choice of a turkey or ham the past two years. I chose the ham. It was delicious!

    My favorite perk, and the one that keeps me at my job more than anything else, is a very generous vacation/holiday package. In 2015, I had 16 paid holidays where the office was officially closed (including this entire week) and 26 paid vacation days. That is hard to beat, especially with a school aged kid.

  60. Also – I have an office. With a door. The day they take it away, I may have to quit, regardless of the vacation time. Now that I think of it, an actual office with a locking door might be my favorite job perk.

  61. “Free turkeys are alive and well in my neck of the midwest.”

    Even if free, I prefer my turkeys dead and ready to cook.

  62. “I confess to being somewhat holidayed out and am looking forward to the routine resuming on Monday.”

    Not I.

    I had a very good week at work. A lot of people were out, which made it much easier for me to get stuff done without being interrupted. We are also on unofficial “holiday hours,” which for most people means leaving early, but I’ve turned that into coming in a bit late and leaving a bit early.

    I also like not having to get up early to get the kids ready and out the door. That’s ggoing to b the hardest part of getting back to the routine.

    Between all of this, I’ve been getting in at least one extra sleep cycle every night.

  63. “nobody in the private sector has a traditional defined benefits pension plan, and that is worth a whole lot of money to the government worker.”

    It’s pretty well established here that government workers, especially at the county and state levels, trade off salary for benefits, especially the generous retirment benefits, including pension and medical coverage. That’s really a way for current government to kick the can down the road, but that’s been catching up with a lot of governments.

  64. Tonight? Delicious steak dinner with good bottle of wine with DH. Movie afterwards. Dropping DD and niece at train station and have offered to drive DS and friends home from a party. Tomorrow DH and I will also be hitting a museum or two in NYC, perhaps with a kid or two if they decide to join us and can drag themselves out of bed.

  65. DS is going out tonight, but DH and I are staying home and ordering in. We will probably watch a fun movie or football game.

  66. Favorite perk was always telecommuting. Absent that, I appreciate the flexibility I have. My team is prinarily on the west coast, which means no one is looking for me at 8 am, and when I have later meetings I can frequently drive home mid-day and continue from there, so I’m not getting home really late. I hit 20 years in 2016, so will go to 25 days vacation, and purchase additional days.

    We currently have cubes, but are moving to that open plan. I am dreading it – I hate hearing people’s personal calls, and because we have offices all over, people are on conference calls all day. Noise and fluorescent lighting can really bother me at times, so I would love to go back to a private office.

    Tonight – grilling steaks, have champagne and wine, and staying in. Have the orange bowl on now, and movies for later.

  67. By far the best thing about having my own practice is the flexibility to work whenever, wherever, and however I want. I’m four years into being self-employed now, and at this point I’m not sure I could ever go back to being an employee of someone else.

    Re. New Year’s Eve, for the past few years, we’ve had the kids cut up confetti from old newspapers (yes, we still get our local paper in print form). We store it until 7:00, when we yell “Happy New Year,” and the kids get to go crazy tossing the confetti all over the kitchen. We tell the kids that we’re celebrating British New Year (since 7 p.m. our time is midnight in Britain). Before confetti, we get take-out for dinner, which is a treat for us since we hardly ever eat restaurant food. The kids are in bed by 8:00. DH and I might make it to 10:30 or so. I’ve never been a huge fan of New Year’s Eve as a holiday, so I’m totally happy to stay in and lay low.

    Happy New Year, everyone!

  68. Happy 2016, everyone !

    Guests have departed and I watched some of the series that (Moxie, I think) recommended here.
    I am getting through watching Happy Valley, which I liked. Winter is usually the time, I catch up on movies and series that I missed. Watched Star Wars with the kids and all of us liked it. Not looking forward to resuming the daily routine on Monday, trying to stretch out the last few days of downtime.

  69. Happy New Year everyone!

    We went out to dinner Tuesday instead of yesterday (cheaper) and then yesterday we took the older kids to Star Wars. They didn’t super like it – too scary I think, plus they haven’t seen the previous ones – but I thought it was pretty good and DH was REALLY happy to see it again. :) Alas, as I mentioned before, no parties to go to with formal wear this year!

    My work is pretty flexible – that is the one thing I really do like. My closest boss was out this week so I worked from home every day but Monday, and no one cares when you come in (and to a lesser extent when you leave) because almost everyone gets in at 9- or 9:30-ish, so I have trained them to expect me in from 9-4:30 except on my WAH days. Plus I take at least one extra WAH day a month to get them used to that, even if the nanny isn’t sick. ;)

  70. Another article defending that “Actually, you can make $250,000 and be middle class in America”
    http://qz.com/583254/actually-you-can-make-250000-and-be-middle-class-in-america/

    Dinner out and then a quiet champagne evening at home. This was the first time in 25 years that I’ve not had at least one of my kids celebrating New Year’s with me. They had parties to go to and I did not. Time flies, as they say.

    It may be a sign of old age that I actually enjoy the various Times Square TV celebrations. I like that I don’t know most of the performers, and I like the inane chit chat. I don’t know why, but it was entertaining in a weird way. Even Jimmy Buffet’s performance looked and sounded flat, but still I was glued to the TV. Okay, it may be that I have developed a tasted for train wreck TV after years of watching Real Housewives.

  71. Happy New Year! On the topic of movies, there are actually a good number that I have seen/want to see this season. Saw and loved Brooklyn, and was planning to go again with DD but it was sold out (it had moved to a tiny 16 seat auditorium!), so we saw Joy, which was OK.

    Both kids had seen Star Wars on their own, and DH got 4 tickets to see it in IMAX, thinking there was a small chance that they would want to go with their parents, but they liked it so much they saw it again with us.

    I still have to see Spotlight and the Big Short.

    A weird thing I have noticed with my now grown children – when we go someplace we are all in better moods when we arrive separately. DD and I met DH and DS at a restaurant after we saw Joy, and everyone was cheerier – less time in a smallish car with 3 backseat drivers, perhaps?
    DD and DS arrived at Star Wars from other get togethers with friends – same thing.

  72. Last night was the first time we stayed up with both kids, so that was fun. Usually, we don’t even make it to midnight ourselves. But we were watching the football, and on vacation, and both kids wanted to stay up, and tonight will be late anyway based on flight times, so we said what the hell. It was nice that the kids didn’t know the “New year’s kiss” tradition, so we had fun chasing them around the house to embarrass them with a big fat smackeroo.

    Added bonus is that DS has gotten an early lesson in the dangers of overdoing it, as he is too tired to do anything this morning!

  73. I was looking forward to having two good football games to watch on New Year’s Eve – we are happy to stay in – but only the first game had interest for three quarters and the second was a blowout. Lark’s team sadly lost in the ACC final and now I see why – Clemson plays with a lot of spirit and the QB is amazing. Alabama (at least with its large college roster) could probably beat several NFL teams right now, so I am not sure the final will be much of a contest. My rooting interest was the odd team out from the 5 major conferences, legitimately so with its two losses, so I’ll watch the Rose Bowl this afternoon after the Winter Classic. And there is a Cumberbatch Sherlock special tonight on PBS.

  74. I work at a large high tech manufacturing company but no longer directly support manf. Overall we have good benefits (always better than my spouse’s for example). But they have declined over the years e.g 60% reduction in retirement contribution, large increases in health care costs etc. Employees start with 3 weeks vacation and then top out at four. We also have a sabbatical program and paid bonding leave for both parents. On site gym, cafe, and health clinic too at largelocations. Office wise we all used to have cubes and now are moving to more open plans. In some cases the open desks are assigned and in others not but people can’t help themselves and sit in the same locations every day and leave stuff behind to mark their spot. With my current job there is a lot of flexibility. I can’t work from on a regular basis but can easily come and go for appointments and work from home esp for early or late meetings.

  75. Agree – the perks/benefits do offset the lower salary in the long run. The problem is not everyone is making it in the short run. Over the last 10 years the length of time an employee remains a government employee is declining, and the not being able to make it in the short term is the most cited reason for leaving. For many workers they must job hop between departments and agencies to move up, rarely can you move up solely through promotion.

  76. Need advice from you Instant Pot users. I have had mine since Christmas and we have used it once, following a receipe that came with the pot. It was over cooked at least for our taste. Do you have any tried and true recipes or cookbooks you’d recommend? Looking for some soups/stews for the next few weeks.

  77. If the Carnival Cruise Line is the low end, and private yachts are the high end, what would be sort of a Totebagger-level cruise line?

  78. Rocky, we went on Royal Caribbean years ago, and I seem to remember it being nicer than Carnival. I had looked in to Viking River Cruises before our travel mates chose Carnival, and they are definitely nicer – higher quality chefs, wine included with meals, etc. Disney does not seem to be your target vacation, but I’ve heard those are nicer. I’m not sure what else falls in that middle ground.

  79. RMS, input here, and from other friends, is that Disney cruises are on the high end of the spectrum of commercial cruises.

  80. “On site gym, cafe, and health clinic too at large locations.”

    This reminds me of where I used to work. Besides the gym and cafeteria (we didn’t have the health clinic), that employer made many of its corporate benefits available to all of us, e.g., the mailroom, with their negotiated FedEx and UPS rates, and the corporate travel website, with its negotiated rates, for personal travel. I believe those were win-win situations for employer and employees.

  81. We’re still basking in the glow of the Clemson victory, and we’re getting ready to watch “Harvey” with our young adults and their significant others. Joy! Happy New Year, totebaggers!

  82. On topic: I have good pay for my level. I also get the rare COL raises. Company addition to the 403b is a once a year deposit of nearly 10% but you have to meet lots of requirements (number of hours worked that year, time of service, and a few other things) so I don’t think if I’ll get one for a while. Vacation is the typical 2 weeks but we get hour-for-hour comp time. I like that. My company has poor insurance but we use DH’s. I have an office with a door but that status may be waning as my group is moving but we don’t know where or when. Overall it’s good benefits.

    NYE- we stayed in with the sick baby. We had friends over for dinner. Today I went to a work for a bit to get some manuscript work done and tomorrow we are heading to the museum of science.

    Happy 2016!

  83. NYE –
    I worked 9-330; got some stuff done that mattered but mostly just got thru stuff that had accumulated during our trip.

    DW made chili and I picked up wings from the local pizza place (If ATM is here, I tried to get them from the new Duffs here but they were too busy to even answer their phone.). Perfect dinner for watching the two football games.

    DS2 (19) went to a friend’s around 9 or so. I though he was just going to be there. But no. Around midnight he called DS1 (here with us) saying he was downtown and needed a ride home (car left at said friend’s) since he didn’t have enough cash for a cab. (Rhett, no uber/lyft here) I figured he’d been drinking, so he did the right thing by calling home. DS1 brought him home. Not drunk, but probably made the wise call. Successful parenting I suppose. (Pats self on back)

    Happy New Year all!

  84. AustinMom, try Great Food Fast by Warden (I especially like the roast pork with cherries) and Miss Vickie’s Big Book of Pressure Cooker Recipes.

    There is also an America’s Test Kitchen pressure cooking book, which I haven’t used but would bet is good based on the other ATK cookbooks I have.

    The timing for stovetop pressure cookers and the Instant Pot is not the same, so if you use a website or book you have to be careful to make sure the time is for an Instant Pot. That wouldn’t explain why the recipe in the booklet didn’t work, though.

    I just hard boiled eggs in mine and they were amazingly easy to peel – put in a cup of water, set up to 6 eggs on the rack, and use high pressure for five minutes, manual release, use tongs to put the eggs in ice water until cool, and then peel. Now I can make deviled eggs that look pretty :)

  85. Thanks Sky. Do you use the soup or other settings or mainly manual? I’m trying to get a feel for how to use those options.

  86. Re HIPAA – my understanding is that you must do your best to not share information with others, but there is no violation simply because you are overheard. I have worked in buildings constructed in the post-HIPAA era and it is common to have curtains dividing patient care areas. So, talking in the elevator about a patient’s funny rectal foreign body, not okay. Discussing HIV status with only a curtain between you and another unrelated person, totally okay (and done every day). I think hospitals are moving towards privat inpatient rooms, because it matters to people who are well insured and they will choose hospital based on that. Additionally, patient satisfaction affects hospital reimbursement. Which is why there are a lot more tvs in ers than there used to be.

  87. For perks, I joined an HMO this year, part time. I have health insurance, disability and 401k funding (not matching, they just drop the money in!!). This is a first for me, for all of these things. I want to have another baby, just so I can have my first paid maternity leave. I am not full time, and the benefits are linear. My colleagues complain a lot about how many hours the great overlords expect us to work, but we make a very fair hourly wage. They could work 20% less, make 20% less and not whine so much.

  88. Any theories as to why smoke alarm batteries only fail in the dead of night? And only those in areas with ceilings that require the ladder from the freezing garage to be carried upstairs?

  89. I have heard they fail when they get cold – probably middle of the night in most homes. I was driven to muderous rage once, when visiting my parents with a newborn and a smoke alarm battery failing in the middle of the night.

  90. While it is likely an exaggeration that smoke alarm batteries only fail in the dead of night, Ada is correct that they do not work as well in very cold conditions.

    What that means is that they are most likely to get to the point where they start chirping at you not only in the dead of night, but the dead of night during winter.

    If you find this inconvenient, the option, for the very organized, is to proactively replace the batteries prior to failure, at a time and temperature more convenient to you.

  91. NY has a new law about smoke detectors that starts in 2017. The law prohibits the sale of any alarm that requires traditional replaceable batteries. It is supposed to reduce tampering and ensure detectors continue to work without the need for anyone to change the batteries twice a year. We have some hard wired smoke and carbon monoxide detectors that we updated as we renovated, but we have a few of the old kind that do seem to chirp in the middle of the night when they’re dying.

  92. Lauren, I’m not sure that smoke detector law will help rather than hurt.

    Based on our experience as early adopters of LEDs, not all of them have lasted the many years promised on the packaging. We’ve had some fail in 2-3 years, or even less.

    (1) I bet that most of these 10 year smoke detector batteries don’t turn out to last 10 years – is there still going to be a mechanism to alert people to failure? Will they then have to buy a new $20-$30 unit instead of a battery? Not many renters will bother.

    (2) Anything that drives up the cost of the detector is going to reduce the number of detectors installed.

    (3) How will new owners or renters know when the ten years are up?

    (4) Once people don’t expect to replace the batteries at all, they are never going to check the units to see if they are working. I don’t do our battery operated ones every six months, but do manage it every year.

  93. Sky, my DH said supposedly the ability of the detectors to effectively detect smoke doesn’t work after approx 10 years. There are battery back ups in our units, and the back up batteries do need to be replaced. DH reminded me that the 2am visit we had with our detector last year was from a backup battery. We just realized (from your question – thanks!) that the units we placed in the basement during that renovation are almost 11 years old so we should buy new units.

    I can’t believe that vacation is over. Even though schools were open here until Dec 23, it feels like it has been a month of vacation. The real problem in our house is going to be the alarms tomorrow morning. We’re practically living on west coast time even though we never went away. The best part of this vacation was how much sleep we all got because we rarely had to go some place early in the day.

  94. Smoke alarms…ours are hard wired. Periodically, but clearly not frequently enough, I blow some canned smoke in their direction and they’ve always worked. Probably something good to do again in the very near future.

    Lauren…totally agree…but my one kid has been off school since the 18th! And tomorrow is supposed to be a high of 12 (balmy, right Rocky?) compared to today’s tolerable high 30s, which will make it an even tougher slog in the early a.m.

  95. If you find this inconvenient, the option, for the very organized, is to proactively replace the batteries prior to failure, at a time and temperature more convenient to you.

    You’re supposed to change them when you change the clocks for DST. I thought that was common knowledge.

  96. Fred, we are watching the Jets and the Giants. Even though it is 30 something in Buffalo – it looks windy. Today is one of the few days this winter that I decided that I couldn’t deal with the cold outside and I went to the gym. I’ll take it. Even if the weather becomes miserable for the next few months, I will be grateful for an extra couple of months to run outside with NO (!!!!!) snow.

  97. Anon 1:32 You’re supposed to change them when you change the clocks for DST.

    In Hawaii that would be never, so hardly surprising that Finn wouldn’t think to suggest it.

  98. Family is back from ski vacation. We watched a great football game (which we won). Dinner is cooked. Life is good.

  99. is there still going to be a mechanism to alert people to failure?

    Beep………….Beep…………Beep………..

  100. My parents have hard wired detectors, with battery backup. But when the battery fails, you can’t stop the beeping until you replace the battery – even if it is 3a and your baby that seems to sleep only about 2-3 hours during the dark time of day has just fallen asleep. You can stop the beeping by using scissors to create a unit that is no longer hardwired, or find a replacement in the dark.

  101. I think in some locations the building code now requires smoke detectors to be hard wired to 120VAC.

    As Lauren has pointed out, those still need backup batteries, although those batteries should last longer since they will not be powering the detectors most of the time (unless your electric service is really horrible).

    I think those detectors would also be more expensive than battery powered detectors, since they need to convert 120VAC to a lower, probably DC, voltage. And what can be really expensive is running new power lines to the smoke detector locations.

  102. “You can stop the beeping by using scissors to create a unit that is no longer hardwired”

    I recommend against that. Turning of the breaker providing the power to the unit is safer.

  103. We have gone back to colder weather after highs in the 70s during the holidays. Thankfully it has stopped raining. Back to the routine – not looking forward to it. For a few days, had gotten quite used to binge watching the shows I missed. Watching “The Killing”, and like it.

  104. Re Instant Pot — After diddle-daddling, I’m going to buy that Bob Warden cookbook since I’ve heard many good things about it. I made his roast beef recipe, which can be found on the internet. I have used the generic guidelines for pork and beef roasts, and they’ve turned out fine. Also, I’ve made risotto and rice pudding successfully. I saw that it is the #1 rice cooker appliance sold on Amazon. Here’s the risotto recipe: http://www.hippressurecooking.com/pressure-cooker-risotto-in-7-minutes/

    I’m in the process of reorganizing my kitchen to make my Instant Pot more accessible.

    Now, because I can’t make these minor decisions easily sometimes, I will probably spend too much time deciding upon whether I should get the Kindle or paper copy of the cookbook. :) I’ve been using my tablet more in the kitchen, so it’ll probably be the Kindle.

  105. “I think in some locations the building code now requires smoke detectors to be hard wired to 120VAC.”

    That was the case here, but I think they now allow batteries as long as all detectors are connected to each other wirelessly. Back when we did our remodel years ago (before wireless availability) we were granted an exception to the hard wire reg as long as we used an alarm company to connect them all. Most of ours are hard wired, except one that is located in a difficult to connect room. I can attest from personal experience that disconnecting the wires can seem like a reasonable alternative to stop that darned beeping. As mentioned, sometimes new regulations unintentionally create more hazards and deaths.

    I need to revamp/update my smoke detector system, and I can see how the “new and improved” 10-year battery rule could have some downsides.

  106. I briefly read about what the Instant Pot can do and I am excited. I don’t do a lot of pressure cooker cooking but my in laws do and I am slowly trying to convince them to say yes to getting an Instant Pot. This will take time as they are used to cooking in a pressure cooker. I really don’t like the old style pressure cookers (hissing monsters).

  107. Any resolutions/goals for 2016? I’ve jotted down a couple financial goals and house projects I’d like to accomplish this year.

  108. I once got back from a vacation at 4am to the smoke alarming beeping. We were exhausted from driving 12 hours. It was the beeping telling us that it reached it 10 year lifespan. Nothing short of a sledgehammer would make it stop. DH threw it in the trashcan in the detached garage. Later the next day he went outside and could still hear it beeping, and then took the hammer to it.

  109. We change our batteries – both smoke and CO2 detectors – on “schedule” with the time change; however, they seem to beep before we get to the next time change…not all of them, just some of them. For some reason it is the upstairs ones that seem to have more of an issue. Maybe we should replace them, but I don’t know if a different one would be any better or if it is just the more varied temperature upstairs (one ac/heat unit, no zones) that causes this issue.

  110. RMS, thanks for the special effects link. Twin1 especially liked the one of Godzilla grabbing the bridge and seeing NO bridge and NO Godzilla prior to the addition of special effects. If I can get DS1 to look at the pictures, maybe he’ll be able to watch E.T. without leaving the room…

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