5 on-the-job benefits that sound great but don’t always deliver

Companies are increasingly getting creative with what kind of benefits they offer to attract and retain employees – offering things like free lunches and dinner, gym memberships, and even unlimited vacation time. But while most of these sound great in theory, some of them don’t quite deliver when you look at how they play out in practice.

Here are five benefits that might sound fantastic but which don’t always deliver in the way you might expect.

1. Unlimited vacation time. You might have read about companies like Netflix offering employees unlimited vacation time. The idea is that instead of getting a set number of paid days off each year, you’re allowed to take as much time off as you want, as long as your work gets done. Sounds great, right? It often can be. But in some cases, it can result in employees taking less vacation time than they took under more traditional policies. That’s because without guidelines, some people become unsure about how much time off is really okay to take. When you don’t want your manager and coworkers to think you’re a slacker and you don’t have any hard-and-fast rules about how much time away is appropriate and how much might be frowned upon, it can get a lot harder to feel comfortable using this benefit. (Of course, these policies canbe managed well – but it takes commitment on the part of the company and its managers to ensure that people really understand what’s expected of them.)

One other drawback to unlimited vacation time is that it means that you won’t formally accrue paid leave – which means that there’s nothing for your employer to pay out to you when you leave your job. With more traditional vacation policies, you might receive a cash pay-out if you leave your job with accrued vacation time remaining. (And indeed, some states require such pay-outs.)

2. Combined sick and vacation leave into one overall PTO (“paid time off”) bucket. This often sounds great at first – after all, if you don’t get sick, you can use that time for vacation instead. But what often happens in reality is that it creates an incentive for people to come to work when they’re sick so that they can keep their PTO for vacations. That means that you might end up with lots of sick and contagious coworkers spreading their germs around your office.

3. Egg freezing. Apple and Facebook made headlines recently when they announced they’d offer coverage for female employees to freeze their eggs. But it’s not hard to imagine that the companies’ desire to keep women at the office (and not out on leave) played a role in the decision, particularly when the tech industry is known for demanding hours and work cultures that aren’t always family-friendly.

Egg-freezing can certainly make sense for some women, but the offer certainly raises questions for women about how their employer might be subtly nudging them to put off parenthood in favor of work.

4. Four-day work weeks, or other part-time arrangements. When carefully negotiated and managed well, these arrangements can often work out to everyone’s benefit. But all too often, workers take a salary cut in exchange for a part-time schedule and then find themselves working on their days off anyway, in order to get their work done and seem responsive to colleagues. If you’re considering one of these arrangements, it’s crucial to hash out ahead of time what your hours will really look like, how you’ll handle it when last-minute work comes up, and whether you’ll be expected to respond to email on your days away – and get it in writing in case there are questions later about what was agreed to.

5. Tuition reimbursement. Tuition reimbursement can be a great benefit, but it’s important to read all the fine print before signing up for classes. Many companies that offer this have clauses that require you stay with the company for a certain amount of time afterwards (often several years) or you’ll have to pay back the tuition money. That means that your earning potential could be significantly stymied, or that you may find yourself locked into a job or company that you no longer want to be at, long after you’ve earned that degree.

I originally published this at U.S. News & World Report.

{ 160 comments… read them below }

  1. Adam*

    #3 Apparently I took the day off when this happened because I had not heard of this until now. How was this announcement generally received? It seems like a potentially fascinating conversation starter.

    #5 I’ve wondered about tuition reimbursement programs, having never worked somewhere that offered anything remotely like it. Obviously I would expect a certain amount of give back for a company footing even a portion of a tuition bill. Higher education costs are rather insane these days.

    1. Natalie*

      Our company makes you sign a promissory note, so you’re essentially borrowing money from the company and paying it back with your time. Two downsides IMO: they don’t amortize the payoff amount, so if you leave at 1 year 11 months you owe the full debt, and you have to pay it back even if you are terminated. We had a RIF this summer and tuition forgiveness was part of the severance package, but I would be more comfortable if it was written into the promissory note.

      1. AdAgencyChick*

        !!! I would be LIVID if it were not my decision to leave a company and they said I was on the hook for tuition. I wonder is such an agreement enforceable everywhere?

        1. Anx*

          Same. And this has always been something that raised my eyebrows when I get dreamy and start interviewing for jobs with benefits. It seems like an incentive to cut an employee loose if it’s not a position that requires a lot of training, and your benefit packages are similar to employees’ with more negotiating power and with lower turnover.

        2. Natascha*

          I’d be far too scared to take the company up on the offer for these exact reasons, no matter how much I wanted to study the course. I’d be scared of being locked into the company for several years, because things can change very quickly and I’ve been in a job where all it took was one awful manager and 2 months to turn a job I loved into a living hell (I started job searching and thankfully got out a few months later) and I’d be terrified of what happens if I were to get laid off.

          It’s one thing to expect it to be paid back if the firing is misconduct or maybe even excessive and intentional poor performance (like, I could see people who wanted out before their commitment to the company was finished doing the ‘showing up late every day/taking huge lunch breaks/not trying at work so they get fired and absolved of staying/paying back the money) but if the company is downsizing and laying people off and I’d done nothing wrong but be one of the unlucky ones let go, I’d be lawyering up if I had to and making it clear I’m not paying them back when they have elected to let me go when there are no issues with me.

      2. De Minimis*

        My former employer would hook people by paying for a master’s [accounting or often taxation–for most of them it amounted to a year of graduate coursework.] I believe they did the same promissory note situation, though they would amortize the amount over three years. Think it didn’t end up being so great for many of my peers, though, because few in our hiring group ended up lasting three years due to the recession. I don’t know what happened for the ones that had tuition agreements, but it must not have been that onerous since I know of at least one who left on his own after the first year.

        1. Tax Nerd*

          My former employer did this as well, though I think that they amortized it over two years, and forgave it for anyone laid off.

          I would hope that most companies would forgive tuition reimbursement for anyone they RIF. It’s hard to work it off once they take the job out from under you. (I’m sure I would consult a lawyer if I were one of Natalie’s coworkers, and got laid off 1 month before it was due to be forgiven, if they didn’t make that part of the severance package.)

          I know companies don’t want to invest a lot of money in someone’s education, to have them immediately leave for something else. I can see better companies being willing to forgive it if the employee just isn’t happy/a good fit, but did give the job a good try. Depending on your skill set, some new employers will give a signing bonus to help pay off that kind of thing, too. But paying off a semester of a Masters in Accounting or Tax is a lot different than paying off an Ivy League MBA.

          1. De Minimis*

            I’m guessing they might have forgave it for those who were let go [although I believe this firm was big on coming up with sudden “performance issues” instead of doing a formal layoff for a lot of their staff back in 2009-2010.] They had a big enough PR debacle as it is during that time, and I think if they had made people pay tuition costs it would have made a bad impression on college hires.

      3. Jessa*

        1 year 11 months smacks of the old “fire em all before annual pay date,” garbage they did to serfs and freeholders in the old days. It’s a horrible way to do business.

    2. Deb*

      My employer gives an annual allowance for coursework that is generous, as long as it’s related to fields the company wants more skills in. IT, Urban Planning, STEM subjects are big. Anything at a masters level or above, requires a 2 year commitment to the company. Certificates or Bachelors programs don’t. It’s a really really nice benefit.

    3. holly*

      i worked at a university and took advantage of the tuition program. altho they paid up front, not through reimbursement. i don’t think there were no rules about how long i had to work there, and i can’t even remember if i had to be FT (i was), but how many hours i worked per week might have factored into how many credit hours they would pay per semester and how much time i could take out of my regular schedule to attend class. i just wanted to take a language class so it worked fine.

      my current non-school workplace has this: “You are eligible for educational assistance benefits if you worked at least 1,000 hours in the 12 months prior to applying for educational assistance benefits.” then they says this: ” You will receive 50% of eligible expenses when you present your receipts. The remaining 50% will be paid after you provide proof that you have satisfactorily completed the course while employed by ________.” the $ amount isn’t super high either, maybe enough for one class/year, but that’s better than nothing.

      1. holly*

        *i don’t think there were rules about how long i had to work there..

        edit fail.

        i also don’t think the type of class needed to be approved or related to my job since i initially was thinking about a photo class :D universities are great for tuition benefits.

    4. Xay*

      I used the tuition reimbursement offered by my current employer although the actual benefit was very small relative to the cost of my courses. Even though I am required to pay it back since I am leaving for a new employer within 12 months of receiving the reimbursement, I was able to negotiate a signing bonus from my new employer to cover the repayment.

    5. periwinkle*

      #5 Like Deb’s company, mine is very generous if you choose to major in one of their approved fields: 100% tuition and fees (paid by them, not a reimbursement, so no out-of-pocket costs) plus a set reimbursement $ amount per course for books and materials. They’ll even reimburse a set $ amount for your cap and gown! If you’re pursuing an undergrad degree and voluntarily leave the company during a semester (or get fired with cause), you have to pay back only what they paid for that semester. Graduate students have to pay back all educational expenses incurred in the two years before you quit/get fired. If you’re laid off, they’ll cover your current semester costs but you’re on your own to finish. I think it’s a fair policy. Most of my co-workers are taking advantage of the program, as am I.

      My husband’s employer used to have a small tuition reimbursement ($2500/year) but they killed off that benefit because not a lot of people were using it.

    6. MaryMary*

      #5 OldJob provided tuition reimbursement, but at a relatively low limit per year ($1,500, $2,000, something like that). However, once you entered into the tuition reimbursement program, you could continue to be reimbursed for your expenses, even once your classes were complete. For example, let’s say your MBA program cost $3,000 a semester, and it would take you two years (six semesters) to finish. Tuition reimbursement is $1,500 per year. You would receive $1,500 in year 1, and year 2, but you could keep being reimbursed for the next ten years until your tuition was fully paid for. If you left the company before the ten years were up, you’d take the hit on the balance (which you would have needed to pay up front to the school anyways, either out of your pocket or through loans).

      I was never crazy about this program, although it’s miles better than a promissory note. It still assumes you’re either willing to go further into debt or have a lot of disposable income. There were also a lot of people who only took one class per semester or per year, so as to not exceed to reimbursement, and took a very long time to receive their degree. There’s nothing wrong with that, and for some people it was probably the best choice for their work-life balance as well, but if the company was looking for a return on their investment that’s a long time to wait.

      1. Mister Pickle*

        I like this scheme a lot better than the promissory note. As much as it would rankle me to be on the hook to pay the company back if they terminated me, I can kinda see it from their point of view, too: I’m guessing they want to protect themselves from someone who might use the company to get a degree and then intentionally get themselves fired as an end-run around the obligation to stay with the company.

        But I like this scheme – it’s got a clever, judo-like quality to it.

        (What I really object to is something like (I was told) EDS implemented back in the day, where they hired you, then trained you, and if you left before 2 or 3 years, they’d stick you with a bill for the training they gave you. Bogus).

  2. Elizabeth West*

    1–Unlimited vacation

    I wonder if there aren’t subtle pressures to NOT take vacation time with some employers and some managers. This would be my fear.

    2–Combined PTO bucket

    This is what my company does. But they do NOT want you here if you are sick. They have good setups for VPN, however, so if you are too sick to come into the office or you’re contagious but you can work under your blanket in your PJs, it’s totally doable. :)

    3–Egg freezing

    My response to this headline was, what the actual f***?

    4–Four-day workweeks/part time

    Yeah, I’d want to make sure this was spelled out. But overall, I’d rather work five days for eight hours than four days for ten. Ugh.

    5–Tuition reimbursement

    Because I decided not to return to school, I opted not to take this even though I could have, because what if my circumstances change to the point where I am not in the area but can’t work remotely? That’s the trouble with not having a family/roots; you just don’t know.

    1. ThursdaysGeek*

      4–Four-day workweeks/part time – You prefer the 5 days, 8 hours. My last job was 8 9’s (work 9 hours a day M-Th, 8 on F, then 9 hours M-Th, take Friday off). I really liked having every other Friday off — it allowed me to run errands and do things while businesses were open. And many of us are at work 9 hours a day anyway. The 4 10’s might be harder on me, because my brain shuts down after about 10 hours at work. But having 3 day weekends might make it worthwhile.

      1. LBK*

        Ooo, I like that a lot! 9 hours isn’t a totally crazy day (I also tend to work that long anyway) but every other Friday off is still enough of a benefit that I’d enjoy it.

      2. Stephanie*

        I tried 4 10s at a job once. That was too much. And given the workload, I found I was coming in on my flex day all the time anyway.

        1. Aunt Vixen*

          I did 4×10 for a few months when my dad was sick–my team were also awesome about letting me alternate the fifth day between Mondays and Fridays, which meant I’d work M-Th one week and T-F the next and every other week I had a four-day weekend if I needed to get back home and help out. But I was only able to sustain that for a while; he started doing better and I went back to 8×5 way before he got worse again.

          I’m on 9/80 now (or 4+5/9, as Thursday says), and it’s gorgeous–but we’re very firm about not being on call on our off days.

        2. nyxalinth*

          Ten years ago I’d just started a new call center job, and halfway through training, they shifted us to another project that was 3 THIRTEENS. Given that I’d taken the job because of the hours I’d originally been told, there was no way I could do that, and i had to resign.

          1. Aunt Vixen*

            Friend of mine is a nurse and does – I guess it must be 3×13-and-a-third or some such thing. But in that situation I get prioritizing continuity of care. (Up to the point where patients are in jeopardy because their doctors and nurses are exhausted.) In a call center, I can’t see an excuse for it.

      3. Deb*

        Thats the schedule I’m on right now. My customer works mornings (5-7am start) my peers work afternoons (5-6pm finish) so a 9/80 lets me work with both of them without having to constantly flex my time for this meeting or that. Plus every other Friday off kind of rocks.

      4. Helka*

        I worked 4×10 in a call center — it actually let me stay there much longer than I otherwise would have, because my day off was Wednesday and it meant I never had to work more than 2 days in a row. The one Wednesday I volunteered for overtime, I was a complete wreck by Friday.

        1. Jessa*

          Yeh when I managed the answering service I did 4×10 11pm – 9am Fri, Sat, Sun, Mon. I was off from 9am Monday to 11pm Friday, it was like having a holiday every week, and if I had to make a doctor’s appt on a Monday I could make it like 10 am and still be home in time to sleep. I love 4×10 as long as the days are set. Even if it’s not contiguous. I’m OCD some though, I cannot stand those “we’ll tell you the schedule a week in advance” set ups. They make me really jittery and crazy because I can’t plan medical stuff. And both my husband and I have a lot of medical stuff. I also however love 3d shift. I was always a closer at the call centre.

      5. AnonyMiss*

        My office does 4/9/4 – work 9 hours, 7:30-5:30 M-Th, then 8-12 on Friday. Personally, I have a love-hate relationship which leans more towards love. I have a long commute (~45 minutes), and this way, I avoid both the morning and evening rush hour traffic, cruising in to work just as the freeways start to clog up. It’s also really nice to have an additional half day on the weekend. We get flexible scheduling as well, so if I have to miss an hour or two during the week, it’s pretty easy to make your paycheck whole again by staying until 1 or 2 on Friday. On the other hand, the 7:30am start means I have to be out the door no later than 6:40, closer to 6:30 on fog days, and I’m not home until about 6:30pm. For the time being, it’s a good arrangement – we’ll see how this flies once we start a family…

    2. AdAgencyChick*

      #1 — yup. This is why I won’t go back to an “unlimited PTO” policy. The one time I took a job with that policy, I did it with my eyes open — when I interviewed, I made very sure to ask what that meant, and mentioned that I had four weeks of paid vacation where I was coming from. The hiring manager’s eyes widened a little bit and he said, “Well, I don’t know about four weeks, but we’re pretty generous.” I wanted out of my then-job badly enough to take the deal even though I knew that “unlimited PTO” probably meant “three weeks if you’re lucky,” but…yeah. That’s what it meant.

      #2 — I do love my combined PTO bucket, but that’s because I rarely get sick and don’t have kids. Definitely not going to complain about all the staycation time I get this way.

      1. Dan*

        “Well, I don’t know about four weeks, but we’re pretty generous.”

        If you’re not desperate for a job, the proper response is, “No, you’re not pretty generous. Two weeks is skimpy, three weeks is adequate.”

        1. Melissa*

          Lol, I was thinking the same thing! If four weeks made his eyes widen then their expectations were not “pretty generous.”

      2. LawBee*

        “#2 — I do love my combined PTO bucket, but that’s because I rarely get sick and don’t have kids. Definitely not going to complain about all the staycation time I get this way.”

        +1 – I rarely use all my PTO, but I love that I don’t resent my sick coworkers. :D Combined PTO is glorious if the support is there.

      3. Jessa*

        I hate combined because I can’t afford to take holiday. I need to save up every hour in case I’m ill. Which basically means in December they’re all over me to get out of the building. It’s not fun. I actually don’t come in sick to save for holiday, I end up not taking holiday in case I need the sick leave.

    3. James M*

      #3: I actually remember reading that headline in the paper not-so-many-months-ago and I remember my reaction: my face twisted into a kind of screwy expression that simultaneously conveyed the thoughts “I smell skunk”, “I need to vomit”, “I’ve never had IBS but I’m about to”.

      Apple and facebook are bastions of WTF.

      1. James M*

        And to answer the inevitable “what do you care, you’re a guy”. My reaction was to the attitude implied by offering that ‘perk’. What were the suits thinking when they gave that idea the green light? I surely don’t know just as surely as I don’t want to know.

    4. ChemNinja*

      I thought having 3 weeks of PTO was great…until I caught a two month recurring stomach bug from a bad smoothie that came in 3.5 hours of sick and 1.5 hours of “must nap” spats the year I took a week off for my wedding/two-day mini-honeymoon. Blech. The worst part was that it started before my wedding, took a break, then ramped back up after the honeymoon weekend ended.

      At least it usually struck an hour or so before I usually get up, meaning I usually had time to shower and at least get 4 hours in. But it still took away our ability to take a real honeymoon that year like we’d been in the middle of planning :(. (we got it in eventually, though)

      My job does allow me to work from home, depending on if I have a trip to a client’s site scheduled or not. This is absolutely great for colds and low grade fevers, assuming they strike at the “right” time, but doesn’t work so well with those types of bugs.

    5. TrainerGirl*

      Unlimited/Open Leave Policy – I just started working for a tech company with this policy. Since I’ve only been there for 2 months, I asked for 2 days at Thanksgiving and 2 at Christmas (we already had two holiday days for each). I didn’t want to ask for more because I’m new, but my coworkers think I’m nuts to be working between Christmas and New Year’s. Apparently, the place clears out the last 2 weeks of the year, so it’s good that folks feel comfortable taking time. What’s interesting is that we have teams in Europe, Latin America and Asia, and they don’t seem to have an issue taking their time. One guy was out for over 3 weeks for his wedding/honeymoon. They think that we in the US are neurotic over feeling guilty about taking allotted vacation time. I know that there’s a far different standard in Europe, but from what I’ve seen, people do take their time, so that’s encouraging.

  3. AnotherHRPro*

    Another perk some companies offer are free meals round the clock. This can translate into work more hours as you don’t have to leave to eat.

    1. BRR*

      I was thinking about that and some other perks that are frequently done at tech companies or start ups and how they are really to encourage people to work longer.

      1. Melissa*

        I was just about to say this. Everyone raves about the lifestyle perks at Silicon Valley tech companies – free food on site, dry cleaning, a gym – but they do that deliberately to make sure that people never leave work. I have some friends who have taken jobs at these “fun-to-work-for places” and that seems to be the culture – we have all these amenities, so that you stay here all day and go home to sleep (if that)!

    2. themmases*

      My partner’s company does this and I can’t understand it. Sure, it’s great for morale but it’s terrible for people’s health. If you are providing people’s health insurance, why on earth would you want to buy them take out every week? My partner has weeks where he’ll only need to bring his lunch twice, and sometimes there are so many leftovers that he doesn’t even bring that. Most of the people on his team are trying to lose weight; I would start to feel very undermined by that.

      1. Emily*

        Do the employees not get any choice in their take-out meals? I eat take-out lunches most days (that I just go otu and buy myself with my own money) but they’re healthy and low-cal. Smoked salmon sushi (300 cals, 29 carbs), bun-less cheeseburgers with lots of veggies (450 cals, but only 5 carbs), and goat cheese salad (400 cals, 26 carbs) are my top 3. If they have healthy options and just aren’t choosing them, I can see feeling like it’s counterproductive to their health costs, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say its undermining everyone’s diets. If there are no healthy options, then maybe that’s the kind of suggestion that could be made to improve the program–if it’s there to boost morale, then they probably want to offer something that folks will appreciate.

      2. Anonsie*

        This struck me as a really odd comment at first before I remembered that plenty of places only have takeout of mostly fried American Chinese food or burger-type fast food.

        I guess it depends on what the takeout options are where you live. My partner’s company does this and where they are, their fancy downtown office is surrounded by fancy high dollar hippie food.

        1. Stephanie*

          This struck me as a really odd comment at first before I remembered that plenty of places only have takeout of mostly fried American Chinese food or burger-type fast food.

          Or sandwiches. That was 90% of the nearby takeout options by OldJob. I got really sick of sandwiches. It got to the point where I would stay up late or wake up early to pack a lunch like “Nooooo, I don’t want to eat Jimmy John’s tomorrow. Must make lunch now.”

        2. Melissa*

          I laughed at ‘fancy high dollar hippie food’ :D

          Yes, one of the things I look at when I go to a new job is what’s in the immediate area to eat. I like to pack a lunch, but I’m usually too lazy and I am bad at buying lunch things, so I end up eating lunch out a lot. But I like to have a variety of options, including some healthy ones.

      3. MinB*

        My husband’s (tech) company provides all meals but they have actual chefs on site preparing the food. There are healthy options along with burgers and burritos and such. It’s great – we don’t have to worry about preparing or packing breakfast or lunch for him and he gets high quality meals every day. If it was just takeout, that would be less of a perk.

        The work hour pressure at this company depends more on the team boss than the food availability. One team that included a lot of recently absorbed start up employees in a profit-generating division? My husband was the odd one out for working 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. When he switched teams, he specifically sought out a team that valued work/life balance in a more experimental, internal division and his preferred schedule fits in just fine.

    3. Deb*

      I know that Omnigroup in Seattle provides dinner, not just for you but for your family as well. If you can’t stay, they encourage you to pack it up to go.

      1. TrainerGirl*

        I was talking to a coworker about working at Google, and though she said that they had food 24/7, she’d been able to lose the weight she gained there by coming to the company where we work now. If I saw 3 meals/day, onsite services, egg freezing (WTF???) as “benefits”, I think I’d run the other way. Maybe that would appeal when I was in my 20’s, but not now.

        1. Melissa*

          I think that’s the key – a lot of the business that are doing this, Apple and Google being the most prominent, are companies that thrive partially on attracting young, fresh-out-of-college talent and working them for 3-5 years before they leave for somewhere else or advance to less frenetic roles. I remember when I was in college and early grad school (mid-to-late 2000s) when Google and Apple were growing as companies, we would talk about the wondrous benefits places like this offered and and it sounded so idyllic. I get to wear jeans and a hoodie to work and eat for free? Fun!! Now a place like that just sounds over-the-top. An onsite gym would be really nice (I guess technically I have one, since I work at a university now, but we have to pay for it – discounted though, and it’s pretty cheap), but other than that the rest of the perks just sound like you are trying to get me to work around the clock.

          The egg freezing article really threw me for a loop.

    4. Leah*

      Exactly. This also applies to other perks like laundry. Sounds great in theory – meals, laundry, nap rooms provided – until you realize you haven’t been home in three days.

      1. Emily*

        Ahahaha one of the places I was offering a free ride to grad school had cots and showers in the graduate student office building. I turned them down and accepted an offer from a place that had neither. The message implied by those “perks” was clear.

      2. OhNo*

        Laundry? Really? That’s where I would draw the line as an employee of things I definitely DON’T want. I don’t need any of my coworkers finding pairs of my underwear lying on the office floor when I (inevitably) drop them. Plus hauling all my dirty clothes to work would be more of a hassle for me than just paying to do them at home.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            Yeah, a big fat discount on dry cleaning, especially for a job where you have to wear office clothes, would be great.

            My company does have discounts around town. Unfortunately, most of them aren’t things I typically use. A sandwich place nearby gives us one, and the high-end grocery near here also does, but that’s it for me. Oh I forgot about the super cheap MS Office suite–but I’ve worked other places that did that.

    5. Mike*

      One company I worked for provided lunch. I liked it because getting lunch in SF can take a long time and we often played games during lunch. This provided a great group bonding and morale improvement.

    6. Brett*

      My wife is a violin teacher. A big tech firm I interviewed with actually mentioned that they have many employees whose children take lessons, and that maybe they could hire my wife so they could offer free lessons at work in the evenings.

      It did not take me long for the horror of that situation to dawn on me. They were actually envisioning a scenario where my wife would be working there in the evenings (making it more likely for me to work late) _and_ where parents would not even leave to take their kids to violin lessons.

      1. Stephanie*

        I’m imagining you making this revelation with the Psycho theme in the background.

        I’d hope that company would be willing to invest in soundproofing. It’s already bad enough working late without the accompanying sounds of beginning violin playing (and even if the kid is good, lessons can involve a lot of repition and monotony). Most of the time, I wanted to go to cello lessons; but every once in a while, I didn’t want to go. I think skipping would have been a more frequent occurrence if it meant going to a conference room at Mom’s office.

  4. Michele*

    #1 I had unlimited sick time at one of my old jobs. I am one of those lucky people that only gets sick enough to stay home every 5 years or so. What bothered me about the policy is there was no reward for people that never used a sick day. I would have preferred extra vacation days over sick days.
    #5 I was so excited for tuition reimbursement until I read the fine print. You could only take classes that were approved by the company. Which I did understand to a point. It was just so frustrating to try to figure out what classes they would pay for and what they wouldn’t. Every class I chose was not approved which to me was crazy especially since they are classes that would have helped me do a better job with costing!

    1. Aunt Vixen*

      What bothered me about the policy is there was no reward for people that never used a sick day.

      I hear what you’re saying, but speaking as a person with some difficulty managing some health problems, I sort of feel like your good health is a pretty good reward. I mean I get it–of course that’s not a reward from the company or anything. But if I worked somewhere that had unlimited sick time, and then they handed extra vacation time (or bonuses or what have you) to people who happened never to have needed to take any sick time, that would feel an awful lot like punishing me for having been sick. (Another way of saying that is kicking me while I’m down.) Plus you risk people not staying home because they want the bonus, even though they could (unlimited sick time!) and should if they’re sick enough to need to.

      I’m more in favor of unlimited sick time than I am of unlimited vacation, because I–like, I think, a lot of people–would work remotely if possible when I’m too sick to be around other people but not too sick to be out of bed. But there’s no policy that’s going to be universally everyone’s favorite, unfortunately.

      1. Anonsie*

        Agreed. It seems kind of hard for people to remember that those of us who are sick cannot do anything about it, so giving perks to healthier employees seems pretty crummy.

      2. Melissa*

        Yes, I agree with this…it seems odd to expect a reward for not using sick days. You use sick days because you get sick, so if you are rewarded for not using sick days you’re essentially just being rewarded for not getting sick that often, which is dependent upon a lot of factors that are not under your control. This will have the net effect of penalizing people with chronic illnesses and likely people with children (since kids bring home all kinds of illnesses, lol).

      3. Jessa*

        Not to mention a company that did that could run into some ADA issues, rewarding people for not taking sick leave could backfire, what do you do with someone with a covered disability that says “I have to take these days, FMLA rights, ADA reasonable accommodation,” now you’re punishing me by giving me less vacation than someone who is not disabled? It’s kind of the back end of the issues that are going before the courts about wellness programmes.

      4. Natascha*

        I used to work at a company that gave generous monetary bonuses to employees who didn’t have any sick days in a quarter, and I really hated it because:

        a. I have a legitimate, ongoing health issue and always *had* to use a sick day at least once a quarter so I always missed out.
        b. It encouraged people to come in with the flu when they clearly should have been at home, not in the office spreading their germs around. It was always sad to see someone come in sick, and then a week later, the person sitting next to them was off for a couple of days, losing their bonus because the person who insisted on soldiering on made them sick. It always annoyed me to see that.
        c. It just felt like a “punishment” for daring to be sick. ‘Oh your body wasn’t perfect this quarter? NO BONUS FOR YOU!’. If you’re hiring humans beings, you have to expect some sickness. Even highly dedicated professional athletes miss the occasional games because of flu/stomach bugs etc.

        I understand wanting to curb absenteeism and fake sick days during the World Cup or the day before a public holiday, but I don’t think the bonus was the way to do it.

    2. OhNo*

      Did they have you use sick time for doctor’s appointments and things like that as well? Because even though I rarely get sick enough to stay home, I would LOVE to have unlimited sick time to go to various doctor and dentist appointments. Then I wouldn’t have to schedule them for weird hours or on weekends to avoid using up my PTO!

  5. Bend & Snap*

    #1 as I understand it, this is typically a benefit used to clear paid time owed off the books before a merger or acquisition–otherwise it shows as debt in an audit.

    My company offers adoption assistance which I think is awesome and which is way more usable than egg freezing, IMO. Of course, I paid a nominal amount out of pocket for IVF because my company also offers amazing health insurance. So really, if you’re giving great benefits already, you don’t need stunts like egg freezing to become a great place to work.

    1. Stephanie*

      Yeah, I bet that’s why unlimited leave’s so popular with tech startups hoping to be acquired by one of the big dogs.

      1. fposte*

        Also, a lot of those are in California, and I believe making leave unlimited means it’s not compensation that needs to be paid out at termination (which in California otherwise is mandatory).

    2. Melissa*

      Well, I think the logic behind the egg freezing is that IVF’s success is partially determined by the age of your eggs. 25-year-old eggs fertilized and implanted via IVF, all other things being equal, are going to be more likely to result in a successful pregnancy than 40-year-old eggs. Some great health insurance covers IVF but not egg freezing.

      I still think it’s pretty WTF, and I would much rather a company offer me adoption assistance than egg freezing.

  6. JMegan*

    Day care is another one. Looks great on the surface, and can be a godsend if administered correctly – but like AnotherHRPro said above about food, it also provides another “incentive” to stay in the office longer. Oh, you have to leave to pick up your child before the day care closes at 7:00? Good thing it’s right downstairs, you can work until 6:58 in that case!

  7. Allison*

    My company is switching over to unlimited time off. They want to call it something different but I’m still concerned that the same thing will happen across the company. I’m not too worried about my manager stopping me from taking time off, he’s really chill, but the rest of the company? I’m worried about the people in sales and engineering hardly ever seeing a real vacation.

    What if companies had an “unlimited” policy, but required managers to allow everyone a minimum number of days off per year. Is that even possible?

    1. mess*

      Curious – did they pay out your accrued vacation before they switched? I always wonder how that works.

      1. Allison*

        They haven’t switched yet, and I don’t know if they will pay out accrued time or not. Haven’t paid much attention since I’m a contractor and I don’t get any paid time off at all, so it doesn’t impact me.

    2. Kathryn*

      I work at a place with unlimited time off. For my department we have an unofficial minimum number of days as well. It’s high stress work and the departmental management is pretty convinced that you can’t take fewer than 20 days off a year and still be sane, healthy, functional and want to work here another year. As a manager, it is considered my responsibility to make sure my team is taking enough vacation time and I’m considered to be not doing my job if we get to December without a solid plan for everyone to have taken 2-3 weeks off by the end of the year.

      We also have a huge culture of encouraging people to keep germs at home and not work when they aren’t at their best. The department is high functioning, high stress, and high performing that we really don’t trust the work someone does when they are physically or mentally not all in and prefer that people take care of what they need to and then come to work and focus on the work.

      We do hear about other departments who have less supportive unofficial policies, so I know it is being used as a way to deny vacation in other parts of the company, which really points out that the difference between a good benefit and a bad one is management and culture.

      1. Melissa*

        Your company sounds amazing. I agree, the culture is a big deal – it has a huge impact on people. Even just in graduate school, I remember the impact it had on me when I saw professors turning their lights out at 6 and going home (rather than working all night in the office). Even though most of them were probably working from home a few hours, it was still nice to see them GOING home, since the common wisdom about doctoral programs is working around the clock in the lab. Even now in my postdoc, I love that my supervisor ducks out at 5 pm every day to pick up her kids from after-school – and everyone else, kids or not, is also ghost by 5:15. I have the option to stay later if I want to, but I don’t feel pressured or obligated to, and it makes academia feel like a much more welcoming place.

  8. Zahra*

    For tuition reimbursement, can you negotiate (before you take classes) a reiumbursement that is proportional to the time left before the penalty disappears? It seems crazy to me that I would have to pay back the same amount, even if there was only one month left in the “must reimburse” period.

    1. Traveller*

      This is what my company offers. There was an 18 month payback period, but it was pro-rated in 6 steps. (so, if I left after 15 months, I only owed 1/6 of the original amount)

    2. themmases*

      My old company did this automatically. I still didn’t use the benefit because my courses would have ended only a couple of months before I wanted to leave, but a friend used it to take prerequisites for medical school so the exact time of her leaving wasn’t really up to her. I think prorating the amount owed is fair, but I think it is particularly necessary in fields like healthcare where a lot of younger people will continue their schooling or leave to go back to school.

    3. Meg Murry*

      The places I worked did tuition reimbursement on a semester by semester basis -so you only had to stay for 1 year after the last set of classes the company paid for, and some people made a point of NOT doing the tuition reimbursement their last year. However, they didn’t reimburse the full cost of tuition, only up to a set point each year (only a few thousand dollars) and you had to get approval for each class. For instance – my statistics class was approved as being related to my job, but someone else who was taking a history class as part of the general ed requirements for a Bachelor’s Degree was not approved, although his science and math classes were.

  9. Sascha*

    #1 – I wonder how unlimited vacation time works with FMLA – provided the company does things like this. At my workplace, I can use my sick and vacation time to cover my FMLA so that I can still be an “active” employee, and therefore paid, during the duration of my leave. I realize a lot of companies don’t have any strategy to somehow allow “paid” leave (using PTO or short term disability), that would be a huge turn-off for me.

    #5 – A lot of people don’t think about the additional costs of attending college – books, fees, etc. Typically tuition reimbursement ONLY covers the tuition and nothing else, and there can be several hundreds of dollars of additional things you’d need to pay out of pocket for each semester. Also, that tuition is taxed if you go over a certain amount – I figured that it would take me like 6 years to get a master’s degree (that could be done in 2 years) if I took them up on tuition reimbursement, because I could only afford one or two classes a semester.

    1. fposte*

      Meaning that the company with unlimited PTO might find a limit if somebody requested 12 weeks of FMLA? Yeah, I don’t know what they’ve done in situations like that; might vary from organization to organization, too.

      1. Sascha*

        Yes, that’s what I was getting at. For example, what if I wanted to take 12 weeks off for leave, and my company tells me I have to take it under FMLA and its considered unpaid leave? What’s to stop me from just saying, oh hey, gonna take 12 weeks of vacation time off – totally not FMLA! I guess good management and HR would stop me. :)

        1. OhNo*

          I mean, my guess would be that there would be work that you would need to do during those 12 weeks that wouldn’t be getting done, so I’m sure they would have words with you about that. It sounds like the unlimited leave policy is only unlimited as long as your work is getting done.

          That said, who’s to say you couldn’t just do a bunch of work from home and swing into the office one or two days a week with an unlimited leave policy? That would be pretty great.

        2. Judy*

          You would loose your job protection then. (The main point of FMLA is your job still exists for you at the end.)

        3. AdAgencyChick*

          Almost certainly the policy is “unlimited PTO subject to supervisory approval.” At my old so-called “unlimited PTO” job, it was explained to us that pregnancy and other long-term health leaves would not be approved as full paid leave under the policy (although I believe pregnancy was covered at partial salary under disability insurance).

  10. mess*

    We have the combined PTO bucket and yeah, people come in sick all the time because they don’t want to “use a vacation day.” Plus, when I worked somewhere with separate sick time and vacation, you accrued a lot more sick time, there was no upper limit (since they didn’t have to pay it out) and it never expired, and you could donate to others who needed to take a significant amount of time off for illness. Here you can only accrue up to five weeks so if you needed several months to recover from something you’re kind of screwed.

    1. Ellie the EA*

      I’ve found that also – no one views their PTO as “x# sick days & x# vacation days”, so if their manager frowns upon working from home, sick people come into the office. Granted, when I worked in a place with separate sick and vacation accrual, there were a handful of folks that were often conveniently sick on a Friday or a Monday, but I think you’re going to have people that abuse the system regardless.

      1. Katieinthemountains*

        Yes! I heard more than one former coworker say, “I can work sick, but I’m not losing my beach trip.” And that meant that we all got the nasty colds that our bosses came down with, etc., etc. I generally stayed home when I was throwing-up sick, but if it was a cold, I went to work. I actually did fieldwork with a fever because the client was in a hurry and I was the only certified asbestos inspector.

    2. KJR*

      I always wondered how the donating of vacation time worked. Whose salary amount is honored in these situations, the person donating the time, or the person taking it? It would seem unlikely that they would make the same amount, and I can see issues arising if there is a large pay discrepancy.

      1. Malissa*

        The person taking it. This almost always results in a lower liability for the organization. Mostly because those who have enought time to donate are often the longer-term higher paid folks. Those who burn through quickly, are usually those who don’t accrue time as quickly because they haven’t been there that long.

      2. Monodon monoceros*

        At my last job they figured out the hourly rate of both employees and then figured out how much time the receiver would get. It was great for lower level people if the higher ups were the ones to donate.

      1. Judy*

        I’ve done it back in a place that accrued sick leave. They would send out a note that Bob was having surgery with an expected recovery of 6 weeks, but he only has 3 weeks of sick leave accrued. If you wished to donate any of your sick leave, fill out form ABC123 and turn it in to HR.

        1. Katieinthemountains*

          Federal employees do it, generally for major surgery, cancer treatment, or some other huge medical issue.

      2. fposte*

        My university does it, but it’s not targeted in the same way–you donate to a general sick leave pool, and you’re eligible to get leave from the pool if you’ve donated. I’d rather be able to target it, but even this way it’s some benefit to somebody, and I might be able to use it down the line.

      3. Windchime*

        My company allows us to donate. I think we can each donate up to 3 days per donation. A co-worker’s husband was gravely ill a few years ago, and the accumulated donations of our department allowed her to stay with him until he was done with treatment.

        Our PTO is combined sick/vacation, but X number of days are for sick and the rest is for vacation. We also accumulate sick days in an “Extended Illness” account. If you are sick for more than three days, then your pay stops coming from your PTO and starts coming from your Extended Illness account. That means that if you have the flu or are recovering from surgery, you don’t burn through all of your vacation time–you use your EI account. I am happy with this setup.

  11. Lucy*

    I get 29 PTO days a year, which sounds great, except we have very few holidays off. I have to request days like the day after Thanksgiving and Christmas eve, and have to plan around other people’s schedules for the dreaded “coverage.”

    1. Ali*

      This sounds like my job, except I get a little over three weeks of PTO. I am trying desperately to find a position that is a little less 24/7 because it gets old after a while.

    2. Anx*

      Is it common to have Christmas Eve or Black Friday off outside of education?

      I never would have considered those holidays.

      1. Sascha*

        I had those days off when I worked for a non-profit, but I don’t see many for-profit companies doing that.

        1. AdAgencyChick*

          In my niche of advertising, everybody gets those days off. Well, let’s just say every agency officially closes, although some teams end up coming in on Black Friday (never Christmas Eve, though) in cases of insane client requests.

          If you were the agency that *didn’t* give those days off, I think that would be a strong enough negative when hiring that you might lose some good people, or else have to make enough concessions on salary, that it wouldn’t be worth it, especially since our clients are rarely working those days.

      2. Stephanie*

        Yes, I had both off at my last private sector job. I think the company figured that most of us were going to take it off anyway, so those were just made into holidays. It was a smaller company, so HR asked if we wanted those two days or Columbus and Veterans Days (this was in DC, so those weren’t uncommon holidays). The answer was resoundingly in favor of Black Friday and Christmas Eve.

        As a fed, Black Friday was a tossup. Sometimes the President would declare it a holiday, sometimes he wouldn’t. It wasn’t guaranteed, so I just budgeted my leave for it not being a holiday.

        1. De Minimis*

          We got Christmas Eve off [as feds] in 2012 but not last year. I’ve heard the deal is that the President will tend to sign the executive order authorizing the time off depending on what day of the week it happens to be. Even then, it still depends on your agency and the nature of the work….I believe we remained open that year on Christmas Eve, but some were allowed off depending….

          I worked for the Post Office prior to this job, and it was very hardline, only the actual holidays off and sometimes not even that depending on what shift you worked and on seniority. Christmas was the only holiday that everyone was absolutely guaranteed to be off.

        1. Lucy*

          Maybe I’m spoiled because at my last (nonprofit) job, we were closed between Christmas and New Years and always had early closings. It can be a difficult adjustment when you’re not used to having to pick and choose your holidays!

      3. The IT Manager*

        I worked for the government all my life, I expected Lucy to say she had to take holidays like Thanksgiving or Christmas off – not the day after Thanksgiving or Christmas Eve which are not holidays in my book.

        That said I am willing to bet the President will continue the generous policy of allowing military service members the Friday after Thanksgiving off as a family day and this year will authorize the Friday after Christmas as a family day too. DOD civilians do not get that those days off, though, only the service members themselves.

        1. Melissa*

          And even that is subject to the MOS/AFSC the service member is in. My husband was in an essential position in the AF and he was not guaranteed to have his federal/military holidays off. In fact, I distinctly remember him working one Thanksgiving and the day after; I was visiting him and we had Thanksgiving dinner together during his 2 hour break at 2 am on Friday (because he also worked the night shift – 11 pm to 11 am). I also remember other essential personnel having to work on other federal holidays like Presidents Day, MLK, Christmas, etc. They would usually get another day off in return, but it was a non-holiday day.

      4. LawBee*

        We get the day after Thanksgiving off, but not because it’s Black Friday. I suspect it’s because Friday would likely be kind of a wasted day anyway with the majority of employees taking it as a vacation day. The office is open 1/2 day on Christmas Eve. Those who don’t observe Christian holidays aren’t required to take a PTO day for their religious observations, nor are they required to work the days the office is closed. When I worked in finance, our paid holidays included random things like President’s Day and Good Friday. Bizarre.

        Also, everyone in the firm from the mail guy to the #1 partner has the same amount of PTO. It’s kind of amazing.

    3. Dan*

      How many holidays is “very few”? With my last two employers, the Friday after Thanksgiving, Xmas Eve, and NYE have all been work days.

      And I’ve had 20 days PTO at each of them. We had 8-10 “standard” holidays.

      1. Aunt Vixen*

        In my book, “very few” holidays is one or two less than a full complement of federal holidays. The complete package is New Year’s Day, MLK Day (Monday), Presidents’ Day (Monday), Memorial Day, July 4, Labor Day (Monday), Columbus Day, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving Day (Thursday), Christmas Day – or the nearest weekday if any of those non-specified fall on a weekend – so, ten.

        At my last job, we had two weeks (well, 80 hours) per year of PTO, which accrued and rolled over and paid out, and three weeks (120 hours) per year of “discretionary” leave that was meant to cover holidays, sick time, personal time, whatever – you didn’t accrue it, it was yours the beginning of each year to do with as you liked, but it didn’t roll over and obviously it didn’t pay out. (Anyone who has ever worked for my former employer probably now knows what employer I’m talking about.) In theory, great – a person who never got sick would have five weeks of vacation a year. In practice, if you take all ten federal holidays, you’ve got five days of sick leave before you have to start using your vacation. Boo. (So you might think okay, I’ll come in on a federal holiday, place will be dead quiet and I’ll get lots of work done and bank the leave for a vacation later. Yeah, no, you had to get special permission to come in on I think six of those ten holidays – because they were “core” holidays and the place was supposed to be closed-closed, which puts the lie to the idea that the second kind of leave was entirely “discretionary,” but I don’t work there anymore, so never mind.)

        Two jobs ago, we got all ten of those holidays plus election day, but we didn’t get them all on the days they fell; “littler” ones (Presidents’ Day, Columbus Day, Veterans Day) were automatically banked and cashed in the week before Christmas and New Year’s, when the place was closed-closed and we genuinely weren’t allowed to come to work. There were a couple of other “university holidays” as well – the amount of leave I got at that job was truly astonishing, which sort of made up for how little I was paid – so it wasn’t that we had to take all our holidays in the end of December, but they did make some of their money back by getting us in to the office on, as I say, the lesser federal holidays. (Made the stretch between January 21 and Memorial Day interminable, though. I’m not sure that’s significantly more days or weeks than July 4 – Labor Day*, but god, it always felt like forever.

        (* Okay, MLK – Memorial Day is 18 weeks, and July 4 – Labor Day is only 9. So I’m not wrong that spring is a lonnng stretch between holidays. Glad I’m not going nuts.)

        1. Gwen*

          I don’t think I’ve ever heard of someone getting President’s Day off! My current office is the first time I’ve ever had MLK Day off…we didn’t even get out of school for that one.

          1. De Minimis*

            I think a lot of the rural school districts here still don’t take off for MLK Day.

            Schools here have never been off for Veteran’s Day, but I think almost all of them have some kind of special program or assembly during that day to observe the holiday. My wife is from another part of the country and she said she always used to just be out of school that day.

          2. MinB*

            I get President’s Day off at my office and I always had it off of school growing up. Unfortunately, my office only closes for 5 of those 10 holidays and I only have two weeks of PTO, so the rest of my organization’s vacation policies are really awful. Lots of weekend work, too, so I’m dying for a break over here.

        2. Natalie*

          Our company handles that weird spring lack of holidays by giving us Good Friday off. (We also get the day after Thanksgiving and a floating holiday for Columbus Day. We apparently don’t consider Veteran’s Day a real holiday, although former co-workers who were vets took it off.)

          Corporate is in MA, so they also get Patriot’s Day in the spring. The field offices stay open, though.

          1. Aunt Vixen*

            This is the first place I’ve ever worked where we get Veterans Day on the 11th. In the past, we’ve always earned the holiday on the 11th and cashed it in on the day after Thanksgiving.

            Good Friday is random, but I guess no matter where it falls it’s going to more or less bisect the space between MLK Day and Memorial Day, so. (If I were in charge I’d just count nine weeks and cancel a Friday and/or a Monday and call it Mental Health Day. But that’s assuming I didn’t shove a bank holiday in every single month like the civilized English.)

            1. Melissa*

              Not necessarily – MLK is in mid-January, Memorial Day is in late May. There have definitely been years in which Good Friday was in late April, so you still had 3 months between MLK and Good Friday and only a bit more than 1 month between Good Friday and Memorial Day. I remember this because my college used to give us Good Friday off. An example is actually this year’s Good Friday, which was April 18. Good Friday 2015 is April 3 which is more like 2.5 months from MLK and 2 months to Memorial Day, which is a bit more in the middle.

        3. Windchime*

          We don’t get many holidays off….Christmas Day, Thanksgiving Day, New Year’s Day, Independence Day, Labor Day and Memorial Day. That’s it.

        4. Melissa*

          In my opinion, having to use one’s ‘discretionary’ leave for holiday time off means that one doesn’t really have 3 weeks of discretionary leave. One has 1 week of discretionary leave and then random federal holidays through the year.

          Personally, though, I like the second job’s approach – I would rather have a week off around Christmas to travel and be home with my family than a random Monday in February.

    4. Anonsie*

      Same here, only we get fewer days overall and all holidays are paid from there. So you can take off those 11 annual holidays where we’re “closed” (we still operate core services) from your sick/vacation leave as well.

  12. Another Example*

    I have a couple other examples for you— I once was given the “perks” of free housing on campus (I worked at a university) and free meals at work (on campus), and in exchange I received a small stipend each month rather than an actual salary. This became an issue when everyone saw me as always being available to take another weekend shift, because I lived on campus, and I barely had any money to eat anywhere except work, so even eating dinner at night I felt I was still on the clock. It felt like I was working 24/7. I was not able to move, because they would not increase my pay if I gave up my housing benefit. This also became an issue when I applied to other jobs and they required you to disclose salary in a box that only took numbers–no one wanted to pay me an appropriate salary because they only saw how little I took in pay from that job. I’m still explaining it on applications today, many years later.

    1. Collarbone High*

      I have this problem too — I worked for most of my 30s at a job overseas with a low actual salary, but a substantial (and tax-free) cost-of-living stipend and paid housing. I hate those online forms that only allow numerical inputs for salary.

      1. Monodon monoceros*

        Would it be OK in this instance to estimate housing costs + tax and add that to the salary? I would consider those as “compensation” at least, so if they inquired about it I would think you could explain that these were part of the compensation package.

        1. Another Example*

          I always ran into problems trying to calculate that. I have no idea what the housing would have been on the market or what two meals a day would represent to some but not others, etc. This “perk” was never taxed (could never find out if it should have been or not!) so I have no reference to go back to to justify the prices.

          1. Melissa*

            Can you ask your former employer? I had a similar job and my employer included the value of the housing and meal benefit in the offer letter. Even if your former employer never told you, they’ve got to have some valuation of it somewhere on the books. I would contact them, explain the situation, and ask. When I report my salary at my former live-in position, I always include the value of the housing and meals.

            If for some reason they don’t have that valuation on the books, I think you could roughly estimate it yourself using the market rate of similar housing at the time in the neighborhood of the university plus whatever the costs of a 14 meal/week meal plan were at the university at the time (or now, if the old numbers are impossible to find). I think few employers will challenge you on it especially if it’s not your last job, but if you ever get into the situation where they call to check and then ask about the discrepancy you can always just explain that part of your salary was tied up in a housing and food benefit rather than paid in direct cash. But yeah, I would always include the value of the housing and meals, because that’s part of your salary – otherwise your salary looks artificially deflated and it’s not a normal benefit that most people get (it’s not like including the value of your health insurance in your salary or something).

    2. holly*

      would it be advisable to factor in the cash benefit of the housing/meals and just add that to the salary in these instances? i guess those forms don’t allow you to skip the question.

    3. Melissa*

      Ugh, did we work the same job? I once worked a (part-time) res life position on campus that had the same compensation – free on-campus housing and a 75 meals/semester meal plan, plus a stipend every month. In our case living on-campus was a necessity of the job because it was residential life; we served on-call several times a semester and needed to be within a certain radius of campus, and also needed to be in the halls for RA support and occasional resident support when needed. The problem is that the on-campus housing they had available for us was not adequate for professionals, even paraprofessional graduate students; some of the rooms were the same rooms as my senior undergraduates were in, and many of them did not have kitchens or private bathrooms (the people without kitchens got a bigger meal plan allowance). The other caveat is that the housing was only for the 10 months of the school year, even when no one else was going to be in those rooms. Even if you worked there for multiple years, you had to move out at the end of every May, secure temporary housing in a very expensive city, and then move back in in the beginning of August – often back to the same exact place, if you hadn’t switched assignments.

      In my case, I got married before the beginning of my second year on the job and petitioned to move to a different location on campus that would accommodate me and my husband. At the time, I lived in a 185-square foot “studio single” that was barely big enough for just me, let alone my husband (it was really a res hall single with its own bathroom and a tiny kitchenette. Would’ve been great if I was a 21-year-old senior in college). The building I lived in had real one-bedroom apartments and actual studios, but they split them between two undergrad students. I proposed about 5-6 different solutions to my problem to my supervisors – including them just giving me the money they were spending on the room; they would’ve made more money, because they could’ve rented my former room to an undergrad, and the apartment my husband and I had rented for the school year was a university-owned apartment within the radius. Every single one of them was shot down.

      It meant that I stayed on for the second year because I had committed to it but – for this and other reasons – I quit after that, because in year 2 I ended up paying for an off-campus apartment with my husband while most of my salary was tied up in the housing that was of no benefit to me. For my final year of grad school I instead got a different job without a residential requirement. It was a problem they had had before; they actually were hesitant to hire married couples and older (25+ people, which in this kind of position is “older”) in their hiring process because they don’t have the proper living spaces for them and/or don’t think that the person will be willing to stay in their crappy housing. I had a fantastic former RA of mine apply for the job and got waitlisted, and I personally think she got waitlisted solely because she was married and they have literally no paraprofessional spaces that are suitable for married couples anymore – the one one-bedroom they had they converted to a two-bedroom shared between two of the people in my role.

      And I know that it’s a paraprofessional position, but there are equivalent positions at many colleges and universities across the country with MUCH better accommodations (actual studios and one- and two-bedroom apartments). I mean, graduate students are adults with lives and families.

      1. Another Example*

        I never got the sense that they were willing to accept I had a life outside of this job, since I had recently been an undergraduate student. Someone slightly older in the department once pointed out to me “Look, I have a family…” (insinuating that’s why they could pick up less shifts) and I literally had to snap back, “So do I!” Very strange environment looking back.

  13. BadPlanning*

    The people that I know who work at “unlimited” vacation seem to have a hard time taking a day off to have a day off. It feels like all vacation must be justified by tying it to going somewhere and doing something. Versus, I’m taking a three day weekend so I can be lazy all day Friday.

    1. AdAgencyChick*

      YES, THIS. (See above re: “I will never go back to an ‘unlimited-PTO’ company.”) When I booked a trip to London, my boss said “go, you’ve earned it.” But I didn’t feel okay about taking a day here and there to attend to stuff around my apartment.

      I ended up resigning from that job the day I came back from London. So there!

  14. Kai*

    There are so many “perks” that make me wary of the actual work culture. I was looking at a social media job that offered free dinner and rides home in a company car when you needed it, which seems awfully appealing…but also seems like you’d be asked to stay til 10pm a lot.

  15. Stephanie*

    #2 – I am generally healthy, but I would worry about booking a long vacation and then getting hit with the flu or something (and then having the time denied since I would have used up all my leave).

    FirstJob had separate banks, so I would usually use up all the vacation and have tons of sick leave (sick leave wasn’t paid out). If people exceeded their sick leave, other employees could “gift” their excess annual leave (the long-tenured employees would accrue vacation time quickly). If you just wanted to feel terrible that day, you could just read the sick leave donation requests and feel horrible. It was all stories like “My baby came early while I was on vacation and she’s still in the NICU out-of-town and I’ve used up all my sick and annual leave to be with her. Please donate” or “My dad was in a car accident and is in the ICU and his health is coming and going and he may pass away soon and I’ve used up all my leave. Please donate.”

    #3 – I wonder about the logistics of this. I also read it cynically as a way to keep women at the company when they might leave for a less demanding job or company. (“Here! Thanks to this, you can now spending your last remaining years of fertility fixing all the glitches in iTunes!”) But I wonder what would happen if you quit or were fired? Does Apple or Facebook “own” your eggs? Do they have a clause saying you have to be at the company X amount of time? Is there a limit on the annual storage fee? I interviewed at one of those companies and it did seem to have pretty good parental benefits (even without the egg freezing), but I also wonder if the insurance/company would pay for all the associated costs of implantation, hormone therapy, and (possibly) surrogacy?

    1. Sascha*

      I wonder that about the egg freezing myself. Many insurance companies don’t pay for fertility treatment, so how much would egg freezing be a benefit if you still have to pay for the $20k and up costs associated with getting the eggs implanted, either in yourself or a surrogate?

    2. dragonzflame*

      I also wondered this kind of stuff. “Oh, you want to unfreeze your eggs and start a family? Hmmm…it’s just that we’ve got this new product we’re launching and we really need you to be on board for that, so we can’t approve that for now. Maybe in a year or two?”

      1. Melissa*

        I don’t think Apple et al. actually owns the eggs, more that they pay for the egg freezing and storage costs at an existing company that does that. Besides, that’s a huge lawsuit that they would likely lose.

    3. Melissa*

      I’m not sure, but I think that the costs are of freezing the eggs and annual storage. So if you quit or were fired, you probably would have to start paying for your own egg storage or take the eggs out of storage and use or discard them. I’m not sure why they would own your eggs; they’re just paying for the freezing and storage, not the egg itself (which is illegal in most U.S. jurisdictions anyway, I think). Whether or not the insurance company would pay for IVF is probably a separate issue, but important to consider because what’s the point of having an egg freezing benefit if you later have to shell out $30K+ on the process of using them? (Doubtful that they would cover surrogacy, though.)

  16. Sabrina*

    #2 I worked for a company that went from accruing so many sick days a year (which didn’t get paid out but also never expired) to a PTO system. People who rarely called in sick were losing all those days they had saved up ‘just in case’ and got nothing for it. There was about 5 months from the announcement until the implementation. You can imagine how many people called in sick for every little thing over those 5 months.

    #3 I’m not interested in freezing my eggs, can I just get a cash pay out? Thanks!

    #5 My current company doesn’t have a requirement about how long you can stay after using tuition reimbursement, but after being nearly dropped from a class (which I would have to retake and would not be refunded for) and thrown into collections due to my company not paying a tuition bill on time, I decided that the money wasn’t worth the headache.

  17. Sharon*

    Similar to the tuition reimbursement, I’ve had trouble with general training offerings at every company I’ve worked. For example, they proclaim to the rooftops about how they offer yearly training to employees, but when I ask about classes that are relevant to my job, they find excuses to not allow it – usually the excuse that it costs too much. For example, last year I was asked to provide my manager with a class or two that I wanted to take. I found a couple that cost $1500, which is kind of a standard cost for skilled topics like IT. Oh, that costs too much, can you find something for less? I came back a couple times with alternatives and ended up getting talked down to a $50 book from Amazon.

    Don’t get me wrong, I love to read and that’s better than nothing. But don’t offer something and then find all kinds of reasons to not actually deliver said offering. And they wonder why I’m cynical when the T word is mentioned….

    1. esra*

      This has been my experience with tuition reimbursement. Everywhere I’ve worked, from non-profit to large corporate says they have it, but as soon as you put in a request you get lemon-face and hemming and hawing.

  18. Elizabeth the Ginger*

    There was a good article on Slate written by a maternal-fetal medicine specialist about the egg-freezing issue. She said that most of the women she sees who are interested in egg-freezing are single: they want to have children, and they want to raise those children with a partner, but they haven’t found a partner yet and are concerned about still being fertile when they do find one. One thing she doesn’t bring up is the fact that some workplace cultures may make it harder to have a social life and thus meet a romantic partner, but, aside from that, I see offering egg-freezing as a really good thing.

    IMO, it should be one of a number of related benefits, such as good maternity/paternity leave policies, insurance that covers IVF and other fertility/pregnancy treatments, adoption assistance, support for nursing mothers, and other work policies that help out parents (e.g. flexibility in hours, etc.). But in the context of those kinds of benefits, egg-freezing is a nice perk.

    1. Cath in Canada*

      Some women also freeze their eggs if they’re about to start chemotherapy or other treatments that might cause damage or complete infertility, so they can undergo IVF after the treatment ends. I have no idea what percentage of all egg freezing cases they make up, but it’s definitely a case where your employer paying for the service would be a wholly positive thing.

    2. Melissa*

      I guess I am curious about who Apple and Facebook are targeting and who are the prime takers of their benefit. Because while in theory I see her point – most women under the age of about 30-35 don’t really think about freezing their eggs, at least not yet – in practice, it kind of feels like Apple et al. are targeting younger recruits these days and that this is seen as a way to get the most productivity out of them when they are most energetic and most likely to be willing to put in those 80-hour weeks.

      Because the irony is that if you start thinking about egg freezing at 36 or 40, you’ve already sort of lost most of the benefit of egg freezing. The whole point is to increase the chances of having a baby at an ‘advanced maternal age,’ but if you wait until 37 (the average age is 37.4) your eggs are already in the ‘advanced maternal age’ pot and have suffered some of the breakdown that age brings.

      The other thing is that it’s being touted as some miracle, but success rates of egg freezing -> healthy baby are actually pretty low. Apparently even if you freeze your eggs before age 38, the chances of one frozen egg yielding a healthy baby is 2-12%. And if you freeze your eggs after age 38, the chances decline rapidly.

      I agree it could be a nice perk, but the other family-related benefits you mentioned are way more important.

      1. Stephanie*

        My guess is that they’re targeting women around my age (28), who would be toward the beginning of their careers, but are getting more specific experience and might look for a less frenetic job or workplace (or leave the workforce all together) to focus on starting a family.

  19. Dan*


    If a company offers flex time and allows work from home, then a combined PTO program makes sense. I’ve worked with a combined PTO program at two jobs, and loved it. But both jobs allow me to work from home (so don’t get “forced” to come into the office when sick) and flex time if I’m too sick to work and burned up all of my PTO.

  20. Dan*


    Yeah, if you want to cut back, expectations have to be very clearly agreed upon. In many industries, a true 40-hour week has gone the way of a do-do bird. If you’re working 60 hours a week, and want to cut back to “part time”, that may very well be 30 hours/week.

  21. Dan*


    College is so damned expensive these days that a graduate degree may be worth it even with a two-year payback period.

  22. AnonEMoose*

    #4 – if you’re willing to do this for some employees, try to have equity of some kind for other employees who do generally work 5 days/week. I used to work with a person who had Fridays off. And I would end up covering some things for her most weeks, because stuff comes up.

    Which I did, mostly cheerfully (there were definitely days when I wasn’t too happy to be stuck covering her stuff, because I had my own stuff I needed to do – but mostly, it wasn’t a huge deal).

    Plus she took a fair amount of time off due to some medical problems her son had. Which, again, I understood and covered the stuff that needed doing while she was out.

    But when I was in the last quarter of my master’s degree, trying to get my thesis paper done and left a couple of hours early on three (yes, three total!) Fridays so I could go home and work on it, well, my supervisor “talked” with me about it. Because apparently a couple of people had expressed resentment about those few early departures.

    (Yes, we’re considered salaried. No, coworker who had previously had Fridays off and the issues with her son didn’t have to cover anything for me on those occasions – and neither did anyone else. And did I mention that I work at a university where getting a degree is encouraged?)

    Can you tell I’m still kind of bitter about that when I think about it (which mostly I don’t, unless something like this brings it to mind)? And I’m definitely not sorry that neither that coworker or that supervisor is here any longer.

    The basic point is that flexibility is great, but if it’s not handled well, with some degree of fairness for everyone, it’s a really great way to breed resentment.

  23. Lia*

    A previous employer offered tuition reimbursement, but only for a degree in the field of your current job — so if you were a secretary, you could take …um…typing? I never heard of anyone using it. Each course had to be approved by the immediate supervisor as “relevant to the employee’s current job responsibilities”.

    I work for a university now, and they will cover one course a term (winter and summer included), but it is tuition only, no fees or books included. They also make employees who use the tuition benefits wait to register until the day before classes begin so as to not “bump” regular students from classes that might be needed for graduation. You can also transfer this benefit to a dependent (child or spouse/partner) but they must follow the same waiting rule.

    My partner is employed by another university, and they cover 6 credits per term (usually, this is 2 courses) at 100% — including graduate or professional courses — but also follows the wait until the last minute to register rule. They do not officially cover books, but many departments will find a way to reimburse staff for them.

  24. Gloria*

    #3-Wow..I am a woman who works in IT, LOVES being in tech, but remind me never to work for Facebook or Apple. Sure, on the surface that *sounds* great, but the message I would hear from any company telling me they’ll pay to help me freeze my eggs is “We know you have an expiring fertility window, but we’d like to lull you into forgetting that so we can get more work out of you, and hopefully delay the moment you decide to prioritize motherhood over us. But hey-enjoy our free ping-pong tables!”

  25. oliviacw*

    My current company has a fairly limited vacation time compared to some others in our industry (software) – we accrue 8 hours per month, which works out to just over two weeks per year. And we also shut down for the week between Christmas and New Year, so that’s another week. On the other hand, we have a sabbatical program – 6 weeks off after every 4 years of employment – which is a nice benefit! We do have what I think is a good sick leave program – you can take sick leave at your discretion to cover “minor illnesses and injuries” (and doctor’s appointments and so forth). So no strict limits there – and if you need more than a few days we have a short-term disability program that kicks in. Anyone who would take “too many” sick days (that impacted their work productivity) would probably have their manager starting to have performance conversations with them.

  26. NurseB*

    There are many shifts and different start times depending on where you work but most hospitals in my area have a very common 12 hour shift rotation. I love it. As a nurse, I’m off 4 days a week to have a second job or relax and enjoy things I want to spend my time on (like my family!). Of course I don’t have to worry about people thinking I’m doing less when I’m not there or trying to put multiple days of work in to one day, given that patient care just doesn’t work that way, so I do what I have to at work and don’t worry about it when I leave for the day.

    1. Melissa*

      I still kind of regret not going into nursing, or thinking about it more seriously. I’m in public health. My mother is an LPN, but when I was thinking of career fields – at the time nursing was more characterized as “doctor support,” and all I ever saw or heard about were floor nurses in hospitals. I had no idea of the vast majority of nursing roles like management, epidemiology, or research and had never even heard of a nurse practitioner before. Moreover, I never really knew about the level of autonomy even hospital nurses have over patient care and how important they are to care teams.

      But I have a PhD in public health now and I do research. Many of the PhDs in nursing do the same kind of research I do, in the same areas! In fact, some of my interests actually overlap with nursing care and nursing issues. Given the current nursing faculty shortage there are way more faculty openings than there are takers, so that would’ve been a definite plus in the tight academic world. Not only that, but when I look at the federal, think tank and contractor jobs that are appealing to me – a lot of them want nurses! Like a lot of healthcare consulting companies would prefer a nurse, and a lot of hospital management jobs recruit nurses. But the most appealing thing was the flexibility – until recently, my mother worked 3 12-hour days a week. She could work as much overtime as she wanted to make extra money if she wanted, but otherwise she was home 4 days a week to pursue other interests. I also liked the idea of the flexibility of mixing practice with research and teaching.

      So many times I wish I had gone into nursing. I almost dropped out of my PhD program to do a combined BSN/MSN program; at the time, the BSN/MSN program would’ve taken me the same amount of time that finishing the PhD would’ve, the starting salary would be the same or higher, and there were more career options. But I didn’t have any of the nursing prerequisites, so I would’ve had to take 2 years to take them all. And it’s interesting now because all these hospitals are like ferociously recruiting nurses. There’s one hospital in my grad school city that was paying $96K starting to new NPs with no experience.

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