Work perks

by L

Do any Totebaggers’ jobs have unusual perks? What are they? What perks would you like to see your workplace implement?

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158 thoughts on “Work perks

  1. The #1 thing I like about my job right now: I am WAH today and usually only go into the office twice a week these days, and NO ONE CARES. :D

  2. I work in the government sector. Perks – not really. What makes us relative competitive with the private sector (for now anyway) is the defined benefit retirement plan and increased vacation time with years of service with generous roll-over from year to year (and you can apply unused leave to increase your monthly pension check). My employer does have a liberal telecommuting policy. With few exceptions, most jobs can telecommute, so if your performance warrants it, they allow you to telecommute 1-3 days a week. However, it is a set schedule because in office coverage at a certain level is needed every day as well.

  3. I work at a start-up company. Downside: Lack of insurance, benefits, and dependable income. Upside: Opportunity to change the world and make a crap ton of money if the company does well.

  4. A close family relative has some nice perks at his job. Everyone starts out with 24 (approx.) vacation days, Friday afternoons at 4:30 is happy hour in the office, for their Christmas company party they fly everyone to a European city (Rome, Berlin, Copenhagen are some they’ve done) all expenses paid. Also, apparently they sometimes allow dogs in the office, which can be a bad idea if you have allergies. The company is European based.

    I had pensions at two previous employers. That was nice, even though I did not stay long enough to get the maximum payout.

  5. Dh’s firm has an errand service that they subsidize for employees which we’ve used from time to time (like to take a car in to a mechanic or something) and I think 20 days a year of subsidized back up child care or eldercare at a daycare center (for kids under 5) or at home care. He rarely works from home as it still seems frowned upon unless you’re sick or there is inclement weather. His firm has also moved to a your comp depends on the money in the door attributed to you model, so how many hours you have to bill really varies by practice.

  6. I have a few that I miss since I’m no longer working with benefits. Project work = very few perks except some great lunches.

    I posted about one recently that was given to me by every American bank. Free admission to almost every museum, garden and touristy place in NY metro because the banks donated so much money. Also, this would sometimes include nights for employees and guests to major exhibits.

    The other was the ability to book personal vacations and receive the corporate rate in many hotels including luxury hotels. This pre financial crisis so the hotels in major cities often included Four Seasons, Mandarin Oriental etc. The bank would maintain a list on the web site, and we could get the rate codes. They made these arrangements up front with each hotel in each city where they maintained a designated hotel (s). The rates were much lower than anything I ever could have paid using my own discounts etc.

  7. My PT schedule and WFH abilities are more a function of my GC than my company, but either way, they’ve been life changing and I’m very grateful.

    Likely the most unique company-wide perk we have is that people at the director level (which doesn’t include all that many people but does include me) get a very generous car allowance. The company used to lease cars for us and pay for the insurance and repairs, but I think the allowance works out better, especially for me, since I don’t ever get the highest end cars. We also have a company card for gas, and this includes all gas, whether for trips to/from work or trips to/from your cottage, or Florida, or wherever.

    When DH worked for the blue oval, he got a new car every 8 months (for no cost), and he could have leased any number of additional cars for me or the kids for a cut-rate price. The company covered all insurance too, for all vehicles–even those you leased for your new teen drivers. I think about that every November when our auto renewal comes due. He could also buy cars from the pool lot for a crazy low price — everyone we know who works there gets their kids’ cars from the pool.

    As for smaller things, my company has gone the way of DH’s company lately, with tons of fresh fruit in the kitchen every day and a well-stocked snack cupboard, company-paid gym fees, chair massages every week. We don’t have the beer fridge that DH’s office has, alas. And he has all sorts of other funny things that seem very young and dot-com-ish to me, like a slide from the 2d floor to the 1st, pets at the office, etc.

    Probably the best thing at DH’s company is their results-based attitude that says, basically, if you can get your job done in 2 hours, then more power to you, get out and enjoy the rest of your day.

  8. Some benefits like primary parent leave and leave for the helping parent have come too late for me.
    I still have flexibility which helped when my family was sick. The norm of the group though is to come to the office, which is fine but I’d rather work from home on Fridays.
    My friend who WFH for ten years with IBM got laid off. Now, she is joining a firm where she has to go into the office and it may be some time or never till she regains some flexibility. Her kids are older so that is one good thing.

  9. We get pretty good benefits here. They gave everyone an extra week of vacation so i now get 4 a year. We also have a gym on site that is quite inexpensive. There is an entire wellness group here so we can meet for free with the nutritionist a few times a year. They also have a lot of activities. There’s a mentoring program so I mentor a high school senior. They have lunch and learns and fairs. There are 3 restaurants and a dry cleaner on site.

  10. The big perk of my job is the flexibility, which is very hard to come by in healthcare. I usually have no appointments – I just need to be at specific facilities each day, but the hours are totally flexible. I can start late or end early if I need to, or go to an appointment in the middle of the day.

    My one complaint with my practice is they are pretty stingy with PTO. We get 13 days, but not many holidays.

  11. “The company covered all insurance too, for all vehicles–even those you leased for your new teen drivers.” — Holy crap. DH or I clearly need to change jobs just for this (she says, after having slammed her right foot on the imaginary brake about 83 times yesterday on the way from the house to the movie).

    I would kill for a slide or fire pole in the office. Best perq ever.

    Favorite actual perqs: Well, not really a perq, but the tell-us-how-much-you-want-to-work schedule is awesome, as is the fact that no one really cares how much I work from home. We have lunch brought in for monthly partners’ meetings, and whenever we have a client lunch, they order enough for the whole office — nothing fancy (DH gets chafing dishes, we get sandwiches), but I am a huge fan of free food, so this makes me unreasonably happy. Fully-paid employee health care is also a big one. Plus one office that is now a mini-gym and our own small shower room. But my favorite is the profit-sharing, which basically takes a chunk out of my end-of-year distribution and socks it away in my 401(k) as an employer contribution without me even seeing it. Every time I think about retiring early or stepping off the track, this is the first thing that stops me; if I ever drop down to very-part-time, I have already decided that I will basically tell them that I’ll work for cheap during the year as long as I get the full end-of-year. :-)

    My favorite perq that DH has is his pension. We counted on it NOT AT ALL when he took the job, given, well, the history of almost all pensions in the US over the past several decades. And they did convert from standard to cash balance a few years ago (which decreased the long-term upside quite a bit). But it’s still there, and much to our surprise, after @13 years, it has a cash balance value in the low-six-figures. So, yay.

  12. Like Austin, my big perk is a defined-benefit retirement plan. No fun stuff to speak of.

  13. LfB – you need to go visit DH at his office. As far as I know, lots of people tried out the slide on the big reveal day for the new office reno, and no one has used it since. You’d have it all to yourself!

    DH has a pension from the oval but around these parts, “company pension” means something approximating “leprechaun,” so we never take it into account in retirement planning. I’m sure in other regions of the country, it’s a perq with actual meaning.

  14. “fully-paid employee health care” – I would love that. Mine is $15K/year.

    We have no facility perks, except a shower on another floor that nobody uses. No gym, no food or juice etc. (only coffee), no on-site anything. The parking in our area is getting really expensive lately too. I don’t go in enough to get the monthly pass (425?) but the new nice garages are now $30/day. (Rhett, note this is not downtown!)

  15. “they sometimes allow dogs in the office, which can be a bad idea if you have allergies. ”

    Not everyone would consider that a perk.

    “The company is European based.”

    Europe-based?

  16. so we never take it into account in retirement planning.

    You assume the failure of the PBGC? I can see only planning on the PBGC payout but not expecting any payout?

  17. SM: No, it doesn’t hurt to ask here or in other start ups that I know. That said, you get paid when there’s money, and most money is spent on product development–not salaries.

  18. My perks:
    I am the sole boss,
    I get to wear whatever I want,
    I set the schedule and priorities for the day,
    There are no formal performance reviews, and all informal reviews still involve hugs, and
    I mostly work from home.

    Of course, I also don’t get paid, there is no time off ever, and I’ve already reached the top spot, where the only honorific is “Mom.” :). (Well, okay, I admit I sometimes make them call me “Super Mom” if they want a cookie….)

  19. My company’s best feature is hour for hour comp time. I work over my allotted time by X hours, I get those hours to use later. That’s about it.

    DH has fantastic insurance that’s cheap – less than $8k I believe for 4 of us. He’s never allowed to leave his job. Plus he has amazing flexibility. I now have enough banked hours that I have flexibility. But I have to replenish my PTO to keep the flexibility.

    We also get discounts on our cell phone bill and other things through DH’s employer. We haven’t even explored the entire list.

    The slide sounds fun. I’d also like to be able to work from home a few times a month. Not allowed. (Though explain that to the boss who sends me work and expects it done in maternity leave…)

  20. I once turned down a job offer because dogs were allowed. Another department had someone bring in their dog over the holidays and security was promptly notified.

    We just moved offices (my desk was downsized so i’m not happy) and we were given a pool table as compensation.

  21. The thing that I appreciate most about my job, and the thing that gives me pause when I think about leaving is the very generous PTO. I have 16 paid holidays a year, including shut down for a week at Xmas, plus 25 vacation/personal days, plus flexibility to work from home when necessary. Some people have trouble taking all their days, but that seems to be a problem only for those who hoard them & then wake up in October with >3 weeks to burn (and the office closed for Xmas anyway). It makes it much, much easier to juggle parenting duties while still having plenty of time of for my own use too.

    We also have lots of subsidized perks like emergency care at 1/3 market rates, subsidized on-site catering, discounts/free passes with gyms/restaurants/services/tickets/memberships, a fantastic location, a free/cheap onsite gym (depending on level), pretty decent benefits, and lots of parties and free food. One other nice perk is free taxi/uber and free dinner after 7pm.

    DH is like the other government employees – the perks are 1:1 comp time, generous time off, defined-benefit pension, and great health care that is highly subsidized (low OOP). The trade off is much lower pay than the private sector and no in-office perks.

  22. Nothing really special; the one I would call out is the employer contribution to retirement. Not a pension, just 401k additonal money. No annual bonus for people in my kind of role here, so in a sense I look at it as my annual bonus, just one I can’t (currently) spend.

    To Ris’ point earlier about the boss vs the company, in the past 9 months I’ve often felt having my current boss is a perk, compared with the prior regime. He’s fun, put together an NCAA bracket that everyone can have fun with even with 0 interest in /knowledge of basketball, understands there is life outside of work.

  23. Reading through – I do get my health insurance paid and a portion of the kids (gets complex, but because I am technically a retiree, I am using my retiree insurance, but it is the exact same as for pre-retired full-time employees). I do get hour for hour comp-time over my 20 hours a week. And, we do, technically, get a bit off a few phone plans, but it is usually the plans that cost more than our selection.

  24. @Fred – do you mean that you get an additional 401(k) contribution annually or just the normal match? At an old job, we got a 4% match, plus there was an annual additional amount that would be put in based on company performance that was up to another 10% of salary (usually more like 4-5% though). That was not dependent on how much the employee contributed – only company performance.

    Here, it is just up to 4% 401(K) match. Technically speaking, I am bonus-eligible at my level (cash bonus), but I’ve never actually received a bonus due to company results being below the very high target expectations.

  25. Current company has awesome benefits – unlimited vacation, flexibility to manage your schedule as long as you are getting your stuff done, healthy snacks and good quality beverages in the office, monthly birthday celebrations, lots of bonding activities. I am encouraged to learn and grow and network.

  26. Last job had a great 401K match and that was about it (other than a lot of TV’s with sports on and maybe subsidized sodas – although I will see their $.25 sodas with unlimited free sodas at my current office). Last job had a better location and now I commute downtown.

  27. I am so skeptical of unlimited PTO. Whenever I see that, I think – great – so I’ll never get to take a day off, and when I do, I will be expected to either feel guilty or be forced to call into work constantly because – UNLIMITED!! I’ll take my very generous allotment instead. I interviewed somewhere with unlimited PTO, and I tried to get to the heart of how much time people actually felt comfortable taking – the answers were unsatisfying. Lots of “oh well, right now we are understaffed so people haven’t been able to take vacation but that’s going to change” and “well, it works well as long as people are responsible”.

  28. Ivy – it’s just a company contribution independent of whatever I contribute; there is no match. It’s pretty generous.

  29. Rhett – my loose understanding about the PBGC is that, assuming it administers the plan at issue (not the case here), it doesn’t guarantee the full amount of the pension. The amount it pays depends on the cash it collects from the company, among other things. Depending on how colossally the company fails, everyone could take a haircut.

    Others here may understand the PBGC far better than I. But I’m in an industry where retirees once had the richest medical and pension plans in the nation and saw those gutted beyond recognition in and after 2008. So no matter what anyone tells me and how logical it sounds, when it comes to “guaranteed” pensions and retiree medical plans, I’m likely to maintain an “I’ll believe it when the $ hits my account” attitude.

    If we’re pleasantly surprised at retirement, we’ll add that massage room after all, and get the roving masseuse to come once/week. ;)

  30. I have a pension and a 401K with a company match. They’ve just stopped offering the pension to hew hires, but I’m grandfathered in.

  31. (Well, okay, I admit I sometimes make them call me “Super Mom” if they want a cookie….)

    @Sky: I periodically make mine call me “Honored Mother,” such as when flowery apologies are required. Started when DD’s karate instructor went on a kick about being respectful to your parents, so we just took it up to 11.

    “although I will see their $.25 sodas with unlimited free sodas at my current office”

    Ooohhhh, yes! We have the magic of the Keurig now, and our office manager stocks it with things that we ask for, so I now have my favorite teas (black for AM, decaf green for afternoon). Plus the fridge is stocked with probably 12 different varieties of sodas (I just don’t care because I don’t drink those). I love, love, love having an office manager who has been my secretary for decades (back to when I was telecommuting and had never even met her in person) and who totally looks out for me on all that stuff. :-)

  32. Oh, yeah: my former favorite perq was the government lab DH was working for when we met, where he had something like 5 weeks vacation and every other Friday off; had he stayed, he would have been a couple of years away from 6 weeks.

    Of course, I can take all the vacation I want, as long as I (I) continue to bill the requisite hours and (ii) promptly respond to all client calls and demands while doing so. Somehow, it’s not *quite* the same thing. . . .

  33. Of course, I can take all the vacation I want, as long as I (I) continue to bill the requisite hours and (ii) promptly respond to all client calls and demands while doing so.

    Yeah. That’s DH too. It’s very sad when your “vacation” just means you’re wearing a tee shirt and jeans at home while still doing all the work.

  34. It’s educational to learn about all these perks, some of which I’ve never heard. Have any of you used your perks specifically to negotiate a better offer when changing jobs?

    Years ago we took advantage of back-up childcare from my husband’s employer.

    “The company is European based.”

    “Europe-based?”

    How about “Europe based” as a compromise. ;)

  35. About a year ago one of my former employers offered a cash payout on my pension. My first reaction was the taxes would kill us, but then the offer expired before I investigated further. I’m still not sure if it was a mistake to pass on that offer.

  36. it doesn’t guarantee the full amount of the pension.

    Right but you said you value the pension at zero for retirement planning purposes.

  37. About a year ago one of my former employers offered a cash payout on my pension.

    It’s hard to imagine your former employer making that offer out of the goodness of their heart. If they made the offer it’s because it’s cheaper (overall) to pay you out now than to pay you what you’re owed over time.

  38. Rhett – don’t most totebaggers not count on social security either? We don’t put it in at all – right now the SSA website says that I would get $2900/month at age 67, but I’d be surprised if that actually happens.

  39. Rhett – don’t most totebaggers not count on social security either?

    Finn said he never did and he’s now happy to find out that he’ll get it after all. Personally, I think not getting SS is a financial adviser scare tactic to get more assets under management.

  40. I think social security will exist and be funded at (overall) 2/3 of currently projected payouts. I suspect Totebaggers will receive 50-60% of their currently projected benefits because the necessary cuts will come disproportionately from higher income people, because social security is best viewed as a social insurance program.

    I’m not known for my optimism, and I think social security will continue to exist.

  41. Rhett +1 on Social security. You will still get a monthly annuity – it just may not be quite as much that offered to people currently over 55 for the same work history and outside retirement income levels.

    CoC – A lump sum payout has no immediate tax consequences if you roll it over into an IRA. The pension administrators starting in 2012 were allowed to use higher “projected” interest rates in calculating the lump sum (making the lump sum amount smaller). Also administrative convenience and financial statement presentation make the lump sum payouts attractive from their point of view. The recipient may also prefer fewer incoming small cash flows for her own planning in retirement.

  42. The perks I have used during a negotiation are number of weeks of vacation, and work from home days. I think it is tough to “go back” when you are used to a certain number of vacation days per year. I had five weeks at my first bank because it was some old perk that was grandfathered in, and given to every officer when they reached the VP level. I was never able to actually take five weeks of vacation, but when the next bank tried to give me three weeks to start – I said no. We settled on four weeks because that was the “standard” for most officers at NY based banks at the time. My DH moved from banking/investment banking to asset management and they wanted him to start at 2 weeks. He had five weeks, so he actually turned down the job when they wouldn’t budge from 2 weeks. I think he got them to 3 weeks to start. He gets at least 22 days of vacation now, but he probably takes about 2 – 3 weeks per year. He always seems to be working unless we take off during a peak holiday time such as Christmas because so many colleagues/clients are also off at that time of year. I think one of the reasons that he rarely is able to be “off” is that more of the asset management business/client growth is coming from Asia. The hours AND the holiday weeks are different, and there always seems to be an email or call that is needed from that part of the world.

  43. Thank you, Meme! I became suspicious of the pension payout offer, but thought I’d like the money in hand if the company might try to weasel out of its full obligations to retirees by claiming some sort of hardship. I did not run the numbers to see what their assumed interest rates, and I can see the pros and cons of taking it.

    I expect to receive ss, if not all but most of it. Of course I’m closer to becoming eligible for full payout than most of you.

  44. IIRC, banks used to make some employees take a full two weeks of vacation all at once. The reason was to guard against fraud. Maybe I’m misremembering this.

  45. CoC – some banks still do that, and they have odd rules about people accessing their email during that time too.

  46. CoC – most of my retired cohort like to see a couple of those mini pension payments – even if just 3 figures a month – hit the bank account along with the SS payment. It is the annuity comfort factor. The big benefit with a real pension, especially public employee, is the post retirement health insurance for the usually early retired employee AND his/her dependents.

  47. CoC, was the offer to buy you out long enough ago that interest rates were falling? I remember my parents getting those calls re: their mortgage, starting around the time that my voice started to sound more “grown up” so they’d mistake me for my mother and start their pitch.

    LfB’s husband’s govt. job sounds close to a German schedule: 6 weeks is standard after age 30, and pretty much any desk job has Fri afternoons off. And not the unlimited PTO that winds up being a PITA that Ivy fears, but as many sick days as you (or someone whose care you’re responsible for) is sick.

  48. I have been trying to get a pension buyout from my first employer for years. The monthly pension I am owed is around $25/month. That’s not a typo. Just give me the $500 and let me put it in my IRA.

    “The big benefit with a real pension, especially public employee, is the post retirement health insurance for the usually early retired employee AND his/her dependents.”

    Yes. DH theoretically has access to this for all 3 of us, although they could change the terms at any time which is not the case with the pension. The premiums are reasonable even before Medicare kicks in, but substantially more than the premiums as an active employee.

    I think SS will exist in some form in 25-30 years. But I don’t think of it as a major part of our retirement planning, more just a cushion in case something goes wrong.

  49. How does taking all your vacation at once guard against fraud? What if you had more than one family mandatory attendance thing in a year?

    Btw, what do most people’s jobs do about funerals? My grandma’s is the only one I’ve really had to go to, and my boss was making up policies as we went along.

  50. S&M, people can take paid time off here for any funeral. Funeral leave covers close relatives (mother, father, child, spouse, not sure about MIL/FIL)

  51. I work in the academy. Our biggest perk is free college tuition either undergraduate or graduate for our children (3). Now we just need to get them in :)

  52. How does taking all your vacation at once guard against fraud?

    You’re not around to keep your scam running. Most frauds require constant attention with the perpetrator having to make countless adjustments via fake invoices, trade tickets, etc. If you take them out of the equation the fraud collapses.

  53. “Btw, what do most people’s jobs do about funerals?”

    Standard bereavement leave per the employe handbook is 3 paid days, but discretion is allowed, especially in special circumstances.

  54. At my old organization, they had to rewrite the funeral policy, because one accounting clerk was going to about 15 funerals a year. The last straw was when she went to her grown daughter’s dentist’s funeral.

  55. “the ability to book personal vacations and receive the corporate rate in many hotels including luxury hotels.”

    My previous employer had something like this. We were allowed to use the company travel website for personal travel, taking advantage of all negotiated rates. The company was pretty transparent about its motivation; besides providing us a perk that didn’t cost the company anything, the company benefited because personal travel we booked through the company gave them increased leverage to negotiate corporate rates.

    That employer provided us other similar win-win perks. We had access to the company mailroom for personal use, and access to the company rates from Fedex, UPS, and any other courier with which they had corporate rates. We could buy company cars when they turned over the fleet, for the price they would’ve gotten as a trade-in (from what I’m guessing Risley is referring to as the blue oval), which was always a great price.

    For the mailroom benefit, again management was transparent that while we saved on shipping charges and the convenience, the company also benefited from the increased volume and the increased productivity of us not leaving work to go to Fedex before they closed.

  56. Most banks still require at least 5 continuous days off without access to systems. I used to have access to move as much money as possible between accounts and advance loan dollars into 8 figures. At the bank, there was also no vacation rollover – which I did not discover until it was too late to do anything about it. This was after my boss wouldn’t let me take a personal day to attend a conference that I paid for because bank examiners were present and they “might” ask a question about my loans.

  57. At the current place, you can just take vacation and may need to work while you are gone. I only put on my out of office message for days I am truly out of pocket.

  58. “Btw, what do most people’s jobs do about funerals?”

    We get 3 days for second level relatives (aunts, uncles, cousins) and 5 days for parents, children, grandparents and anyone living with you (roommate, live in partner). The nice thing is that you don’t have to take them consecutively either so you could use 2 for the wake/funeral and the other days for cleaning out the home or if you were the executer dealing with those issues etc. If the funeral is for a non-listed person, then you have to use PTO or it is at the managers discretion. For example, when we unfortunately lose a colleague the company usually gives the people in that department the day to attend. Once there was an admin who served the whole division and they rented three buses because it was in the city and parking would be difficult for people.

  59. At one job I had, my mother died on a Tuesday. They graciously said that I could have the rest of the week off if all the work on my plate was finished or could be shelved. It couldn’t and I worked.

    They fired me the next week, proudly telling me that they had planned to fire me the week earlier, but gave me time to grieve.

  60. The Fed and the other regulatory agencies that monitor banks such as the OCC used to check during regulatory audits and reviews as to whether employees adhered to the policy about days off.
    It used to be a very strict policy that bank employees were required to take consecutive time off. This rule was for employees at all levels.

    It used to be five consecutive business days for employees with two or three weeks of vacation, and ten consecutive business days for employees with four or more weeks of vacation. Some banks allowed employees to use jury duty or sick leave to fulfill the policy as long as you didn’t access any bank system, or enter a workplace.

    Rhett is right about the reason, and this policy actually worked because it is difficult to hide any poor performance, client issue, fraud etc if you are out and blocked from systems for at least two weeks. I am pretty sure that the origin of “two week rule” was to find check kiting schemes.

    The banks and the regulatory agencies loosened the policy as more and more employees started to work remotely, but there are still employees in certain sensitive jobs or departments that are required to take this time off. In addition, some banks realized that they could uncover more than just fraud when employees were “forced” to be off line/out of the office.

    For example, I once found a drawer full of unreturned calls and client inquiries when when of the team leaders that worked for me was out on vacation. This was obviously pre voice mail when people still wrote down messages.

    Most co workers are covering for their colleagues during that time, and the employee has to leave clear messages that they will be unavailable during that time. There were times that I had to learn the job of my employees and step in for those two weeks.

  61. Bashful, that sounds like the time I took off for surgery and was told to take as long as I needed to recovering. I was a consultant, working in-house. When I came back, I learned they had hired someone else in my absence. I had 30 min to pack up my stuff and leave.

  62. So there isn’t any particular analysis undertaken during an employees 2-week absense, just an assumption that if others are filling in for their absent colleague, they’ll evtually stumble across anything fishy that person’s been doing? Doesn’t that exclude the smarter tricksters, who either pace things in such a stretched out way that there are no red flags during their absence or run quick scams that are over before they head out? If it isn’t a random period, announced at the last minute, I’m surprised it would actually work to catch people.

  63. I’m surprised it would actually work to catch people.

    A lot of the fraudsters aren’t trying to steal they are trying to cover up a screwup. Nick Leason brought down Barings Bank and Jérôme Kerviel cost Société Générale 4.9 billion because they screwed up and lost money but rather than come clean, they thought they’d double down, while making false entries into the system, thinking they could make the money back and no one would know.

    In the Jérôme Kerviel case, one of the big red flags was he never took a vacation.

  64. Rhett, those people don’t sound the smartest people in the system, but I see what you mean about them being able to crash the joint.

  65. Generally, funerals (though family is oddly defined – father OK, but not FIL) are typically 3 days, but you can use other leave and/or in some cases they will extend it. When each of my parents died, I took the three days, but discussed with my supervisor that there was a lot of things to be done. I would work and take leave as needed. I also got approval (because HR frowns greatly) to take leave without pay if needed (and it was). But, I have/had at the time a good work history with the employer.

    On a similar note, a friend of mine who has been out of the workforce for a number of years (due to some family and personal health issues) got a job offer today. The pay offer was lower than expected, so the friend asked for a bit more. The response was to rescind the offer. If they didn’t want to offer more, could they have said their offer was firm. I thought it was odd. I could think of two options (1) the employer thought if they couldn’t/didn’t desire to meet the counter offer, the friend would walk, so no reason to continue or (2) the employer thought the counter was unrealistic view of hte friend’s “worth” in the market place and it generated other concerns. I have only known the friend while out of the workforce, so I don’t know if the offer or the counter were reasonable in that industry or for someone without current experience. Thoughts?

  66. When I did some internal auditing, for people who had access to certain systems or accounts, we looked for either rotating duties or required blocks of time off without access. Most fraud was caught when someone was unexpectedly ill or there was an unannounced job rotation.

  67. If your friend was a woman, she may have violated an unwritten rule in asking for a bit more, as well as possibly overvaluing her worth to the employer. There are articles and I believe some actual studies on this.

  68. Austin,

    That is odd. A couple of options:

    1. A better candidate appeared while she countered and they used the counter as a pretext to rescind the offer.

    2. They asked her how much she wanted and she said $50k and they said fine and then she said well maybe $55k. It doesn’t work that way.

    3. As you said they way she handled it set off alarm bells and they got cold feet.

    4. As she was out of the workforce someone called in a favor on her behalf and they balked at the demand.

  69. It smells suspicious, like they changed their mind (see Rhett’s #2, above). Some people may dislike a woman negotiating but it is odd that they rescinded the offer. My sister was reviewing benefits related to a new job offer and mentioned that the health insurance was more expensive and provided less coverage. The firm raised her offer to cover the impact for her. She ended up declining the offer for other reasons, but it is a positive story that women can negotiate these days. Unfortunately, I do still think HOW women approach it is more important than how men do so.

  70. Less serious than cover ups are people not updating calculations in their files/models etc.
    For instance my colleague discovered when taking over for someone on maternity leave that certain checks and calculations that had to be performed on the data received was not been done, as a result the output generated was wrong. The senior managers did not want to believe that their star performer had been generating incorrect calculations.

  71. The rescinded job offer reminds me of the case where the college professor applicant appeared overly demanding and had her offer revoked.

    Negotiated Out of a Job

    The worst they can say is no. That’s the advice a new Ph.D. receives about negotiating with a department that has extended a job offer. Sure, you might not get everything you want, but there’s no harm in trying. …

    The way the counteroffer is presented could be off-putting, and if the employer had any doubts about the applicant it could be a reason to take back the offer.  Also similar are situations where you’re already on the job and you ask for more money that your employer doesn’t think you deserve or if you accept a counteroffer after “threatening” to quit.  In these cases you may have caused your boss to sour on you.

    It’s been interesting to observe my oldest kid in his aggressive negotiating for more pay and promotions.  I won’t say I didn’t think he had it in him, but it has surprised me.  I also wonder how much the gender issue comes into play.

  72. On the bank vacation: DS1 is now a banker and, yes, one of the details is he has to take a full week of vacation/PTO all in a clump. I’m not sure if it means 5 days in a row when the bank is open for business or if, e.g. he can take Labor Day as one of the days in his week off so as to use only 4 days.

  73. “DS1 is now a banker ”

    Congrats to DS1! When did this happen? Wasn’t he with an electronics retailer?

  74. Finn – thanks.

    Condensed version: while working his retail job (not electronics) sometime in the fall a guy who is a regional vp for a bank with all its ops within about 50 miles of DS saw DS give some good customer service to someone. At checkout the guy told DS if he was ever looking to move, the guy would like to talk with him. Through time and emails DS kept in touch, explained he was finishing his AA at the end of the year but come January he would be looking for new opptys. Well the guy comes into the store every so often and in Jan asks DS if he finished his AA and if he’s looking to move there’s an opening so would DS send his resume. A week later, after an interview with HR and another with a branch manager (who, btw had taken rather the same path as DS in college), DS is offered a job as a floor banker. 14% raise, real benefits incl tuition assistance, regular consistent hours, 6% 401k match. DS is now pursuing the rest of his BA (again, 100% online). DS loves it. And is now within 18mos of finishing his BA and is very highly motivated to do so.

    You never know who is watching!

  75. And gratifying for those of us who have been pushing hard on the importance of soft skills.

  76. Fred that is great news ! If he can get into the bank’s rotational programs for new graduates in a specific area say business banking, risk, finance, relationship management that will be a solid career path for him.

  77. I would say he seems like a good fit for relationship management dealing with institutional clients, cultivating relationships and getting deals.

  78. Thanks all. He told DW that he got to work with someone in the wealth mgmt. group yesterday and really liked that.

    It is definitely a sales/relationship role. Targets/bonuses for accts opened, referrals, credit applications. He’s perfect for it, a natural sales guy, always has been able to sell anything.

  79. Fred, you mention a colleague having followed the same path as your son. Am I remembering correctly that it was pretty rocky for a while? It is so nice to be recruited into a position. I wish him all the best in it!

  80. “You never know who is watching!”

    Fred, that is awesome!!! Best news I’ve heard all day.

    DD also got a taste of this lesson a few weeks ago, when she went for her interview for the camp counselor position — she was done in about 10 minutes and comes running back to the car with “I got a job!!!” Then she starts telling me that the guy head of the camp pretty much told her the job was hers from the minute she walked in, because one of the lead counselors had noticed that whenever she walked by DD’s area, DD was busy doing something instead of sitting around chatting. [Pause for mom to bite her tongue so as to not interject “really?!?!?!”]. So I gave her the high five and said, “see? You never know when someone is watching!”

  81. “And gratifying for those of us who have been pushing hard on the importance of soft skills.”

    While they undoubtedly help, I don’t think it’s necessary to have great soft skills to provide great customer service. The desire to provide it goes a long way.

  82. Yeah – I’m with RMS here. I think “providing great customer service” in a retail position iis only soft skills. Unless you work for a calculus textbook company, then you might need calculus plus great soft skills.

  83. Pause for mom to bite her tongue so as to not interject “really?!?!?!”

    Hahahahaha.

    Ada, that’s impressive. I could not think of any way that selling would not require mostly soft skills, but you may have hit upon one.

  84. I’m thinking of soft skills as things like being able to make others feel comfortable, initiating conversations and being able to connect with others.

  85. In my area, sales people often have a PhD in science or engineering. They need to understand their customers’ requirements as well as have good organizational skills, knowledge of the industry and knowledge of their company’s products.

  86. Fred, I love this story and I think I might share it with some young cousins that are struggling to find their way in the job market. They are in their 20s, and it hasn’t been easy for them to find something they enjoy.

    I think soft skills also includes the ability to listen, and follow through with clients. Whether it involves a high net worth client, or a client at a store – don’t say you will do something and then never bother to follow through.

  87. It’s interesting what we call “the ability to listen and follow through with clients”. I would call it “work ethic” and having a paper route from 10-13 helped me with that.

  88. Finn, soft skills: what you said at 3:37

    WCE, I’d agree with following through as part of work ethic, but ability to listen? Important, but not part of work ethic, in my book. And doesn’t work ethic as a whole fit into the soft skills rubric?

  89. S&M, my Dad has poor hearing from military service, so he lacks “ability to listen” in one sense, but he will ask questions if he doesn’t hear/understand and follow through on what he promises. Therefore, I don’t classify “ability to listen” as a soft skill, or at least only partly as a soft skill.

    This discussion is interesting to me, because “work ethic” and “soft skills” are general terms that have different meanings to each of us. When RMS has mentioned the value of “soft skills”, I’ve never understood why she felt they were so important. At least in part, it’s because I would use the term “work ethic” where she (I think) would use the term “soft skills.”

  90. At least in part, it’s because I would use the term “work ethic” where she (I think) would use the term “soft skills.”

    Perhaps so. A good reference librarian will listen to the patron’s question, and then gently ask followup questions to find out what the patron really wants. (It’s a truism that patrons never ask for what they actually want.) So you don’t say, “You can’t possibly want that, that’s ridiculous”. You say, “well, we have several things that might meet your need; could you tell me a little more about what you’re going to do with this information?” You have to be super cautious because patrons often feel stupid asking for help. You don’t want to appear to be nosy, but you have to dig in order to provide the right information or resource. So you need what I would call “soft skills” — politeness, friendliness, appearing to be helpful without appearing snoopy. You also have to know the library’s resources. And a whole bunch of general knowledge is extremely useful, so that you can make connections and logical leaps in helping the patron find the information or resources they actually need.

    So the “hard skills” would be knowing what databases you have, what types of information are in each of them, knowing enough about the world at large to know how to approach the question, and so on. The “soft skills” would be the ability to ask followup questions without giving offense or scaring the patron off, the ability to suss out just how much information they want (a paragraph? An exhaustive bibliography? or what?) and maybe the ability to suss out what level of information this particular person can process. And all the while, try to be pleasant and make it clear that no matter how stupid the question may seem to the patron, you’ve heard waaaay stupider ones.

  91. I consider soft skills to be what Finn said, basically it’s how you interact with people. Work ethic to me is what it sounds like – how hard you work. In my mind, these are completely different things.

    I would say Fred’s son got noticed for his soft skills – he was interacting with the customers in a very good manner. I would say Laura’s daughter got noticed for her work ethic – she was always doing something constructive when the supervisor saw her.

  92. WCE – Both of you and Finn acknowledge that you operate under a different set of criteria than those understood by the general non engineering population. Work ethic to most of us describes one set of workplace attributes, usually necessary but certainly not sufficient to success. We all know people who keep their nose to the grindstone and unless they go off on a tangent are necessary to the smooth running of an enterprise, but who do not gain recognition or advance to management, and even may be unable to communicate solutions effectively. Soft skills are an entirely other set of attributes, which may not be necessary for established star sole contributors or career tech types who are not customer facing. However, you have developed soft skills in dealing with upper management and your internal customers. That is what has made you so valuable to your employer, and not just your ability to analyze problems much faster than the average bear. You listen to the stakeholders to identify non technical constraints as part of your analysis and can “sell” the solution as well. Fred’s son not only followed through on his job, he listened effectively to the customer, found a solution, and left the customer satisfied and happy. A hard worker may have come up with the same objective result, but the sine qua non is what brought him to the banker’s attention.

  93. RMS has a great example. I was thinking about this in the context of a glitch I caught at my job over the past few days.

    At a review with senior management last week, my manager shared that he budgeted xx,xxx for y widgets that will be needed for project phases 1-4. I thought, “$xx,xxx for y widgets only covers project phase 1.” I was pretty sure about this because I had spent extended time with an Excel spreadsheet and another engineer had done later work to come up with $xx,xxx.

    The senior managers don’t care if the number is $xx,xxx or $yxx,xxx until it’s wrong at the end of the quarter, so I brought up my concern with my manager at our periodic review, saying, “Did you mean project phases 1-4? I’m pretty sure $xx,xxx only covers phase 1.” He confirmed that $xx,xxx was intended to cover phases 1-4, and I said I was concerned enough, based on my analysis and other meetings, to doublecheck with colleague. I e-mailed my colleague, copying manager, and we’ve sorted out that I was correct and he needs to budget $yxx,xxx and colleague needs to tell him $yxx,xxx in order for him to manage finances appropriately over multiple quarters.

    The only skill I would say was clearly “soft” was that the 1:1 meeting (not the senior manager review) was the right context for an error of this magnitude. Having a manager who doesn’t take offense when I want to doublecheck what he understands is a blessing and evidence of his soft skills. If I had been wrong, he wouldn’t have held it against me.

    In short, I can relate to RMS’s story, in my own way.

  94. “You listen to the stakeholders to identify non technical constraints as part of your analysis”. Yes! Listening means much more than the ability to sense and receive sound waves. A person who is deaf can be a good “listener”, receiving information in a non-accustic form.

    WCE’s example brings the term “people skills” to mind. I consider those to be the same as soft skills. Parenting has improved mine immensely.

  95. I see Meme’s and Denver Dad’s points and agree. I like the term “people skills” because it identifies the relational component of such skills, without implying that job performance can be separated from technical (i.e. spreadsheet analysis) or physical (i.e. hearing or the ability to climb into a railcar to obtain a grain sample) skills of a person.

    We have to find a niche where our personal deficits still allow us to perform tolerably.

  96. I would have included choices/decisions such as wearing the right fashions, adopting hobbies similar to your colleagues and drinking (or drinking the right drinks) as “soft skills” that are often used to evaluate “fit” for a job that I don’t value very much.

    I value “people skills” quite a lot, and I can’t make a firm distinction between the two. “People skills” includes interacting well with people from a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds and countries, which is something that people who highly value “job fit” can’t necessarily do.

    When I think of great people skills, I think of Mafalda.

  97. This is not a knock on Mafalda, who seems like a charming, interesting, and accomplished person. But why her specifically? I would have pointed to LfB, myownself. And that’s partly because LfB has posted so much more here, and therefore we know her better, sorta.

  98. Speaking of those kinds of skills, this cracks me up, especially the soft music while pictures of technical documents flash on the screen. I can’t imagine an appliance company putting out this kind of video for the US market.

  99. RMS, LfB has great people skills for the people she deals with, but she hasn’t mentioned dealing with people in multiple languages across multiple cultures like Mafalda. I agree that she also has great people skills.

  100. Customer service often involves keeping existing customers happy with previous purchases, as opposed to sales, which often involves getting new customers or getting existing customers to make additional purposes.

    Sales involves a lot more of what I think of as soft skills. OTOH, I think excellent customer service can be provided with a lot less soft skills. E.g., a customer service person typically doesn’t need to initiate contact with customers, and doesn’t necessarily have to put the customers at ease; just give the customers your full attention, be prompt, treat the customers with respect, and most of all, solve the customers’ problems, and the customers will probably be happy, which is the goal.

  101. just give the customers your full attention, be prompt, treat the customers with respect, and most of all, solve the customers’ problems, and the customers will probably be happy, which is the goal.

    Aside from the actual problem solving, those are all soft skills. And many customers will be happier after an encounter with someone with great interpersonal skills who can’t solve their problems than an encounter with an a-hole who does.

  102. This is really eye-opening. No wonder you engineers have no interest in “soft skills”. You think all skills are “hard skills”.

  103. RMS, in the words of the Russian hockey coach in “The Cutting Edge”, “Is not entirely correct.”

    Dressing the part, wearing make-up and being aware of fashion trends are all soft skills. I’m pretty sure every single person in my aisle is worse at these things than I am, leaving me as the most fashionable/make-up savvy person in my aisle.

  104. My point was more that you don’t have to have great soft skills, e.g., the ability to put people at ease or have them like you, to provide good customer service. The right attitude, i.e., really wanting to address the customers’ needs, can overcome many shortcomings in soft skills in providing good customer support.

    It’s much more difficult to overcome such shortcomings in other jobs, e.g., sales.

  105. WCE, you and Finn seem to limit your definition of soft skills to whatever non-technical skills you yourselves don’t value. The generally accepted definition is broader than that: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soft_skills .

    Incidentally, awareness of fashion trends and what designs flatter what people are the stock in trade of fashion writers, designers, and stylists, and ability to do makeup well is a learned skill that makeup artists do professionally, so it’s not entirely accurate to put the whole fashion-and-beauty skillset in the “soft skills” category. https://www.thebalance.com/hard-skills-vs-soft-skills-2063780

  106. The right attitude, i.e., really wanting to address the customers’ needs, can overcome many shortcomings in soft skills

    So if you’ve got that one soft skill down, and maybe a few others so that you can express this desire appropriately, and to recognize additional needs the client hasn’t enunciated directly, that’s all you need??

  107. My point was more that you don’t have to have great soft skills, e.g., the ability to put people at ease or have them like you, to provide good customer service.

    Finn, we disagree on this. A huge part of customer service is doing just that. No, it’s not completely the same skillset that’s required for sales, but it’s still an integral part of the job. Customer service isn’t just about resolving problems, it’s about presenting a positive image for the business.

  108. HM, maybe you’re right about my definition.

    I find this definition from Wikpedia,
    “Soft skills are important job-related skills that involve little or no interaction with machines and whose application on the job is quite generalized”
    to be better than this definition from Wikipedia
    “desirable qualities for certain forms of employment that do not depend on acquired knowledge: they include common sense, the ability to deal with people, and a positive flexible attitude.”

    I can’t think of many forms of employment for which common sense, the ability to deal with people and a positive flexible attitude are NOT desirable attributes. If this is what RMS means by the importance of soft skills, I completely agree with her.

    There’s definitely a lot of overlap- knowing which venue is right to address a six figure budget glitch depends on acquired knowledge of an organization, but is also a soft skill.

  109. There’s definitely a lot of overlap- knowing which venue is right to address a six figure budget glitch depends on acquired knowledge of an organization, but is also a soft skill.

    Simply knowing that you need to determine the best venue to address the budget glitch is a soft skill.

  110. I can’t think of many forms of employment for which common sense, the ability to deal with people and a positive flexible attitude are NOT desirable attributes.

    Yet many people do very poorly in these areas.

  111. “WCE, you and Finn seem to limit your definition of soft skills to whatever non-technical skills you yourselves don’t value.”

    I don’t think so. I recognize that different people put different values on different things, and others will value certain skills more than I do, and the value of different skills also differs by environment.

  112. WCE, i take issue with that second definition because it isn’t always common sense, and can be difficult for some people to figure out, especially because questions are likely to be ridiculed rather than taken seriously. How can these things not be learned skills, as they vary from one setting to another? That dishwasher video I posted would be wildly inappropriate here, as would a standard US product video that centers around family or love or the like if it were shown there. Similarly, if someone were to join your shop and use the mannerisms appropriate to teachers (for example) getting along with co-workers, they would quickly see that engineers have their own expectations.

  113. DD, RMS, I guess we just disagree.

    But I still think that someone with poor social skills, possibly borderline social misfit, with a positive attitude and a genuine desire to please customers, can do a good job of customer service.

  114. ” it isn’t always common sense, and can be difficult for some people to figure out”

    “Common sense” is common sense from the perspective of people who think like many others, or can understand how those others think. People who think differently are often looked at by common thinkers as lacking common sense, which in a way is true, as their sense is often uncommon.

    I suspect SM is an uncommon person whose thinking is not limited by the same bounds as many others.

  115. R&D Manager to Engineer with Positive, Flexible Attitude: “We need 0.18 micron capability in 18 months.”
    Visionary Engineer: We can do that.
    (18 months later no process exists)

    R&D Manager to WCE: “We need 0.18 micron capability in 18 months.”
    WCE, who lacks a Positive, Flexible Attitude: That’s impossible given our staffing and building infrastructure limitations. You should outsource if you really need that.”

    One of my techs is on the autism spectrum and it shows in meetings, where she’ll get obsessed with a point of concern. She has worked on accepting, “We’ll sort it out later” when she gets “too stuck” and I appreciate her willingness to share that such interactions are hard for her and try to be extra patient. She is good at identifying software glitches and completing lab requests accurately. The woman I hired to tune my piano explained that she is autistic and had many of the same characteristics as my tech. (I got my children out of the house to leave the piano tuner in piece.)

    I guess I’m really in the middle here- only a few skills are really independent of acquired knowledge (one definition of soft) but simply “not related to machinery” isn’t a sufficient definition either.

  116. I like RMS’s description of soft skills at 4.25 pm. To me sales and customer service are interrelated.
    If someone is a banker it is not only helping a customer with a current transaction but also trying to figure out any future needs. In this way a current interaction must have a positive enough outcome and also a conversation that leads to a future sale. I can see people coming into the bank and asking for Fred’s DS by name (he probably gave them his card at some point during their first visit).
    One other place I have seen an awesome demonstration of soft skills is in hair salons. The sylist has to cut your hair properly (hard skill) but also make the whole experience pleasant. Through talking with you they’ll figure out if you have an upcoming event, need to change your look or if you are stretched for time how they can accommodate you.
    It might seem like meaningless chatter but it’s not.

  117. My piano tuner is also a friend, who asked me not even to run the water when she tunes because it interferes with her ability to work. I retreat to another room in silence when she comes over.

  118. I recently had 2 customer service experiences that really struck me- in the morning I was a t a Jimmy Choo boutique buying outrageously expensive shoes. The lady who helped me was very knowledgeable, and found what I was looking for quite readily and rung me up, however she had an air of boredom and disdain and seemed to really hate her job, it made the whole thing kind of tedious. That afternoon DS and I went to a Walmart in a far away neighborhood that I had never been to, because they were the only place he could find that was still taking pre-orders for the Nintendo Switch. No one spoke English, so I was translating for DS, No one knew what we were talking about, but the customer service lady was mortified and trying to speak English to DS, DS was mortified and trying to speak Spanish, she called over other employees, everyone was trying to help. Someone said call a “young” employee they know about video game stuff. Young person from cosmetics comes over explains he whole preorder thing, someone from electronics comes to help. I mean it was so awesome- everyone was trying so hard!! They figured it out, entered the preorder and on the day, I picked it up with no problem. Even though I had to drive to this far away place, even though it took longer, i was so much more appreciative of the effort, and came away feeling so good about people.

  119. “But I still think that someone with poor social skills, possibly borderline social misfit, with a positive attitude and a genuine desire to please customers, can do a good job of customer service.”

    Here’s the thing. Even if a person has the desire, if he cannot execute successfully I would be hard pressed to say he has good soft skills. I may desire to offer good customer service, but if all I can manage are grunts and a glowering countenance I don’t have good soft skills. If I can pull off complete sentences and a pleasant expression, then I do have good soft skills.

    I like HM’s Wikipedia link for soft skills, which some may consider to be too broad. For example, some elements of work ethic I would consider to be soft skills.

    Work ethic – hard working, willing to work, loyal, initiative, self-motivated, on time, good attendance.

  120. R&D Manager to Engineer with Positive, Flexible Attitude: “We need 0.18 micron capability in 18 months.”
    Visionary Engineer: We can do that.
    (18 months later no process exists)

    R&D Manager to WCE: “We need 0.18 micron capability in 18 months.”
    WCE, who lacks a Positive, Flexible Attitude: That’s impossible given our staffing and building infrastructure limitations. You should outsource if you really need that.”

    Yeah, Engineer 1 is doin it rong. Say “we can do that” at the meeting, then go back to your office, wait an appropriate day or two, check when the R&D Manager seems to be in a good mood, then have a private meeting where s/he can say what WCE said at the time.

  121. If you keep reading that Wikipedia article, it includes this list:

    Top ten soft skill attributes for business executives[edit]
    Following is a list of soft skills compiled by Eastern Kentucky University from executive listings.[11]
    Communication – oral, speaking capability, written, presenting, listening.
    Courtesy – manners, etiquette, business etiquette, gracious, says please and thank you, respectful.
    Flexibility – adaptability, willing to change, lifelong learner, accepts new things, adjusts, teachable.
    Integrity – honest, ethical, high morals, has personal values, does what’s right.
    Interpersonal skills – nice, personable, sense of humor, friendly, nurturing, empathetic, has self-control, patient, sociability, warmth, social skills.
    Positive attitude – optimistic, enthusiastic, encouraging, happy, confident.
    Professionalism – businesslike, well-dressed, appearance, poised.
    Responsibility – accountable, reliable, gets the job done, resourceful, self-disciplined, wants to do well, conscientious, common sense.
    Teamwork – cooperative, gets along with others, agreeable, supportive, helpful, collaborative.
    Work ethic – hard working, willing to work, loyal, initiative, self-motivated, on time, good attendance.

  122. Flexibility – adaptability, willing to change, lifelong learner, accepts new things, adjusts, teachable.

    This is probably where I might join Finn in calling those hard skills, or maybe semi-solid skills. We had one very pleasant accounting clerk (yes, we had massive trouble with all our accounting clerks, and that was because the head of accounting hired all her relatives) who could. not. learn. Excel. (This was 20 years ago). We had to send her to the Intro to Excel course three times. And she was probably bright enough, but she just spent so much time squealing about how she wasn’t a computer person and oh, no, computers! they’re so scary! and so on.

  123. RMS, I thought the executive list was OK but the list reminds me of the fruits of the spirit. To what extent do you think the “fruits of the spirit” are soft skills?

  124. Insofar as the fruits of the spirit are skills at all, they’re soft skills. And I guess the Wikipedia article lists “character traits” as soft skills, but I probably wouldn’t characterize them as skills at all. They’re virtues, I suppose. But then again, “virtue” comes from “vir”, meaning “man” or “strength” and usually virtues give you the strength to do something, and those somethings are probably soft skills. So ya got me, I have no idea.

  125. The biggest measure of soft skills, I think, is when you can say or do something really crappy to a person and they have no idea

  126. “If I can pull off complete sentences and a pleasant expression, then I do have good soft skills.”

    I’ve not thought of being able to speak in complete sentences as a soft skill.

  127. This discussion confirms that I will use “people skills” and “virtues” or “character traits” in typical conversation. The tech industry is vulnerable to excessive hype, and I’m probably too down on soft skills because I associate them with people who promise the moon and fail to deliver.

    With some exceptions like punctuality and business dress, the “executive list” seems like a desirable list for most employees. I met my young spring break babysitters last night (hopefully becoming summer babysitters) and so I was thinking about what is important to me from the executive list. Punctuality and reliability are important but business dress is not. One babysitter is a twin and the other has twin younger siblings, so they have understanding of the “twin” dynamic. Hopefully they both have common sense and can respond appropriately to challenges. I told them that last year, the boys got something out of the freezer for lunch and failed to shut it and that is an example of a case where “looking for problems” is part of the job.

  128. down on soft skills because I associate them with people who promise the moon and fail to deliver.

    See Meme’s earlier comment re necessary but not sufficient.

  129. WCE, I completely agree that these skills are transferable from one industry to others, and that people who are successful at pretty much anything have mastered them.

  130. With some exceptions like punctuality and business dress, the “executive list” seems like a desirable list for most employees.

    Right, but the point is, an astonishing number of employees don’t have them.

  131. Finn, the end of your 10:30 comment sounds like a compliment. Thanks. It took me a long while to realize that I don’t really think the way the average bear thinks. One big push in that direction came in grad school after I started teaching. I was talking to my teaching mentor about a student complaint and said “well, if I were a student, I would want…”. He cut me off “but these aren’t [S&M]s!” He went on to talk about differences in IQ and general approach to life. He was not happy with me. That’s what it took to get me to look at how others see things differently than I do. I still didn’t understand the IQ part. I was several years into teaching and parenting before I suddenly began to understand what made one person more intelligent than another, and how to tell which was who.
    Told you I came to the “common sense” soft skills late.

  132. SM, you are definitely not the average bear. I’m pretty confident everyone here would agree with that.

    In my view, that’s a good thing. I think it’s easier for a SM to figure out how to think like the average bear than vice versa.

    Is being able to think like others a soft skill?

  133. Finn, here is a TED talk I like by Rebecca Saxe on how Theory of Mind develops.

    I have enjoyed thinking about Saxe’s research as I watch my kids develop. Baby WCE is at the stage where she “doesn’t do” abstract categorization, such as “Everyone goes potty.” When she is thinking about who in our family goes potty, I hear, “Daddy go potty, Mommy go potty, DS1 go potty, Twin1 go potty, Twin2 go potty, Baby go potty, *Doggiename* go potty.”

    RMS gets to decide whether or not “Theory of Mind” is a soft skill. :)

  134. Is being able to think like others a soft skill?

    Yes! And I still disagree with WCE’s second definition, which sounded like what Milo said the guys leading the marching unit thinks–everybody has the ability, you just have to give a rip. I don’t think that’s true. I know that there have been times that I desperately wanted to understand, but any questions I asked were met with either derision or anger, because they could t fathom that I didn’t know. That is part of the disconnect between my mother and me.

    I’m pretty sure that I’m like the ales and hoppy beers being discussed on the other page–a strong taste that few people are neutral on. I think there are quite a few folks around here–yourself included, Finn–who are not the average bear.

  135. SM, I was fortunate in identifying at a young age that my thought processes were different than most others’, and that there was value in identifying what people meant, not necessarily what they said or what they wrote.

    As a kid that was manifested most frequently in test taking, especially multiple choice tests. There were numerous times when none of the choices was the correct answer, at least to the question as I read it, but I was able to figure out what the test writer meant, which was often not was actually asked, and select the answer the test writer considered correct.

  136. there was value in identifying what people meant, not necessarily what they said or what they wrote.

    So why the proclivity for pointing out minute shadings of meaning? This discussion is one example; the “excellent customer service” Fred’s son was seen providing may have been while the customer was making a purchase, so technically the son would have been in a sales role. That was understood, I think, by everyone, yet earlier in this thread you insisted on making a distinction between sales and customer service. Certainly you are aware of numerous other times the things you have pointed out were not perceived by others as problematic.

  137. This discussion reminds me of watching Family Feud when Richard Dawson ran it. It was always a challenge to figure out what OTHER people would think was a good answer.

  138. “earlier in this thread you insisted on making a distinction between sales and customer service.”

    Because it was germane to my point.

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