a round-up: noisy open offices, handing over your health data to your employer, and more

Three interesting things —

1. I generally stay away from articles that purport to know what millennials want because I think most of what’s written about millennials is ridiculous, but that feeling was trumped by my general love of slamming open office spaces. So I hereby give you this Business Insider piece about how millennials hate noisy open office spaces … like the rest of us.

2. I’ll just give you the headline of this Buzzfeed piece, which will be enough to raise your blood pressure (which you’ll then need to report to your employer):
Workers May Soon Have To Share Health Data — Or Pay A Penalty

3. In some better news, there’s a growing trend in big tech companies to offer much-longer-than usual parental leave. Netflix is offering unlimited paid time off for a year to new parents, Microsoft gives 20 weeks of fully paid maternity leave and 12 weeks for new fathers, and Adobe is offering 26 weeks of paid maternity leave and 16 weeks of paid paternity leave for birth and adoptive parents.

{ 314 comments… read them below }

  1. Daisy Steiner*

    Ugh, my office insists on having music on. IT’S DRIVING ME INSANE. For many it’s not distracting, but as a writer I work with words. Having a singer shouting stuff at me when I’m trying to formulate a brand-new sentence is like having someone say random numbers when you’re trying to do maths in your head.

    1. hayling*

      My husband’s last office had music too. That would totally drive me nuts. Both distraction-wise and music-snob wise!

    2. Sans*

      Another writer here who CAN NOT listen to music while trying to write! Your analogy is spot on.

      1. Daisy Steiner*

        Some of our teams aren’t allowed to use headphones as they are somewhat customer-facing. So the push mostly comes from them. And to be honest, overall I prefer to work in a team that isn’t all plugged into headphones all day – it makes it easier to be collaborative.

        1. Windchime*

          To me, “collaborative” = people talking all day long. That doesn’t mesh well with the type of work I do. People think that programmers need to be collaborating all day long, but what we (or at least I) really need is a couple of touch-base meetings, some GOOD requirements and then time to be quiet and think. No slides, no treehouses, no friggin’ PING PONG. Just some quiet.

    3. Mona Lisa*

      Ugh, I had a woman in my last office who insisted on playing her Pandora channels at top volume without earphones. I have a difficult time concentrating listening to music with lyrics so I started bringing noise cancelling headphones on days when I really needed to buckle down and get significant amounts of work done.

      1. alter_ego*

        I have a coworker who listens to pandora without headphones sometimes, and it’s not the music or it’s volume that gets to me. It’s that she sings. along. aaaaaaargh

        1. Sydney*

          Oh i’ve had that too. Only it was a country and western station on the radio. So commercials too. It was the worst.

        2. Mona Lisa*

          Oh, this same co-worker frequently sang along with the songs. Including ones with explicit lyrics.

        3. Sams*


          But gospel and Christian music. At a public school, student facing.

          Sing though isn’t as bad as the humming. And this is in a student computer lab (library). Yep.

    4. Elizabeth West*


      I can only listen to instrumental music. I can’t listen to vocal music while writing or editing. It’s just too distracting. I feel your pain. Also if it’s something I hate, it’s distracting too.

    5. INTP*

      I worked in an office with music and it was SO annoying! And my manager insisted on leaving it on the Top 40/Easy Listening station (the one that’s always 96.5 in every city it seems), which at the time was playing a specific Adele song at least once an hour – I like Adele but it’s heavy music to listen to 10x a day! Well technically, when people would complain she would tell us that we could leave it on any appropriate station that we wanted, but the next morning it somehow always found its way back to 96.5 despite everyone except my boss commenting on how refreshing the change was. I assume she was secretly changing it back when she was alone in the office.

      I actually started my NPR habit at that job. I would listen to the exact same stories driving to work and driving home because with music on all day long I could NOT deal with more music outside of work at ALL.

      1. Mike C.*

        OMFG that station!?!?! Nothing more than out of date, milquetoast “middle of the road” garbage.

  2. Scotty Smalls*

    #2 – my company has been doing this for a couple of years. They set unrealistic, unattainable goals for employees to set. They brag about how much the employee population’s overall health has improved since instituting the new policy but yet…our healthcare costs keep rising and rising even though we are “healthier.” Its such a crock and one of the many reasons Im looking to get out.

    1. sunny-dee*

      Insurance rates across the board have been going up. In the marketplace in Texas, Blue Cross is requesting a 60% premium hike next year, and three insurers are dropping out entirely.

      I don’t know your state or insurer, but it’s possible your employer really is trying to keep costs down and the market increases are just pushing it up anyway. (Or they could suck. I have seen that, too.)

      1. BronxRosie*

        Nationally rates went up over 13% on private insurance in 2015. I understand the concern over sharing data, but companies are trying to figure out how to reduce costs any way they can. My biggest beef with this is whether the company gives the work life balance to cook balanced meals and exercise on a regular basis. Without time, there is no way to do all the things we “should” do.

        1. Stranger than fiction*

          Or to, you know, actually take time off to use the insurance provided to have a physical!

      2. DLB*

        Same with my company – we have a wellness program, get tested once a year for cholesterol, BMI, weight, etc. and they have challenges set up, and you earn points for different things. I essentially get my insurance for “free” and just pay a portion of the premium for my family. However we have a high deductible. I don’t *think* they share our biometric screening results with the company, they just want to know that we did it, but I could be wrong.

        Yesterday though, my boss told me something interesting. They are thinking of self-managing our insurance like they self-manage our retirement plan by building a clinic, and hiring doctors and nurses, etc. that would be on our company’s payroll. Employees and their families would go to the clinics for regular check-ups, well visits, other things you’d go to your primary care doctor for, and then do referrals for more serious stuff. This actually really concerns me! Even though I know things like this would technically be protected by HIPAA, I’m sure they could find out if they really wanted to what my medical issues were. What if you went to the doctor “too much” according to them? Would we be penalized? My boss said that they couldn’t make us use the clinics, but I’m sure if the cost was so drastic vs having regular insurance, you would feel penalized if you didn’t use the company provided healthcare. It just seems sketchy to me. So far they are just looking into it, but I really hope they ask the employees what we think.

        1. Health Clinic User*

          My previous employer did exactly this; they contracted with a company to set up clinics in our major locations. The one in my city was not popular due to the high quality healthcare already available here, but others were welcomed. Visits to the clinic are much cheaper than a normal doctors visit. Yearly health screenings were also scheduled there.

          Well I recently heard the company wants to know about employee utilization, and they’re trying to link HR data with clinic records. Union is reportedly up in arms and consulting lawyers.

          I really can’t type more without launching into a profanity-laden rant. But; be very wary.

          1. DLB*

            Interesting… the cheaper visits would be nice, but the utilization rates would not be something I would be excited about. Glad to know other companies have tried it, and opinions on it.

        2. spinetingler*

          ah, the old “company store” that Tennessee Ernie Ford sang about in “16 Tons.”

          I have a lot of coal miners in my ancestry, and none of them ever had anything good to say about company stores/housing/doctors.

    2. A. Nonymous*

      My place of employment does this too. It’s really annoying. I manage my health conditions like an adult and don’t want to have someone hold my hand about it. I don’t think my health is anyone’s business but mine and my doctors, I’m a really private person. That coupled with their INSISTENCE on BMI is frankly, insulting.

      1. MsChanandlerBong*

        I ranted about this below. My husband and I had to do a wellness assessment. Despite my having multiple serious medical conditions, their only focus was in hounding me about my weight.

        1. A. Nonymous*

          My wife hasn’t even been able to LOG INTO our account, but she has till July 31st to fill out a screening. HOPEFULLY SHE CAN GET IN! I have had issues with disordered eating in the past, and that crap about BMI hurt, particularly because I am EXTREMELY healthy outside of my MANAGED conditions. I can’t imagine how that sort of crap would affect someone who was recovering from a serious eating disorder.

          1. an anon*

            The wellness program is required to offer you an alternative assessment if you have a health reason for being unable to complete the standard one. That includes BMI assessment and any challenge having to do with weight loss/losing waist inches/etc. You do typically have to request the alternative assessment in writing, however.

            1. A. Nonymous*

              I’m not sure about that, I know someone who asked for them to remove the BMI flag on her system because of an eating disorder and she was told they couldn’t do it. Maybe she didn’t push enough?

        2. NolongerMsCleo*

          I failed my health assessment last year (BMI and waist size) while being 7 months pregnant. I asked if that was going to be taken into account and was told it would not.

          1. A. Nonymous*

            I actually have no words for that. I suppose that they’ll be amazed at the “transformation” from pregnant to not pregnant and take credit for it?

              1. BeautifulVoid*

                I had to check in with a hematologist while pregnant to make sure my iron wasn’t getting dangerously low, and he wanted to see me one more time after giving birth to make sure everything was okay. The nurse who weighed me only glanced at my chart and said “Oh, wow, you lost over 40 pounds since the last time you were here! Good for you!”

                “I gave birth to twins.”

          2. Anne*

            Ugh, that sucks. I’m opting out of my health assessment this year for that reason. I’m 6 months pregnant and obviously my weight and waist size is out of “healthy” ranges (as it should be! Pregnant women are supposed to gain weight and have a larger waist!). Is there anyone else you could appeal to? Our HR department was very understanding about it.

          3. Log*

            I didn’t even know workplace health assessments were a thing, and this entire thread discussing them as normal is freaking me out.

            Is this common enough that I should inquire about it in the benefits stage of an interview? Because it would 100% be a deal-breaker for any job offer.

          4. INTP*

            Further proof that this is about money, not health. Pregnancy increases healthcare costs just like abdominal obesity, so let’s not give women a pass for it!

          5. DLB*

            I was pregnant year before last, and they actually wouldn’t let me do the screening until after I had the baby. Our program, as long as we do the screening by the “end of the year”, it counts.

              1. DLB*

                I think their main concern was that I was about 36 weeks along, and it would throw off the BMI, and the waist circumference measurements. They sent me a home testing kit that I did about 4 months postpartum. Pricked my finger, measured, weighed and sent it in.

    3. INTP*

      If an employer wants to improve employee health, the #1 thing they need to worry about is limiting expected workloads and hours, not trying to interfere with our BMIs and health data. Most health conditions can be greatly improved just by someone sleeping a full 8 hours, getting in a workout, and cooking a healthy meal each day – and most people can’t do all three on a daily basis while working much more than 40 hours with a commute.

      Anything employers do to “encourage health” while regularly expecting exempt workers to put in over 40-45 hours is just lip service at best, and potentially data collection with much more sinister motives. It’s ridiculous to say “Improve these health markers…but find some way to do it without time for all the basic, evidence-based steps.”

  3. Anlyn*

    My company is in the process of converting to open office, and I’m dreading it. Thankfully I have the option to work from home twice a week, but it’s still going to be awful.

    1. Lily in NYC*

      I’m moving to an open plan in a few weeks and I am so miserable over it. We’ll have absolutely no barriers, just desks right next to each other. It’s supposed to be so we can collaborate more, but it’s total BS because we all wear headphones. It’s really because we are outgrowing our space. My sympathies, Anlyn! I’m feeling very sorry for myself.

      1. Biff*

        I realize this is horrible, but I’d be tempted to be very obviously disgusting, especially when management was around. Clip fingernails. Pick nose. Examine pimples. Etc, etc.

          1. Biff*

            Well yeah, that’s the point. To make people realize that this situation is easily invasive.

      2. Windchime*

        I think it’s almost always a cost-cutting measure dressed up with fake-happy chatter about collaboration and teamwork. You’ll notice that the bosses don’t usually sit out in the typing pool with everyone else; that’s because they are Important People Who Need Quiet.

    2. Collingwood21*

      At a recent conference I attended a discussion about a certain organisation’s experience of moving to new purpose-built premises that would have all offices open-plan on a hotdesking approach (*shudder*). The senior manager was very enthusiastic about it, evangelising about how great his Surface Pro was, the move to paperless working that was driven by this approach, and how he loved sitting next to new people each day. I was beginning to be convinced by his enthusiasm, when the next slide went up and one of the disadvantages noted was “increases to employee stress, absenteeism and staff turnover” amongst those teams who had already moved to this approach. I’m sorry – this is having a measurable negative effect on staff and causing increased business costs but you are still pushing ahead with it? I mentally struck said organisation from my list of future potential employers. No way would I want to be considered a less valuable resource that a manager’s Surface Pro!

  4. Snargulfuss*

    Alison – have you listened to the most recent episode of the podcast Invisibilia? One section tells the story of these guys on an oil rig who had to go through these intense emotional exercises. The exercises were very personal, but in the end safety and productivity on the rig went up enormously. The whole time I was listening I was thinking “What would Alison say about this?” On the one hand the employer is going way over the line by having people share so much personal info, but on the other hand it completely improved the working conditions of a very dangerous job.

      1. The IT Manager*

        EST-type exercises I think. It sounded super kooky. A point was, though, that traditional oil rig culture was so macho and emotionally repressed that they did not visibly react when co-workers were killed on the job in front of them so they weren’t quite starting from a normal office workplace culture place to begin with.

        Invisibilia is a great podcast and you should go listen. Part 2 was also work-related about how McDonalds changed Russian culture by requiring employees to provide service with a smile like in the US.

        1. Windchime*

          I love Invisibilia. I haven’t listened to all of them but it’s a really good podcast. The one I was listening to today was about the people who pioneered human/computer integration. Fascinating and creepy.

      2. Train*

        If I recall correctly, it paid off because workers were more comfortable asking for help or acknowledging their limitations when performing dangerous tasks. Before the exercises, people were getting hurt because they were worried about appearing tough and invulnerable at all times, even when their safety was at risk.

        1. Clever Name*

          This makes so much sense. Oil rig workers tend to be men in their 20s, which is an age group when many still have those teenage feelings of invincibility. I would imagine that the training would increase people’s empathy and concern for others as well. I’m a woman, and now that I’ve been working for a while, I’ve definitely made decisions in the field for safety reasons, and the young male coworkers I was with were totally prepared to do something dangerous without a second thought.

    1. Shannon*

      In fairness, working on an oil rig isn’t like a 9-5 job. You live with your co-workers for weeks or months on end.

    2. Mike C.*

      We had some similar trainings regarding past air crashes that were in part a result of people screwing up the build. In this particular incident, the the pilots had a significant amount of time to fly such that paper and pens could be passed out to the passengers to write letters to their families before the plane finally crashed.

      As part of the exercise, we were asked to imagine ourselves in the position of the passengers and write our own letters. I quietly wrote nothing, because while I understand the importance and seriousness of our job I felt that it went a step too far. No one seemed to mind.

    3. alter_ego*

      Ah! It’s back!? I loved the first season, I didn’t realize the second had started. I’m so excited!

    4. Oignonne*

      Glad you mentioned this, I was also curious about what others thought. I can’t imagine weeping over personal issues with my coworkers, but it was interesting that it worked for these folks. I can appreciate it viewed from a humane perspective, in that it allows you to view others in a more compassionate way, knowing that everyone has some struggles at some point in their lives. In the workplace though? Seems super inappropriate.

  5. Mike C.*

    Re: #3

    So, if your premium was $6,251 (last year’s national average), you could pay — or save — up to $1,875. Same goes for your partner, even if they’re not on your health insurance.

    Wait, is this poorly edited, or is it true that a spouse would have to give medical information for the employee to qualify for the discount even if the spouse isn’t using the insurance? That doesn’t make any sense at all, why would you need information on people you aren’t covering? Am I missing something here?

    1. Kyrielle*

      Apparently because how well people adhere to the goals is affected by whether their spouse is doing it with them.

      And I find this a horrifying overreach.

    2. Captain Carrot*

      My spouse’s job has a program like this and it does include spouses who are not covered under the company’s health insurance policy. Thankfully it’s actually voluntary, because I noped right out of that when it said I would have the pleasure of getting a blood test for who knows what.

    3. A. Nonymous*

      My wife has to fill in her information or we don’t get the “discount”, at least that’s how my horrible insurance works.

        1. A. Nonymous*

          She is, yes.

          I’m altogether salty about giving them as much information as they ask for and would be even if it wasn’t impossible for her to log in. They’ve made this as difficult as it can possibly be and it looks to be getting worse; the direct company I work with (I’m in healthcare, it’s complicated between networks and hospitals) is actually requiring blood tests, so we’re probably going to move to her insurance, it’s less invasive.

          1. Sunshine*

            Ugh. Yeah. Mine is currently just for me (they cover the kids without all the intrusions, thankfully). I find it gross, but grit my teeth and get through it. It helps that it’s strictly based on participation and not “level of healthiness”.

          2. the gold digger*

            I don’t answer the questions. BC/BS Michigan has pages and pages of questions, but I discovered that I could get credit for completing the form just by entering my name and then hitting “next” each time.

            I just made my appointment for this year’s physical. In the past, I made it for first thing in the morning so I could easily do the fast required for the blood test.

            Now I have decided I do not care about the results and will eat breakfast before I go. None of this information is any business of my employer or of my group insurer. I am doing this only so my premium is not as high as it could be.

            (And re the login – my husband could not log in because BC had not accounted for a first name longer than the field they had allocated. I don’t know if that’s your problem, but I thought it was worth mentioning.)

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I haven’t heard that episode, but aren’t they basically saying that they have a high bar for performance and are forthright about addressing it when it’s not being met (as opposed to letting low performers linger)?

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          So … some of this is basically how I advocate people manage — focus on results, not effort or face time, and address it head-on when someone’s role has changed or isn’t working out, and don’t be afraid to let people go when that’s what makes sense for the organization (but treat them well on the way out — generous severance, etc.). But I’m certainly no fan of a culture that works people to the point of chronic pain and exhaustion and then treats them the way they did the woman who needed to go short-term disability!

          Here’s a transcript for anyone who prefers reading to listening (as I do):

          1. Jenny*

            I completely agree – I think there can be a balance, but based on my impression from that episode, it doesn’t sound like Netflix has found that.

            Fangirling slightly from your response to my comment! ;)

      1. sunny-dee*

        I’m listening to it now, and it actually sounds like a pretty healthy environment. Maybe that’s in contrast to the backbiting at Amazon?

            1. Jarrow*

              As of my signing-emails-with-four-fulltime-jobtitles burnout in 2014, it’s still very very much a GE thing. So is the mandatory-or-you-lose-insurance ‘wellness initiative’ which is #2 above. Note that any data – even healthcare data – that you provide your employer becomes owned by them, HIPAA does not protect you. HIPAA only mandates that (1) Your employer tells you what they will do with the data (and that legalese has more loopholes then Emmentaler cheese) and (2) Allows the patient(you) to file a protest that will almost certainly go to an arbitration board – which you will pretty much never win. It is NOT some magical shield against misuse – or even outright sale – of your personal medical history.
              For example, your prescription drug usage is ALREADY accessible for background checks. Taking fertility drugs to have a baby? High bloodpressure medication? No job for you!

      2. Meg Murry*

        Yes, but it’s also a lot like the recent articles around the culture of Amazon, where there is a push to be the very best all the time, or you are done – so I’d fear that these policies are the kind that look nice on paper, but that employees get punished career-wise if they actually use them.

        For instance, in the article you listed, there is a link to a full article just on the Netflix policy, which says ” Netflix employees “can return part-time, full-time, or return and then go back out as needed. We’ll just keep paying them normally, eliminating the headache of switching to state or disability pay.” ”

        My concern is that since people aren’t “officially” out on leave, they would be pressured to keep working, or get negative reviews or pressure from bosses that to actually check out would be committing career suicide. Or a lot of “Look at how committed Bob is, even though he’s on his year of paternity leave he still did project X, Y and Z – why aren’t you that committed Jane?”

        If the big bosses start using the leave and actually check out to be 100% parents for a time, I think this is great – because this kind of change has to come from the top down. If it is a policy on the books but people are punished for actually taking it, that could be worse than having a shorter but true official leave period.

        It’s not unlike unlimited vacation policies – at some companies, it really is a perk, at other companies it’s a race to the bottom to prove yourself by appearing to be super committed and therefore not taking vacation.

        1. neverjaunty*

          Yup. It’s always interesting to me how BigLaw and Silicon Valley have some of the same cutthroat practices in employment, but BigLaw doesn’t try to sell them with passive-aggressive nonsense about how it’s really for the employee’s own good. Paternity leave? Sure, take some. Just don’t expect to be on the partner track, ever, and you still have to make up those billable hours.

          1. Triangle Pose*

            Totally agree about BigLaw and Silicon Valley. It’s funny because SV is all about disrupting the status quo, innovating, etc. whereas BigLaw is mainly conservative and lawyers in general and risk averse.

        2. INTP*

          Regarding your 3rd and 4th paragraphs, I had the same thoughts listening to the story. It sounds like they didn’t want to make the woman with chronic pain’s leave official because that kept them free to fire her, versus if there were an official FMLA/Disability leave.

    2. INTP*

      While I agree with you about it probably not being that easy to use the advertised benefits, and I see how a lot of aspects of that culture could be off-putting, but while the culture sounds brutal in some ways, it also sounds inspiringly egalitarian. Let’s be real, the people stuffing DVDs into envelopes would be disposable at any company. At most tech companies they wouldn’t even be real employees, but hired on a contract basis without benefits or from a staffing agency. The shocking thing here is that engineers and executives are being held to equally stringent expectations about producing value for the company.

      It sounds like Netflix is using the same strategy most tech companies do, maintaining a largely temporary workforce according to current needs. Only most tech companies are doing that by hiring large numbers of temporary/consultant/contract workers (and not just the entry level or project-based positions, but midlevel nontech positions as well) and keeping higher management and the top engineers comfortably safe.

    3. esra*

      Purely anecdotal territory: I have a couple friends who moved to the states to work at Netflix and they absolutely love it. And they’re used to Canadian employment standards.

  6. Sami*

    It would infuriate me to give any health information to a company. And here’s the thing — most people already know to eat better (more fruits and vegetables, less fat, etc.) and exercise more, so many wellness programs are not helpful and thus are a waste of money.

    1. sunny-dee*

      Wait, the quarterly 5K with a food truck isn’t making me healthier????? I thought that’s all it took!

        1. How Did You Know?*

          Planet Fitness? ;)

          I’m a member there and while I like the cheap monthly fee and that their equipment is in good shape, I do shake my head and offering pizza and bagels (though they’re just once a month) and candy at the check-in counter.

    2. Ann Cognito*

      Absolutely agree! Just this morning, I read a headline on an email that I now can’t find, which said that a large number of employers are stopping with Wellness programs as there’s no evidence of the ROI long-term.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        And it took them how long to figure this out? We had the food police at one place I worked. She would come by and go over your lunch choices with you. I eat simple foods, when I can I get organic. I said, “Let her come over and talk to me!” She never did.

        1. Captain Carrot*

          Did people ask her to? Or did she just swoop with unsolicited advice when she saw pizza or a cupcake in someone’s hand?

          1. TempestuousTeapot*

            Which my snarky self would happily lick the icing off of while she ranted. I really am a terrible person, I think. I have a doctor, an actual physician. I also see the required specialists as needed, just like all the other adults. This silliness makes zero sense. And don’t even think to touch my lunch… grr!

        2. ToxicNudibranch*

          Wait, I need to hear more about this. Your former company paid for someone to wander around being nosy about people’s lunches and shaming their food choices? That is…well, awful doesn’t even begin to cover it.

          1. Log*

            I’m curious what her authority was, considering the complex nature of food politics and the (very impassioned and *highly personalized*) reasons people make their dietary choices.

            “I tend to eat more rice and beans because I don’t support the practices of the meat industry in my country.”

            “I’m boycotting tomatoes because of exploitation of farm workers in my home state.”

            “I’m eating this way because I am fasting from my usual food for religious reasons.”

            “My mother-in-law baked me this ziti herself and if I don’t eat it SHE’LL KNOW.”

            “I eat instant Ramen and hot dogs because our employer doesn’t pay me enough to eat anything else.”

            Nevermind twenty billion other highly personalized reasons an individual’s grocery cart might have certain contents instead of others.

            1. esra*

              “Let me tell you the graphic, Crohn’s-related reasons why there is no kale in my lunch.”

        3. AnonT*

          Man, I would hate working in a place like that. I already get enough flack from my coworkers, but at least they shut up when I tell them I’m eating junk because I spent four hours at the gym last night and I’m trying to get my calorie count back up to where it’s supposed to be. (Better than explaining my ED, that’s for sure.)

        4. disconnect*

          Heh. My company has wellness events periodically, and about every two years there’s a nutritionist who comes in and is available for quick consults. They ask for a food diary for the two weeks previous to the appointment. So I decided to have a little fun, and I dutifully kept a food diary. While I was training for an Ironman. My intake was somewhere around 3500 kcal/day, and my weight never changed, so I wasn’t concerned, but I figured it would be a fun exercise to go through. And it actually wound up helping me a bit; the nutritionist pointed out a few patterns that in retrospect were obvious (e.g. do you know how much sugar is in raisin bran? seriously, off the charts; also, afternoon snacks are a crucial part of my diet, but going for something like cottage cheese and vegetables gave me the protein and crunch I was looking for without the sugar of yogurt and fruit).

          But make it a condition of my health care and now you have become an asshole. Don’t do that.

          1. Stranger than fiction*

            Were they at least a legit nutritionist? I went to one several years ago whose business card was at the gym. She was horrible. The whole thing was a scam to get you to buy expensive and unnecessary supplements. I say unnecessary because she told me I must have a problem with my adrenal gland and my doctor was like “nope” so the supplement actually would have been harmful. And the kicker is I told her I didn’t have the money right that moment and would think it over and she was like “well when will you have it? Why don’t you just write me a post dated check for then?”!!

      2. an anon*

        The ROI (in terms of savings due to having a healthier workforce) is absolutely secondary to the ability to charge employees 30% more in premiums for non-participation or failing to meet wellness goals.

        1. BeenThere*

          Don’t forget the sicker employees opting out and leaving for different employers.

    3. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

      My former company had a wellness program with paid incentives. In my experience, the people who participated were the people who were already healthy or those of us who saw it as an incentive to lose 5-10 pounds.

      One of my friends was (self-described as) the person who was causing the insurance rates to go up because of her health issues. But as she put it, she was already working with her doctor to fix what was wrong, and make larger changes that would prevent future issues, so why would she subject herself to putting it all out there to coworkers.

      1. Joseph*

        Yeah, this is really the issue. The people who use the wellness programs are either people who are already healthy (and just want to get the perks because, meh, why not) or people who have very modest health goals.

        In my 5+ years at my last company, with a highly promoted wellness program, I can think of exactly one employee who drastically improved his health for the better over the course of the time there. And even then, it wasn’t because of the wellness program – it was because his daughter got married and he realized he needed to lose weight if he expected to be alive to watch his future grandkids grow up and graduate high school and etc.

      2. Rafe*

        God it’s so tempting to join our Wellness program — and that’s only for a $50 gift card! I have to think about it every year and always decide to maintain as much privacy as possible. But if the incentives do rise significantly — or worse, if there are actual real-dollar costs/penalties — I don’t see how most people would decline (it really would not be voluntary).

        1. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

          My former company tried to make it mandatory at first, and after the pushback offered a $250 participation incentive instead.

          They swore they didn’t have access to our individual results just our aggregate health scores. Because of my initial health scores, I only had to meet with the Wellness coach three times that year (beginning, middle, end).

    4. Laura*

      Low-fat diets have been disproved. Exactly why wellness programs DO have some role in a good workplace (though obviously it’s up to the individual company).

      1. Koko*

        To me, that’s exactly why most wellness programs are problematic. There is so much bad and/or conflicting advice going around about nutrition. Wellness programs can very well be giving people stupid advice like “eat less fat” that could actually make people less healthy.

        1. Sams*


          Back when I was working in public health, I’d struggle all of the time with advocating one-size-fits-all advice that seemed to be more and more focused on curbing obesity…but that’s a whole other conversation.

          Although heart disease runs in my family, I have no signs of hypertension yet and have perfect cholesterol. I am a little suspicious of diglycerides (even if that is an unwarrented suspicion), but I’d be furious if I had to start eating food that felt to me to be less healthy. I’d lose all motivation to eat better.

          1. Laura*

            Definitely a good point. Employers should have no say in what employees can and cannot eat, unless there are specific reasons to ban something (i.e. a nut-free workplace because of allergies).

            That being said, one of my former companies had fully-stocked kitchens. There were VERY few gluten-free and/or healthy options. I basically ate the same salad every day for months because it was all that was available. If you’re gonna do something like that, you need to go all-out.

        2. Basiorana*

          My husband’s wellness program is run by a vegan who believes vaccines cause autism. She also told him he needed to lose weight since “healthy men have abs.” He decided $60 off his premium wasn’t worth dealing with her.

    5. Mike C.*

      What pisses me off the most is that the things an employer can address directly, like say working hours, overtime, food offered at the cafeteria, etc is never addressed as part of the wellness program!

      If they care so much, why not take the fryers out of the kitchens? Why are the healthier options more expensive than the cheap fried ones? If they want us to exercise regularly, why allow so much ad hoc overtime?

      1. neverjaunty*

        It’s like the old joke about the guy who lost his glasses in a dark alley, but looks for them under the streetlamp because the light is better there.

      2. Kyrielle*

        And why is the break room “snack supply” (which is, do not get me wrong, already generous to have there) so thoroughly unhealthy? (I know the answer: it means they can shop less often because it all has preservatives. But…it’s just a wow-bucket of bad-for-you stuff. Off the top of my head, jelly beans, cookies, potato chips, other forms of chips. I do think there’s some veggie straws, that might be the healthiest thing in there.)

        1. Mike C.*

          Yeah, the vending machines here are hilarious. And I hate to say it, but when I’m working a huge project and haven’t slept much, those tater tots in the cafeteria start looking really, really good.

      3. Mike C.*

        And those f*cking wellness coaches. I tried it, and they recommended that since I walk a lot but still needed to lose weight that I should do weight lifting. Knowing nothing about lifting and working someone obsessed with lifting I immediately asked, “Ok, what are the safe ways of doing it? What sort of exercises and how often? What equipment should I use and what should I avoid?” that sort of thing. Do you think they could help me with that? At least point me in the direction of some good resources?


        Given the amount of absolute garbage out there when it comes to health/wellness/exercise materials out there, it’s really important to have someone who can sort through the anti-science garbage and find something things that are safe and will actually work.

        1. Shelby Drink the Juice*

          I did the health coach one year, because it was tied to money. I just lied the whole time.

          1. Meg Murry*

            Yes, I had to do a monthly consultation with a nurse by phone as part of a “health coaching” option when I was pregnant – I think it was supposed to put some kind of cap on how much of my deductible I’d have to pay related to prenatal care and childbirth (but not lower the deductible overall, so I’m not sure how much it was just moving money around on paper vs actual savings). However, the questions were the most very basic – was I getting prenatal care, was I taking a prenatal vitamin, had I been to the dentist in the past year, etc. It was the kind of thing that a person *without* health insurance probably could use (as long as it helped them get the care, not just recorded all the times they said “no” and moved on) but for those of us with insurance it just seems like a waste of time. And I’m sure if they started to nag me about it I would have said “yes” just to shut them up, or stopped making the phone calls.

        2. Anxa*

          Oh wow.

          Yeah, I started lifting a few months ago..but it was kind of scary. I have zero issues with my weight. Any issues with my appearance are more age and genetic distribution of fat issues. I just wanted to get stronger to help improve my job search (those physical requirements were getting discouraging; I knew I’d want to make sure I could lift 75 lbs over my head).

          I’m young and healthy and did sports in high school, and I was still worried about hurting myself.

        3. Aurion*

          I always thought wellness coaches should be some sort of combination of personal trainer (i.e. with athletic background and knowledge) and nutritionist (for food advice). Obviously they wouldn’t be as knowledgeable in the two fields as the dedicated personal trainer/nutritionist, but they’d give the people they’re coaching somewhere to start. I mean, I know I want to (should) start weightlifting, but it wasn’t until very recently, after several days of digging on the internet, did I find something suited to beginners that wasn’t all machines and probably wouldn’t injure me or screw up my weak joints. I expected a wellness coach to be able to circumvent all that research I had to do, at least to start. Apparently not.

          What kind of qualification do wellness coaches have then?!

          1. Laura*

            So glad you said this, because too often people don’t realize that exercise and healthy diet go hand-in-hand. You have to have both to be truly successful.

          2. AnonT*

            From what I hear, almost none. Even personal trainers often don’t have any kind of actual qualifications.

            There are a few agencies out there that will certify you as a personal trainer or wellness coach, but between agencies the quality of what they test you on (or even if they test you at all) varies so widely that even holding an actual certification might not mean much.

            It’s a weird and largely unregulated industry, as far as I can tell.

        4. A. Nonymous*

          Oh those wellness coaches. I have asthma, I DO weight training. My asthma is managed BY MY DOCTOR and I’m well aware that I weigh more than I “should”, thanks. THAT WOULD BE WHAT I AM GOING FOR.

        5. Mazzy*

          Wow you really hate this stuff! Well, let me add to the anecdotal data then:-). At a past larger company, they tried this, and it didn’t work very well. First of all, only the already healthy people opted in, for the most part, so the meetings were always rushed, there was definitely alot of tension from people who were probably bored because they already knew what was being discussed, which probably hurt some people. Also, the suggestions were so ridiculous or unrealistic. Don’t show us microscopic food portion – you get paid to do this, find some meal combinations that are actually sizable. Anyone can cut a 1/4 inch piece of cheese and say “voila, healthy snack!” And come up with tasty items – yes, we know carrot sticks are good for you, but that isn’t a suggestion I need to go to a class to hear!

      4. Joseph*

        Oh yeah.

        My personal favorite is when wellness instructors who come in and talk about exercising daily and getting enough sleep…at the same time there’s a major deliverable date and people are working 80-hour weeks.

      5. Friday Brain All Week Long*

        WORKING HOURS. Seriously! If I had an extra hour in the day, I’d honestly use it for more exercise and meal creating.

    6. Katniss*

      Not only is it infuriating , it’s humiliating.

      I got sober last August. Since then, and largely due to sobriety (suddenly I was eating more, I had a huge sweet tooth for the first several months, my body was processing things differently) I’ve gained about 40 pounds. I deal with a lot of body image issues because of it, and dysmorphia, and it’s bordered very closely to disordered thinking.

      We did a wellness screening here at work this Wednesday that included weight, BMI information*, and waist measurements and I was agonizing about it for weeks beforehand. I have purposely avoided knowing my weight because it sends me to a very bad place, and I had no guarantee the people doing the screening would be sensitive about it. It ended up being much better than I thought and I wasn’t put in any “at risk” categories, but I don’t want to know what would have happened if I had been tsk tsked by the people doing the screenings or my employer. Hell, I’m STILL reeling from a trainer at the gym telling me I was obese (I am really, REALLY not) in JANUARY. All for something that isn’t any of my employer’s business whatsoever.

      *Don’t even get me started on people who are supposed to know anything about health using BMI as if it was a valuable tool.

      1. Muriel Heslop*

        Congrats on getting sober. You’ve made some incredible health changes within the last 12 months. As a recovered anorexic, I can relate to some of your food issues. Keep moving forward and please give yourself some grace. You have a lot of which to be proud.

        1. Katniss*

          Thank you, this made me smile. I’m at a point now where I can work on some of the weight gain in healthy ways, but I definitely remind myself when I’m feeling badly about it that any change in my body has been worth it for sobriety. And I had other things to worry about at the time!

      2. A. Nonymous*

        Congratulations on being sober! That’s a huge accomplishment and I hope that you’re proud of yourself because you should be.

      3. disconnect*

        Actually, I’ve found BMI to be a very useful tool, in that if someone points to my BMI as an indicator of my lack of fitness/worth as a human being, I am comfortable with putting them in the column “People I Can Ignore”.

        1. Katniss*

          HA! Good point. I’ve got a whole list of things like that:

          If someone talks seriously about “feminazis” or “men’s rights”
          If someone talks about “welfare cheats who have iPhones”
          If someone says “I’m not racist, but”

          And so forth.

    7. Sams*

      Maybe I’m just jaded because I’m low-income.

      But you know what would make me healthier? Having more money to spend on food and other consumer goods that affect health (like having real blackout curtains to help sleep better…or even a nice eyemask, living in an apartment with less mold/pests, living in a safer apartment, affording a gym membership). Maybe if you have a fancier job with things like health insurance you don’t need to worry about those things, but I’m sure that some extra money would help lots of people sleep better at night and live healthier lifestyles…even those that make way more money than me.

      1. INTP*

        Yes, excellent point. What most people need to be healthier are more time and/or money. Not lunchtime yoga classes (when taking a lunch in the first place is frowned upon) or harassment from their insurance company or little newsletters with trite health tips. Investing in ANYTHING “health program”-ish before you’ve invested in reasonable workloads per person and reasonable pay just proves that it’s not really about employee health at all. It’s an attempt to improve morale by pretending to care in the cheapest way possible.

        1. I'm a Little Teapot*

          Yep. Also, an attempt to get good PR, and to harass “expensive” employees, and probably to fish for medical and genetic information so you can fire people who are “liabilities” on semi-plausible pretexts they’ll probably never prove are fake while protesting that you’d *never* misuse that kind of information.

    8. AW*

      most people already know to eat better (more fruits and vegetables, less fat, etc.)

      Except according to a lot of sources, that’s wrong. Fat doesn’t actually make you fat. Some folks will tell you the sugar in fruits is bad for you and others will say it’s only refined sugar that’s the problem. Other folks will say that some things you think are healthy vegetables should be considered starches and avoided.

      What people know is a lot of conflicting, unhelpful information and a bunch of vague stuff that’s not specific enough to be actionable.

      However, I still agree that most wellness programs probably are not helpful because in my limited experience they don’t give you much good information.

    9. INTP*

      Exactly. Here’s how an employer can help me improve my health – maintain a culture where I can work an average of 40 hours per week, ideally with some flexibility, without committing career suicide or forfeiting the chance to win any awards or promotions. I’ll use that time to eat healthily, exercise, and sleep enough. Any sort of “wellness initiative” without that is pointless.

  7. The Alias Gloria Has Been Living Under, A.A., B.S.*

    My company does the wellness program, you get a discount on your insurance if you get so many points per quarter. First quarter is easy, go to the dentist, fill out certain data points like height, weight, BP, etc. The remaining three quarters are harder. If you’re slim to start with you just have to go to the doctor and certify that you’re a healthy weight and can get points that way. If you’re not, you have to lose a certain percentage to get those same points. You can get a health coach, which is just someone telling you to eat your vegetables and get enough sleep, they aren’t actually helpful. I decided this year that it wasn’t worth the discount, even though it’s $400 a quarter.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      get enough sleep…
      Meanwhile the boss wants you to work 12 hours per day, 8 days a week. The disconnect is incredible.

      1. Laura*

        Ugh, I can relate! My boss is such a nice woman, but she literally expects me to be available every day, even weekends, and to answer emails and texts whenever she sends them. She may be working at 4 a.m., but I’m asleep. Sorry not sorry.

    2. Jayn*

      Ours used to do it that way, only by halves. The first one was pretty easy for us–could do it with just a trip to the doctor and some online stuff. Second one we never bothered with. This year it’s just one return, and it’s going to be harder to get. At minimum I’ll need some phone coaching to manage it (Which is something I just don’t want to deal with). And that’s ignoring that I’m annoyed at having to give them the info.

      On top of that they moved to a worse plan this year.

  8. micromanagedrat*

    I would really like to hear career advice columnists (!) as well as women from different types of professions and careers talk frankly about the impact they think taking a year of maternity leave would have on one’s career.

    1. Kate M*

      If I’m not mistaken, don’t some countries like Canada do this already? I get that it would be really useful to hear it from an American perspective where the culture isn’t used to this amount of maternity leave. But I think other countries have shown that, once the culture is used to it, it can definitely work.

      1. Caitlin*

        Exactly, once the culture is established it works fine. That said, there is no question that being out for a full year stalls your career for that period of time, but that is a trade off and the effects aren’t long-term. So if you choose not to have children (or you are a man who doesn’t take paternity leave) then you have the benefit of faster career progression during the period when others are taking parental leave. I would bet money that most people would make this trade off (slightly slowed career progression for each child) instead of the many, many downsides of returning to work so quickly after having children (physical exhaustion, emotional toll of leaving a young baby, difficulty breastfeeding, having to put an infant in daycare, etc.).

        1. Jaz*

          Legally in Sweden your employer isn’t even allowed to key your career Stark during the time you’re on parental leave. This doesn’t completely work in real life, but it is a noble goal.

      2. Anomonous*

        I’m in Canada, and it’s tricky. Dads are allowed to take nearly half the time, but it’s not very common. In my field, the result is that most women are out of the workforce for a couple years, and most men are not. I’ve heard that other countries have use it or lose it time for dads. Seem like that would make things less lopsided.

        1. Chriama*

          Yup. As a Canadian I was just thinking the other day that I wish there was some father-only paternity leave. I think it’s a decent system overall, but as the Conservative’s proposed income splitting showed, there is a significant amount of the population where women lose out on career progression by taking time off to have kids. I would like a system where there’s leave available only to men, in addition to the allowed splitting of current mat leave.

      3. Zahra*

        We hear all the time how hard it is to replace someone for 12 weeks. However, I think it’s much easier to replace someone for a year: 12 weeks isn’t enough to get someone up to speed and productive, but a year is usually more than enough. Plus, it provides a steady supply of 1-year contracts (because, yes, women usually take the lion’s share of the leave, even though most of it can be split between both parents) for newer grads that need to get experience.

    2. Sarahnova*

      I’m presuming you mean American women, since women in other Western countries do do it all the time.

      I only took eight months of my year (my husband took two of the remaining ones), and I suppose it’s possible that I might have got promoted *slightly* earlier had I not taken the leave, but nor much. And my increased confidence and productivity has helped my career. I am kicking ass right now in 4 days a week.

    3. K.*

      The UK already does this. My former company had American offices and UK offices. My department was about 80% women of childbearing age, on both sides of the pond. We had a LOT of babies and weddings in the time I worked there. Our UK colleagues were constantly shocked at the US’s shitty maternity leave policy. They were out a year, and they tended to hire contractors to cover.

    4. Worker Bee (Germany)*

      It does have lots of negative effects. Not getting promotions, less pay than men. Men being preferred when they have the same qualifications. Job hunting at a certain age is a nightmare because you represent the risk of being out soon and long. Plus the employer needs to save your job for your return and if the employer has more then 15 employees one can request to go from full time to parttime and the employer has to accommodate it. That’s especially tough on small businesses who might not be able to afford to part time employees. And the person covering while one is out usually is more expensive because it’s only a year long contract and people overhere still look for longtime employment.
      As much as I am happy for the women who have kids and stay at home, it is tough for women like me who want a career..

    5. Felicia*

      Canada does this already. In fact i believe every other developed country in the world other than the US has around a year of maternity leave and it works fine so there is real data.

      As a Canadian, its weird for me that there are places in the world that consider a year of maternity leave unusual.

  9. Anonymous for now*

    I’m probably going to be unpopular for saying this, and I do support new parents getting paid time off… but at some point, isn’t it too much? I don’t plan to ever have kids… Some people can’t. Basically people are getting a year of paid leave for making a different lifestyle choice.

    One more way in which people who don’t follow the standard life path are penalized, IMO.

    1. Jubilance*

      They’re getting a year off paid to care for a new member of society. The rest of the world does this and it’s productive to have parents to bond with their kids, get back to a regular sleep routine before returning to work, and not have to spend astronomical amounts for daycare. For some reason, only Americans think that having a kid is something that should be done in secret, with zero community support.

      1. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

        Having recently come to the conclusion I am going to die alone and without children (unless pets count), you think about a lot of things from; I’ll never have a bachelorette party to, I’ll never take maternity leave.

        But having seen my friends during their maternity/paternity leave…they need it. In my younger days, I had envisioned those first few months like a laundry commercial, adorable smiley baby and happy, refreshed mom cuddling in perfectly positioned sunlight. Then I spent time with my friends during their leave and had to say things like, “did you mean to leave your phone in the refrigerator?”

      2. Sarahnova*

        As anyone who’s been on maternity leave will tell you, it’s not exactly kicking back with a book, either.

        It’s an investment in society which more than pays off, economically. It also supports women breastfeeding for a year, which is important for maternal and child health.

      3. sunny-dee*

        That is insulting and offensive. No, “Americans” don’t think that having kids should be done in secret with no community support. My friends and family with kids had multiple showers, people bringing food after the baby was born, parents staying with them for weeks to help mom and baby recover, friends watching older kids or helping with chores.

        An entitlement program does not equal community support. Demanding a government regulation is not community support. People willingly, gladly, happily bringing food and offering to help is community support. I have seen too many good and generous people for me to accept that statement.

        1. Kate M*

          That’s all well and good for you that your friends had that support. Not everyone does. Not everyone has extended family. Sometimes people working 80+ hour weeks or working more than one job don’t have the time to make friends close by or invest in connecting with their community. Some people are just trying to get by and survive.

          You can define community in a broader sense rather than just “people you are related to and know well.” You can see the larger society as a community that also needs to give support.

        2. Honeybee*

          In addition to what Kate M said, what about low-income mothers in communities where their friends don’t have cars or the money to bring them food or the time to offer to help because they all work 2+ jobs just to stay afloat? We can’t all rely on people voluntarily deciding out of the goodness of their heart to help.

      4. m00nstar*

        Canadian women’s leaves are funded via EI, at 55% of your income and is capped around $2000 a month.

        For many women, EI pays out 25-35% of their usual income and for many it’s really really tight to make it all work for the full year without a top-up from your job. Plenty of folks find mat leave a real hardship, but with the costs of under 12 mos old childcare, physical recovery from giving birth and bonding with the child, they make it work. Plus it’s weird when you come back to work.

        Dipping to 25% of my income for a year isn’t all sunshine and roses and a walk in the park. As a child-bearing age lady without kids yet, it’s not really a ‘benefit’ I’d choose without giving birth…. but the good news is, if you get laid off/terminated without cause in Canada, you STILL get that EI at the same rate for a year. Childless people rejoice!

        1. Daisy Steiner*

          Yes, in the UK paid leave doesn’t mean your full salary. It’s capped at something like £150 a week. Depending on how much you normally earn, it can represent a real drop in income. Plus the last ~12 weeks of the 12 month entitlement are unpaid anyway.

    2. GlamNonprofitSquirrel*

      I am in much the same situation. I cannot have children and now that I’m a middle aged (but still glamorous) squirrel, it’s not an option. Having healthy employees IS in the benefit of the business or organization so supporting workplace wellness programming seems reasonable. Having flexible, generous and accessible leave options for health issues is also reasonable but tying one benefit to procreation *feels* discriminatory to me.

      (I’m not a lawyer and I am not an HR expert. Just putting out my personal opinion. Battening down the hatches with Anonymous for now and awaiting the onslaught of OMGYOUHATECHILDREN comments. Because I don’t but I know that parents have strong feelings on this issue.)

      1. Daisy Steiner*

        But I don’t see how it’s different than allowing more time off for sick people than those who stay well. Sure, at an individual level having children is a choice, but at a societal level SOMEONE has to do it.

        1. Liz T*

          This a million times. I don’t plan to have kids ever but I can see how necessary paid leave is.

          But maybe I’m biased because I’m currently a temp covering a maternity leave. (10 weeks.)

        2. GlamNonprofitSquirrel*

          Can’t we just grow them in test tubes? Or figure out how males can reproduce? #sarcasmfont

          I don’t have any answers, just sharing how it feels to me. I’ve always been the one in the office who got saddled with the “so and so can’t do it because of the [insert reason related to child] so you have to”. Two decades of night meetings and huge projects later, I might be a tiny bit bitter. Maybe.

          1. Daisy Steiner*

            I totally sympathise, but that’s a problem with the way your company (and probably many companies) is run, not the policy itself. I’ve been working for 10 years (UK and NZ) and seen women come and go from maternity leave, and seen working parents of young children, and it’s just not a big deal. I’ve never been burdened by someone else’s dropped load. I’ve never had to stay late or not take vacation ONLY because of someone else’s childcare commitments. I’ve never seen someone’s workload simply parcelled out to their peers instead of getting a temp or making a secondment. I’m not saying that these things don’t happen (they do!) but they don’t HAVE to happen.

            1. neverjaunty*

              Yep. That’s a deliberate policy by the employer, not an inevitable result of people having children. And funnily enough, a lot of those employers then turn right around to the parents (that is, mothers) and complain that they’re not as dedicated as Fergus, who’s clearly so dedicated that he happily lives to work.

              It’s divide and conquer and it’s sad to see people fall for it over and over.

          2. TheSockMonkey*

            This is definitely a problem with your employer. Or maybe with your coworkers? I have a six month old and if I have to, I pick him up from daycare and then work at home when my husband gets home to watch him. I hate doing it, but its my job as an employee who wants to get paid to get my work done. Also, I like my coworkers and don’t want to screw them over. I have seen a lot of comments from the peanut gallery on this site blaming parents because non-parent employees have to cover for them. I can’t say this enough: the problem is the employer, not the parent.

            Sorry to put the rest of this under your comment, but I didn’t think it would be effective to make 8 comments throughout this thread. I’ve been reading people’s comments on parental leave for awhile and need to offer my perspective.

            Also, speaking as someone who got almost 0 hours of sleep last night because my baby has learned to roll over from his back to his stomach, but then gets stuck and cries, parents need parental leave. And despite what a commenter below wrote, I don’t know anyone who has ever gotten 12 weeks paid.

            Here’s why it benefits non-parents: for my first couple months back at work, my baby wouldn’t go to sleep before 1 am. He woke up multiple times a night, and I still had to get up and take him to daycare in the morning and go to work. At this point, I can usually get him asleep by 10 pm, but he still is up between 1-3 times per night. (And after 10 pm is pretty much the only time I can do anything around the house, so I’m certainly not going to sleep at 10.) I’ve been sleep deprived for months, and frankly, less competent at my job than I would otherwise be.

            Wouldn’t you rather have a temp or someone cover for a coworker while on maternity leave for a full year so so she can get her head on straight again? Or be able to do work after hours if necessary because her kid is finally old enough to entertain himself for 5 minutes?

            And finally, being able to take parental leave is not an issue of fairness. Giving birth is a major medical event. Having children is also something necessary for the continuation of society. Non-parents who feel bitter can continue to feel that way if they want, but the bottom line is that a kid requires care in a way that no one else really does. They have to be picked up from daycare at a certain time, they need to be taken care of constantly, and you can’t cancel on them the same way you could for say, meeting up with a friend. That’s not to say that picking a kid up from daycare is more important than meeting a friend after work, but it is more urgent. And that isn’t a dynamic parents can change.

            I’m off my soapbox.

            1. myswtghst*

              I agree with so much of this. A good parental leave policy applied consistently from the top down can minimize a lot of the hassles in the first x months, because the parents can focus on the new baby stuff, and accommodations can be made for a set period of time to cover for them.

              When parents are rushed back to work while the baby is still very young, you’re going to have more last minute sick days for everyone (baby new to daycare, parents being up all night, etc…) and less productive employees who are sleep-deprived and distracted. And in a culture where we’re encouraged to rush back to work, people are more likely to commit to more than they’re really going to be capable of to ensure they don’t lose their job. As a result, you’ll have more mistakes and last minute call-ins, instead of a known time period where accommodations can be made.

              I will say, I don’t 100% agree with this “the bottom line is that a kid requires care in a way that no one else really does”, but only because I think we need to similarly prioritize accommodations for people who are carers for disabled &/ ill family members with similar needs.

              1. TheSockMonkey*

                Fair point in your last paragraph. I thought about that, but was thinking about the fact that at least a sick adult would be able to understand what was going on around them/maybe have more mental abilities or self-sufficiency. But, depending on the illness, maybe not.

            2. EU-RO-Cat*

              Just to add to all you said: maternal bond is of paramount importance for the well-being of the baby (just google the term; there are lots of scientific papers, covering both humans and animals). Without that bond (or with a weaker one), the child risks difficulties in societal insertion later (look for Adverse Childhood Experiences for that – and separation anxiety fits the ACE if traumatic enough for that particular child). Biology makes generous parental leave a necessity, not a fad (and explains why mothers take that leave so much more often than fathers – it’s just not the same effect on the child. Father-child bonding *is* important, but less important by orders of magnitude).

              TL;DR If we want all babies to have the best chances to fully integrate and become productive members of our society, generous paid maternal leave is a must.

            3. Here, kitty, kitty...*

              I have suffered from severe insomnia ever since I was three. I occasionally go through periods when I cannot sleep. The past three weeks I have been lucky to sleep two hours in a night; the last two nights I didn’t sleep at all. (I got a nap later in the afternoon, thankfully.) Essentially, I have long-term sleep deprivation that is comparable to new parents dealing with a colicky baby. I should have paid leave off to recover from the weeks I haven’t been able to sleep, but I don’t. (For the record, I have been seeing a doctor, but nothing so far is helping. My sleep problems stem from severe childhood trauma, and it’s looking less and less likely that there is pharmaceutical help available for me. I’ve also been seeing a therapist, but had to stop because I couldn’t afford to see her anymore.) I’m not attacking you, just pointing out that employers need to be more open-minded about the kinds of problems people without children face that also deserve paid time off. Then there are people with high-maintenance pets, or ill family members; the list goes on and on. I do think that the societal view of paid leave is biased in favor of people with children. There are plenty of people with kids who don’t get paid leave, but what paid leave there is tends to be earmarked for people with children. The system needs to be improved for everybody.

              1. Zahra*

                As current law stands, however, you do have the same protection: FMLA would most probably cover you.

      2. Kate M*

        I don’t think it’s only parents that have feelings on the other side of this issue. I’m a single woman who just turned 30, so who knows if I’ll end up having kids.

        But you could say this about any benefit. Having flexible, generous, and accessible leave options for health issues could be seen as “giving more time off to people who didn’t take as good care of themselves.” (Which is obviously ludicrous, but whatever).

        If you’re someone with a chronic condition that isn’t expected to live a long life, you could see retirement benefits as being something given to people with lifespans that are expected to be longer.

        People have different needs. I mean, I don’t really know what other option you expect here. Have women back at work the day after they are in labor? They chose to get pregnant, so they shouldn’t have any time off obviously if they’ve used up their vacation time. I just really don’t know what other option you expect.

        1. Hotstreak*

          The problem is that these companies aren’t offering a broad benefit that might be used by people in different situations, they’re offering an extremely narrow benefit based on what they consider valid and important reasons to miss a lot of work. For instance, why can you take 12 weeks paid after giving birth, but if I go through an extensive medical treatment I need to use FMLA unpaid, or rely on partial pay through a disability program? Why can’t a company say, okay, here’s your plan: You get 10 days sick time per year to use as you see fit, AND, if you have a medical reason to take up to 12 weeks off, we will give your full pay as long as you have a Doctors note.

          As it is now, my coworker who chose a somewhat normal lifestyle and have a kid, was able to take a long 100% paid maternity leave and still had her sick time and vacation to use later. My other coworker who does adventure sports and took a month off work with two broken wrists, had to use all of her sick and vacation time during her recovery. Completely unfair for the company to chose who’s lifestyle they support! Hypothetical situation.

          1. Pinkie Pie Chart*

            I had to come back after 6 weeks because I didn’t have paid leave. I got short term disability for the beginning, but after that, sure I could take time off if I used all my sick time and vacation time. The 12 weeks of FMLA are not guaranteed to be paid, just that you will have a job.

            Short term disability should cover things like “I broke my elbow and now can’t type” as well as “I had a baby and now can’t think.” I think you’re mixing apples and oranges here.

            1. Hotstreak*

              Short term disability should cover things like “I broke my elbow and now can’t type” as well as “I had a baby and now can’t think.”

              I totally agree with this, it’s a big reason I think Parental leave is unfair and a bad idea! My post is referring to the discussion about companies offering large amounts of paid time off for parents. The parents can then take however much time, I used 12 weeks as an example, and get full pay for that. Other people who make different life choices that result in a need to be away from work, can’t take advantage of that paid time, and have to rely on things like vacation, sick time, and FMLA.

              It sounds like your company doesn’t have the kind of generous parental leave policy being talked about here.

          2. Daisy Steiner*

            But then we should campaign for better sickness/medical leave! Not try to snatch away good parental leave just to make it equally bad for everyone. We should fight for equally generous, not equally stingy.

            1. Kate M*

              Exactly! It doesn’t need to be a race to the bottom. We can try for better parental leave AND healthcare. It doesn’t have to be an either/or.

    3. Dahlia*

      It’s not like the new parents are at home, kicking their feet up and sleeping til noon everyday. They’re actively taking care of a baby, which is a LOT of work, not to mention taking care of themselves, any pets, and their home.

      I don’t plan to ever have children either, and there was a time in my life when I absolutely hated any perceived “benefits” I saw parents receiving, but now that friends are having kids, I do see how much work goes into it, and while I do think parents and non-parents should be treated fairly when it comes to sick days and taking time off, I’m not going to begrudge anyone a paid year off for maternity or paternity leave.

    4. Liz T*

      Aside from the benefits to a society that come from paid parental leave, zoom out for a bit: a lot of people in this country are going to have kids at some point. Do you think that literally NONE of them should? Presumably not. So, what are those SOME people supposed to do? Should parenthood be reserved only for people who are wealthy enough that someone can stay home without a job to return to? Infant care is VERY expensive. Do couples where neither partner wants to be a stay-at-home parent just not get to have kids?

    5. Oryx*

      It’s not like they are sitting at home binge watching Netflix all day.

      Once they return to work they’ll probably burn through sick time/PTO faster than those of us without kids because they have to take it off for when they are sick and when their kid is sick, too. They have higher insurance to pay now and will have to make the decision if they spend a good chunk of their income on daycare or stay home and lose the income entirely.

    6. Ktmgee*

      It’s a great way for these companies to be super competitive in attracting candidates though. Here in the US, the pendulum is swung so far in the opposite direction, that these companies offering up to a year off, like many other industrialized countries is super rare. And while you can definitely call having children a “lifestyle choice,” well…someone ha to do it, right? Even without children of your own, you’ll benefit from the impact of your colleagues children indirectly as you age.

    7. Myrin*

      Only that it’s not like parents in that situation get a year off while still being paid or something. In exchange for this financial cussion, they generally need to pay for a lot of stuff (children are expensive all around), are responsible for the wellbeing of another (completely helpless) human being, need to get up at all hours of the night etc. I don’t have children myself, either, but I gather that it’s a stressful and hectic thing.

      I feel like this is somewhat similar to the letter two (?) weeks ago where an employee who never went on trips for the company felt it was unfair for the people who did take these trips to be allowed to stay a day longer and still have the flight back paid for by the company. Of course it’s a perk that others don’t get, but that’s because others don’t have to deal with the stress and hectic of these business trips to begin with.

      (Nota bene: I’m from a country where leave from work for at least one year after having a child is absolutely standard so I might be out of sync with the general culture surrounding this topic in the US.)

      1. Jayn*

        While I understand the reluctance for paid parental leave, from a parents perspective it feels like a sick joke–“I just racked up a few grand in hospital bills and increased my general cost of living, so nows a great time to give up my paycheck while I practice running on three hours of sleep…” DH had parental leave but went back to work once his PTO was gone.

      1. fposte*

        I’m in favor of longer parental leave myself, but it would have to change the whole system to make it work–currently, the way most parental leave gets covered is by co-workers taking on extra work, and unfortunately there’s a real possibility that extended leave would get treated the same way.

        I’m still for it, but it could indeed equal a penalty for me.

        1. neverjaunty*

          Isn’t that true of any benefit though? I’m healthy so I have to cover for Fergus getting sick leave and that’s so unfair, etc.

          1. Aurion*

            I think the counterargument is that no one chooses to get sick.

            I’m with fposte on this, with the caveat (hopeful thinking) that with more recognition and planning of parental leave, there will be the resources and staff to support it, so that covering for maternity/paternity leave doesn’t end up with the parent’s colleagues being overworked for the duration of said leave. But that’s as much up to the individual employers as it is a societal shift, and both are slow going.

            1. Recruit-o-Rama*

              The counter point to that (for discussion sake not being argumentative or saying that people don’t deserve sick leave) is that a lot, not all, but a lot of illness is due to lifestyle choices. To be clear, I think people deserve sick leave if they are sick, regardless of the reason why they are sick and I think parents deserve maternity/paternity leave.

              A friend of mine just took FMLA because his infant son needed heart surgery. I think he deserves that time off and I would think that if it was him who needed surgery, or his wife or sister or mother, etc.. Life happens and people should be afforded opportunities to deal with it without having it jeopardize their careers and finances.

              1. Aurion*

                Fair enough, although I think the lifestyle-health relationship tends to be more convoluted than the child-childcare relationship. There are people who can live somewhat unhealthy lifestyles but seem to be in decent health anyway (perhaps said lifestyle catches up on them in the future, but in the short to medium term they’re fine), whereas if you have a child, you do need to spend time and energy on childcare in the short/immediate term.

                Non-parents want flexibility as well to deal with injuries, pets, ailing parents, etc., but parents can have all those issues and child-related issues, so from an aggregate perspective, my completely unscientific view is that parents in general probably still need more flexibility than non-parents, because they have all the potential issues that non-parents do plus issues to do with their children.

                But the point of the societal safety net isn’t so that everyone gets equal treatment, but everyone gets help when they need it, which means some people will always use more benefits than others (and that isn’t necessarily a “win”, since I’d much rather be not sick than use more healthcare benefits!). But until the societal culture shifts in that regard, and systems get put into place where we can support parents without overly burdening non-parents, I do think the non-parents get penalized more.

                1. Pinkie Pie Chart*

                  “But the point of the societal safety net isn’t so that everyone gets equal treatment, but everyone gets help when they need it, which means some people will always use more benefits than others ”

                  THIS!!! So much this! Reminds me of the equality vs. equity cartoon that was floating around.

                2. neverjaunty*

                  Plenty of health problems are a direct result of ‘lifestyle choices’, but I don’t think I’d get much high-fiving if I bitched that I had to cover for my co-worker who is in the ICU after a skiing accident.

                  I’m also, like many parents, scratching my head at this idea that companies bending over backward for parents is the norm. Especially when we drop the gender-neutral pretense and recognize how much this disproportionately falls on women.

                3. Kate M*

                  But part of the argument is that you will benefit from others having children, without having to do any of the child-rearing yourself. You want Social Security when you retire? Be glad people are having children now that will be entering the workforce when you retire to fund it. You want a doctor to look after you when you’re old and have a lot of health problems? Hopefully people will have children so that there are doctors in the next generation. You want to be able to hire people when you’re old to take care of your yard/house? Hopefully there will be people able to do that.

                  There are of course arguments about overpopulation, but to think that you’re not going to get any benefit out of parents having the next generation of children is crazy.

            2. Faith*

              Well, if being sick was a choice and nobody ever chose to be sick, society overall would be better how. However, the same doesn’t hold true for the concept of procreation. Yes, having a child is a choice. But if everyone suddenly chose not to have children, it would have disastrous consequences for our society. Look at Japan with its aging population (33% of population above the age of 60) and the world’s lowest fertility rates (specifically, sub-replacement fertility rate). They are starting to face major issues – sustaining their economic growth, keeping their pension funds solvent, maintaining the workforce, etc. So, society overall NEEDS some people to make a choice to have children in order for society to function properly.

        2. myswtghst*

          I really think that needs to be part of the discussion when a company is approving a policy for longer leave. If there are employees who are going to be out for a year on parental leave, there should be a plan / budget in place for a temporary employee to replace them, or a temporary raise for coworkers covering their duties, or something to minimize the impact.

          It really needs to be on the company to figure out how to not penalize employees as a result of a commonly used policy.

          1. Jaz*

            Hiring summertime someone to do the work for the person out on parental leave is the standard here in Sweden. These threads have bern a bit mind boggling for me tbh.

    8. NotAnotherManager!*

      I actually like the Canadian system, which, I believe, provides partial payment of salary through the government rather than employer-provided short-term disability policies and allows either new parent to take up to 52 weeks of leave. The thing about longer leaves, particularly if there could be a way for the employer not to completely subsidize the cost, is that you can justify bringing in a contract worker for the maternity/paternity leave better than for 6 weeks. A number of my Canadian friends said that they got their first work experience filling in on a mat leave contract, and it gave them valuable experience for an extended period of time (and, in some cases, led to being hired permanently into another position at the end of it).

      There are also a number of advantages to not having children, including faster career advancement, which can lead to higher salaries (which don’t have to go to diapers, college savings plans, etc.). I don’t find the workplace particularly sympathetic or accommodating to family life, but I work in an industry with notoriously poor work-life balance. I don’t feel bad about taking the same amount of job-protected leave that is made available to people who need to take care of elderly relative, sick spouses, etc. either.

      1. Daisy Steiner*

        This is the whole point in the UK too – it’s the Government that foots the bill. So while it might be inconvenient to an employer, they’re not paying two people for a year (or however long). Employers can supplement what the Government provides to offer a more attractive package if they wish. I think this must be a big missing piece of the puzzle for a lot of the US that struggles to get their heads around paid parental leave (“It would put small companies out of business!”)

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Yes, exactly — here our model is for employers to pay for this kind of thing, where in other countries the government is paying for it.

        2. Anxa*

          That makes so much more sense to me.

          It seems like having employers cover the cost of parental leave (usually maternal) would wither consciously or subconsciously contribute to a stigma against hiring women.

          I always thought it would make more sense for employers to pay slightly higher taxes and then have the government pay.

      2. Sydney*

        The Canadian one is paid through Employment Insurance, yes. And it’s also easier for the employer to hire a replacement employee for a one year contract than for a shorter term.

    9. Caitlin*

      I live in Canada (everyone gets a year for maternity leave, and some people split it between mothers and fathers, i.e. mom takes 9 months, dad takes 3 months). I don’t plan on having children. I fully support long parental leave times because I think they benefit society as a whole, especially children who don’t have to start going to daycare until they are a year old, and parents who come back to work ready to work instead of physically and emotionally exhausted. I’ve also noticed that policies like this tend to go along with more generous leave policies in general, i.e. sick leave, vacation, etc. And those benefit everyone, not just parents.

    10. Recruit-o-Rama*

      If the benefit is available to anyone who decides to have children, it’s not unfair, you are choosing not to partake. It’s a benefit to society at large for parents to have time off in the first year, full stop. Mothers tend to lose out on career advancement as compared to their non-parent contemporaries, think of this as some compensation for that.

    11. Panda Bandit*

      I don’t ever want kids but I support leave for people who do. It’s not a vacation for them. New parents tend to be really sleep deprived. They’re dealing with babies who are constantly leaking all kinds of body fluids everywhere. Give people the time and leeway to be good parents so they can raise good kids because that benefits all of society.

    12. NK*

      I was thinking about this recently, because I had a hard time in my head refuting this argument about people making a lifestyle choice. But then I realized, everyone benefits from adding more people to society. If everyone made the decision to not have children – even if many fewer people made that decision – we would be in big trouble as a society. And this doesn’t just extend to having children; as a society we rely on people making different lifestyle choices in many different ways. We need some people to decide to be doctors, some to be plumbers, some to be teachers, etc. And thus, as a society we need a way to support people in making those different choices that benefit us all.

    13. Mike C.*

      The root issue here is really more about work/life balance in the United States. In general, we have a culture that obsesses over hours worked and “productivity” and “it’s going to get done one way or another”. This starts with not giving parents leave at all then transitions to “ok, we’ll give parents leave, but we’re not going to hire a temp and we’re not going to slow down our schedule”. So that means, again generally speaking, those with no kids or older kids taking up the slack.

      Instead of pitting employee against employee, we need to understand and value the fact that there is more to life than just work. Yes, the US has an amazing overall productivity and that’s useful in many ways. But when you look to other developed nations with similar economies but longer vacation and sick/parental/care leave policies, you’ll find that per hour worked, their productivity is actually quite similar to ours.

      Non-parents, parents are not “to blame” for having kids. Parents, non-parents are generally treated as expendable and frivolous for not having kids. Don’t blame each other and instead look towards the systems and policies that pit you against each other in the first place.

      1. Here, kitty, kitty...*

        I like this reply, Mike. I think all employees, regardless of whether they have children or not, should get a certain amount of paid leave throughout the year. It’s better for mental health and productivity overall.

      2. neverjaunty*

        While I agree with everything you say here, Mike C., one thing that gets often gets skipped over is that there’s another big, sexist layer on top of all this – there’s a reason we don’t hear much about ‘daddy track’ jobs or hear employers grouse that young men will simply take time off when they become fathers.

    14. Rob Lowe can't read*

      “Good for her, not for me.”

      Would I love to get a year of paid leave from my job? Absolutely. But as someone who doesn’t want to have children, the trade off (i.e. raising a human for the following 17+ years) is not worth it. I think new parents should take all the time they’re able to, it’s clearly a tough job.

  10. Not So NewReader*

    #2. Okay, my blood is boiling. It’s not voluntary if non-participation costs thousands of dollars per year. That thinking is so messed up; a clear-headed, thinking person would never say this.

    1. Prismatic Professional*

      OMG me too. I’m horrified that I would have to share health information with my employer! (I can’t afford to pay more than I do, so if health insurance cost went up, I would have to share.) I also hate that they can impose a penalty if MY PARTNER (who isn’t an employee) doesn’t want to share their health information or want to participate in the program. This is horrible, they don’t need this information. They really don’t. If someone wants to get a tailored program, the company could cover trips to oh, I don’t know…a doctor?

      I value my privacy, but I also like having a roof over my head and food in the refrigerator.

    2. Rafe*

      I mentioned this above but just have to restate it here: Every year I debate whether to join my company’s wellness program — for the $50 gift card! That’s the total incentive my office currently offers, and yet I still consider it every year. (And I’m salaried, single, and making well above the median US household income.) If the incentive are significantly higher — or worse, there are real-dollar costs/penalties — I just cannot imagine most workers would be in a position to decline (because I cannot imagine I would have the fortitude to continue to decline).

      But honestly, I think the ONLY reason I’ve never done it is because I think that even agreeing to the wellness program for 1 year — who knows for sure what current or possibly even prospective access I’m giving my employer to information of any kind about my medical records/history/etc.

    3. an anon*

      It’s “voluntary” if non-participation costs less than 30% of the cost of self-only coverage. That’s the definition the EEOC and HHS have settled on.

      As someone who is currently not participating in my company’s wellness program, I am in urgent need of a job before Jan 1 2017 when my insurance premiums will increase ABOVE the 10% of my salary that I currently pay for coverage. (Not counting deductible and other cost-sharing … just premiums, for spectacularly crappy coverage.)

  11. Pinkie Pie Chart*

    I used to work in an open environment and it was so terrible. Anytime someone had a conversation near me, which was almost all the time, it shook me out of my zone. There was no place to have private conversations, except for our glass walled conference rooms. Which you had to reserve. No place for personal phone calls. No place for personal stuff on your desk. And it was *loud* in there with all the echoes. Such a terrible decision.

    1. Daisy Steiner*

      Some of the people on my floor considerately walk away from their team’s pod when they take personal cell phone calls – and considerately walk right over to OUR team’s pod, and then pace up and down past us while they talk. Sigh.

    2. Muriel Heslop*

      The only time I worked in an open environment was a school. There was a trend (I am sure it will come back around) for open classrooms. THE WORST! It worked okay for the science teachers because they shared a lab and team-taught, but the rest of us struggled with noise, people wandering through our classrooms and distracted kids.

    3. zora.dee*

      I’m currently working in a co-work space. It’s pretty.. in a building that was built brand new 2 years ago, we have views, beautiful wood flooring, and natural light since ALL the walls are glass. Everyone has little glass boxes for 4-6 people. Lots of startups, small companies, satellite offices, etc. And we get some of the tech-style perks: free beer taps in the kitchens, ping pong and foosball tables, etc.

      But, newsflash: Glass carries sound. It is SO Loud, if someone is having a conversation 2 offices over I can hear every word. If there ‘s a group lunch in the kitchen, I can barely focus. And even if you reserve a glass walled conference room, you can still hear everyone in the next room and they can hear our speaker phone. And they play music over the loudspeakers in common areas. Sometimes it’s good music, so while I’m eating lunch, fine, but if they play loud, annoying songs, you cannot escape.

      And trying to have phone conversations at our desks in our glass box, while a coworker is on the phone???? Completely impossible.

      1. zora.dee*

        Aaaaaannnndddddd, someone just came onto our floor with a baby… which is now crying while they walk around. Yeah, folks, we can all hear that, and some people do still have work to do on a Friday afternoon.

  12. MT*

    I would say its great the netflix and microsoft offer these types of benifits. Please remember that these companies only directly employ the most skilled workers. These companies fill their ranks of lower skilled/no skilled workers with temps and contractors who dont receive these benefits. These companies get all this great publicity for creating benefits that make them attractive for the top tier workers.

    1. Rafe*

      ABSOLUTELY. A case 20 years ago exposed Microsoft’s practice of improperly classifying this class of employees as contractors.

    2. zora.dee*

      This Thisitty THIS THIS!
      I think of this every time and it drives me crazy that no one ever mentions it in these articles/ blog posts, etc.

      I am going to point out one exception I know of: Pixar actually directly hires their cafe and security workers, and does offer them the same benefits as skilled employees. (I don’t know for sure about custodial/cleaning staff) Just want to give credit where credit’s due ;o)

      1. Mike C.*

        I’ll remember that the next time I see one of their movies. It really pisses me off that the folks who enable a lot of high level work aren’t appropriately rewarded for what they do.

        1. zora.dee*

          The people who enable a lot of high level work that earns a WHOLE lot of $$$!

          The tech company that starts with a G: all of the food workers of their multiple on campus restaurants, cleaning, security, the drivers of their employee shuttles, the staff of their on campus hair salon, dry cleaners, etc all the fun perks that the employees are supposed to be so happy to get, all are contractors through other companies, get bare bones wages, and in most cases, no benefits of any kind. And from what I hear it’s the same at the fb, the fruit-name company, etc etc etc. Makes me so mad.

  13. Meg Murry*

    I have to say, I find it funny that so many colleges are going to more and more dorms being built with single rooms, because more and more college students come to college having never shared a room (and have no desire to do so) while more and more companies are going to open office plans with minimal privacy and space.

    I personally went from a Fortune 500 company where you had to in the top layer of management to even get a shared office instead of a cubical to a small business where I have my own office – I make less money at the small business, but I am so much happier and so much less distracted having my own walls and door. When I want to collaborate, it’s not hard to walk down the hallway to talk to a co-worker, or move to a conference room if we really want to work together for a while.

    1. Biff*

      I think there are several reasons for single dorms that have NOTHING to do with kids being too good to share:

      1. Even with food, internet, w/s/g, electricity and even TV included, the dorms are often not cost effective compared to a studio apartment in the same time. Twice as much money for HALF a room with a lot of twisty, petty rules? Not very appealing. I think colleges had to change it up to keep the dorms solvent.

      2. The level of bombardment these days is INSANE. I walk outside and there are:
      a. Animated Billboards.
      b. Animated Window Displays
      c. Music playing from multiple venues.
      d. Distracted drivers
      e. Distracted Bicyclists
      f. Distracted Pedestrians.

      The sheer amount of concentration it takes to ignore animated displays, dodge distracted road warriors, think about and account for pedestrians listening to music/interacting with their phone is soooo much more mental energy than it used to take to get from point a to point b. When I get home, I’m exhausted in ways I never was before the ubiquity of the smart phone and animated/interactive displays. I need space that is controlled by me, and suited for my needs in a way I most certainly didn’t in high school (before the era of flip phones, let alone smart phones.)

      3. The amount of stuff you are expected to have at college has grown exponentially. When I was in college I wasn’t even expected to have my own computer in the dorm. Almost everyone did, but not to the degree that I’d see later. My last year at college was when some of the professors expected you to come to class with a computer. I think that was also the first year that most of the ‘core’ buildings at my college had wi-fi. Before then, it had only been available in certain parts of the library and special rooms that the teacher had to reserve for digital lessons. My doorm room, intended for two people was roughly 14×7, meaning each person had about 50 sq ft of living space. How do you cram in everything you need in 50 sq ft? You could, I suppose, when there was onsite laundry with irons, ironing boards, and onsite full kitchen, etc, etc. But now, you have to cram a whole apartment into a dorm room. Ridiculous.

      4. I personally think that the quantity of homework has grown. I went to the same college as my friend, but we graduated about 5 years apart. I’m a fast reader and a fast typist, but even accounting for that my friend easily had triple the homework I did. (Both Liberal Arts degrees, both graduated with very good grades.) This is also paired with an explosive growth of general education requirements. I took something like 12 pointless credits to fufill BS course requirements. My friend took closer to 30. With that kind of homework and class load…. you need so much more alone quiet time to get through homework. If you have a job in the afternoon, you won’t be able to do all that work at the library. You have to do it at ‘home’ and you aren’t going to want to keep your dorm-mate awake.

      1. Meg Murry*

        Oh, I’m not saying it in an “look at those entitled college kids” way. I had a single room in college more than once and preferred it most of the time – and as more and more colleges are trying to attract students that can afford to pay, I understand they have to do whatever it takes to attract those students. It was more of a statement of the way things are diverging – now going to college means you are more likely to get a single room, but then once you graduate, if you are able to find a job (another issue in and of itself) you wind up in an open plan, hot desking or a cubical at best, and even the ability to aspire to an office as you move up the ranks is less and less common.

        1. Kelly L.*

          Yeah, the competition for student housing dollars has gotten pretty cutthroat. I lived in a college town for many years, and in recent years there’s an absolute DELUGE of “luxury student housing” popping up everywhere. I’m pretty sure it’s a bubble and that it’s going to burst, hard, but in the meantime, the biggest college in town has been building snazzier dorms because they have to compete with all those apartments, and one of the smaller colleges instituted a rule that everybody has to live in the dorms the whole time they go there. (This was billed as “keeping students safe” and “fostering a sense of community,” but I’m pretty sure everyone knew it for what it was.)

          Amount of stuff you’re supposed to bring–yeah, that’s huge too. When I went, there were computer labs, and only the wealthier students had their own computer, and you had to plan your whole schedule around which labs were open when, and the late night lab being out of paper at 3am was a Mega Disaster, and so on. Now everybody’s expected to bring their own.

          1. Biff*

            My dorm was, no joke, based on a design for a women’s prison that was being built around the same time. My understanding is that it was originally intended as single-occupancy rooms, but was upgrades in the 70s to handle two people. Same in several other halls. I say this to illustrate that even the crappiest apartment in town felt better than that dorm. It’s someone’s home, why it should be cold, institutional, crowded, dreary and dark is a mystery to me. The dorms straight up sucked.

        2. Biff*

          Oh, I see what you mean now. I did misunderstand the tone for sure.

          And I agree, it’s odd in world that on one hand values and promotes quiet working hours, self-contained space, etc, etc, that we turn around and have these fishbowl offices from hell.

  14. MommaTRex*

    #1 – Statistically, younger people have more sensitive hearing. Hearing sensitivity decreases with age. So I’m thinking it’s not that millennials need more quiet, but that YOUNGER people need it to be quieter.

    Another “millennial” label that has to do with relative age . . . again.

    On a side note, I’m a Gen-Xer who totes wants a treehouse in my workplace.

    1. Lily in NYC*

      I wonder if it’s more about tolerance of noise levels than the actual noise level. I am much more bothered by noise distraction as I get older. I find it more difficult to tune it out for some reason.

      1. Kelly L.*

        I know there’s something about frequency too. There’s an irritating sound that will drive young people away from a place while being inaudible to older folks. (Look up “Mosquito alarm.”) There was a mini-mall in my old town that I’m pretty sure was using it; I went there when I was about 20 with two older friends and was the only one who could hear anything, and when I was last there, at about 35, I couldn’t hear a darn thing.

        1. Kelly L.*

          OK, reading further, it wasn’t invented yet when I first had this experience–so I guess the mini-mall was making the noise by accident! It exists now, though.

        2. Lily in NYC*

          Oh yeah! I remember being so sad that I couldn’t hear that noise. Made me feel old.

      2. LQ*

        Interestingly your actual hearing range changes. You can google some of the sounds that only teens can hear, they created https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Mosquito this thing that makes it irritating to teens and people under 25 or so. But most older than 25 year olds can’t hear it.
        *ymmv as always it is a statistical thing, not a promise

        1. Engineer Girl*

          I think you’re wildly misinterpreting statistics. You’re also misinterpreting hearing sensitivity.
          For example, older people have problems with tinnitus which is made worse by noisy environments.
          And just because statistically younger people have better hearing it doesn’t mean that your coworker is that way. I’m coming up on 60 and can easily hear conversations in all of the cubicles surrounding mine. I really didn’t want to know about your dental implant. Amd yes, I can hear mosquito things and singing transistors.

      3. Tau*

        Hearing is a really complex thing! I’m autistic and I don’t actually think my hearing is more sensitive in the form of me hearing better – but I have difficulty with tolerating and filtering out noise to the point of it forming an actual part of my disability. (And the exact forms it takes can vary strongly. I am weirdly fine in many open-plan offices, but wow university was a nightmare with everyone wanting to socialise in spaces that felt like my brain was being slowly dissolved in acid.) Similarly, I often have difficulty with understanding spoken speech when I’m not even remotely HoH – an idea a lot of people struggle with.

    2. Engineer Girl*

      I think you’re wildly misinterpreting statistics. You’re also misinterpreting hearing sensitivity.
      For example, older people have problems with tinnitus which is made worse by noisy environments.
      And just because statistically younger people have better hearing it doesn’t mean that your coworker is that way. I’m coming up on 60 and can easily hear conversations in all of the cubicles surrounding mine. I really didn’t want to know about your dental implant. Amd yes, I can hear mosquito things and singing transistors.

      1. MommaTRex*

        Well, since the article was speaking in generalities (“The researchers found that Millennials were especially likely to voice concern about rising decibels, and to wear headphones to drown out the sound or leave their desks in search of quieter corners.”), I was just speaking to generalities. I never meant to imply that it would be true for every individual, just true when looking statistically at a larger sample size. Perhaps my use of the word “sensitivity” was vague: I probably mostly meant that younger people tend to hear other frequencies.

        My 27-year-old son has extremely sensitive hearing, including a wide range of frequencies. Once (when he was 22), I couldn’t figure why my 2-year-old was so upset in the car. My oldest got in and freaked out about some noise coming from the radio that I could not hear. I turned off the radio; the little one quieted down instantly.

  15. voluptuousfire*

    I work in an open plan office and it’s not too bad but sometimes the noise levels reach optimum level and that’s when I go scrambling to find a conference room to work in for half an hour. Bliss!

    I also invested in Shure earbuds. Pricey, but worth it.

  16. 2 Cents*

    As someone with an autoimmune disease that *could* affect how I perform in my job, but thank goodness, doesn’t (it hasn’t progressed that far), I’d be Employee #1 for telling a wellness initiative to F off. You want to give me a longer lunch so I can exercise when my body prefers to? Fine. You want to provide fruits and veggies in the kitchen rather than the candy bowl? I’m on board. You want to dig into my medical records and then pretend that won’t affect your view of me? I don’t think so.

  17. SallyForth*

    One year mat leave is standard in most companies in Canada. You aren’t required to take it but most do right up to C-suite. Benefits are paid as a percentage of salary from our employment benefits. Women I know who are in really high level jobs seem to take a lesser leave, but their employer offers incentives to do so. For example, partner in a large law firm got 5 months paid by her employer and that is their standard policy.

  18. Chelle*

    For the record, that company with the treehouses and ponds linked as an example in the article? Everyone there has either single or double offices, because they found the cost of building them paid for itself in increased productivity and reduced sick leave.

  19. Alton*

    I read #2 when it was first published, and it was very illuminating. I work for a company that offers both traditional insurance and a reduced-rate plan that involves partaking in health education and other “wellness” measures. I didn’t feel pressured to accept the latter because the job was a big pay increase for me and the regular insurance was less than what I was previously paying. But I never really thought about how it could be different for someone whose company’s insurance is more expensive, or who has more debt than I do, or who is supporting a family. For me, paying less would have been a perk, and it was a perk that wasn’t worth the hassle and invasion of privacy. But I can see how for many people, it wouldn’t feel like a choice.

  20. addlady*

    I’m making a new movie, and calling it “(Lack of) Office Space, Or How the Cubicles Came Down”

  21. AtrociousPink*

    #2 – The biglaw firm I used to work for did this big health screening initiative back in 2010 or 2011. It’s about what this sounds like minus the ongoing program, plus a kind of fig-leaf-y claim that only the company doing the screening (Concentra) would have access to the information (but then why do it?). They demanded everyone submit to a battery of health tests, including weight, waist measurement, and blood work. If you didn’t comply, the firm would reduce the amount it paid on your medical insurance premium — effectively, a pay cut. For 2-3 months, we were bombarded with emails reminding, cajoling, and strongarming us to make our screening appointments or face “premium increases” [pay cuts]. I was one of the lucky ones who could afford to ignore the whole thing; I had individual coverage on a high-deductible plan, which meant my pay cut was less than $40/month. Others were forced to toe the line because they had family coverage, and their privacy was going to cost them a couple hundred dollars a month. I’m so glad to be out of that place!

  22. Rebecca*

    #2 – Yes, this raised my BP. As someone who already pays over 11% of my gross pay per year toward health insurance premiums, I don’t look forward to this. I’ll never be able to meet the criteria for acceptable BMI. Maybe if you starved me on a desert island for a year or so, but the weight would probably come right back the minute a calorie found me. I can’t imagine how me being overweight affects how I do my office job. I got to the doctor 2x per year for a checkup, dentist ditto, and for a mammogram or gyno visit when necessary. The excuse that “I cost more money” because I’m overweight is bogus.

    What makes people think that charging me more for health insurance will make me thin? Don’t you people think that if I could be thin, I would be already? I walk miles every day, I ride my bike, and have started trail hiking, made all sorts of different food choices, etc. and surprise! I didn’t fade away to a size 6, and that’s not going to happen.

    I can also see companies discriminating against people with health issues, maybe not in writing or officially, but when layoff or downsizing time comes, they might just get rid of Bob in Accounting, because he had cancer a few years ago, and if that comes back, look how much it will cost the insurance company, or Betty in Receivables, because she is overweight, etc.

    Sadly, I don’t have enough money left in my paycheck to tell an employer to shove it and just take the penalty, so I’ll have to play along and still be penalized anyway due to my weight. Great.

    1. Not an IT Guy*

      +1…this hits the nail on the head. It’s wrong to assume that because a person is overweight that they’re at the doctor every two weeks for obesity related issues.

      It really worries me as well if companies begin to use health data to determine promotions, lay-offs, etc.

    2. myswtghst*

      “What makes people think that charging me more for health insurance will make me thin? Don’t you people think that if I could be thin, I would be already?”

      So much this. In spite of all the recent science which shows it’s nearly impossible to lose weight long-term and that habits are a much more effective predictor of health than weight is, we are constantly surrounded by messages of “fat is bad”. The vast majority of fat people aren’t fat because they’re lazy, or don’t know better, or don’t want to be thin, and shaming them for that has been shown to only make things worse.

      1. myswtghst*

        97 percent of dieters regain everything they lost and then some within three years

        this study is just the latest example of research showing that in the long run dieting is rarely effective, doesn’t reliably improve health and does more harm than good.

        At present, the evidence points very clearly in one direction: fat shaming or making people feel bad about their weight does not motivate successful weight loss or promote healthy changes to a person’s lifestyle. In fact, it does quite the opposite.

  23. Laura*

    Millennial here. I worked at a well-known company doing sales after I graduated. The floor plan was wide open, people were constantly walking around, and popular music played on overhead speakers. I was bad at the job, and I think it was partly due to the distracting atmosphere.

    I get that companies want to seem “cool” and “fun” but there is something to be said for a professional work environment. Open floor plans are great for some people, but detrimental to many others’ productivity. I would have done much better even in a tiny cubicle.

    1. MsChanandlerBong*

      I’m a bit hard of hearing. The last time I worked in a place with an open floor plan, I literally had to hang up on people because I couldn’t hear them talking. And we only had five people working in the area, but it was enough noise (receptionist’s phone ringing every few minutes, four other people talking on their phones or to each other, noise from the street, etc.) to make it difficult for me to hear. It didn’t help that everyone else had a multi-line phone with nine volume levels and I only had a $15 cordless with two volume levels. My ENT wrote me a note saying I needed to be accommodated with a regular phone, but my supervisor argued with me about it, and then I eventually quit.

  24. Mabel*

    My company has had a biometric screening requirement for the last few years. If you don’t do it, or if you don’t pass it, your insurance premium goes up by $60 per pay period (every two weeks). If you don’t pass and you don’t want your premium to go up, you have to participate in the wellness program (including phone calls with a nurse). I’m not sure what happens if you don’t “improve” after doing the wellness program. It has always felt really invasive to me, but I can’t afford not to do it. And there’s a health assessment questionnaire. We used to get a $50 gift card if we filled it out, and now we’re just required (no financial incentive). I have said it here before – I really can’t stand the nickel and dime-ing that goes on.

  25. EricT*

    #2 I have worked for a hospital for 9 years. When i started the wellness program was optional with a bonus if you did it and hit certain “healthy target” BMI, blood pressure, cholesterol etc. Then 5 years ago it basically became mandatory or else you payed a penalty by getting bad insurance plan that covered way less and cost more (double the premium), and instituted a smoker penalty ($45 a paycheck). Last year they required spouses to participate as well, even if the employee did all steps needed, if the spouse did not then you get the bad insurance plan. Needless to say it is not popular but the insurance plan you get if you do not participate is shockingly bad and costs twice as much so i cannot afford to not do it.

    1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

      And if you smoke – you SHOULD pay more for health insurance.

      1. Biff*

        Completely disagree. If we say that it’s too easy to say:

        1. If you drink, you should pay more.
        2. If you don’t play sports, you should pay more.
        3. If you eat meat, you should pay more
        4. If you are overweight you should pay more
        5. If you are old, you should pay more.

        Everyone makes lifestyle choices you and I are going to disagree with. We make ones they think are insane.

        1. Mike C.*

          You’re lumping these into the same risk level as smoking/tobacco when smoking and other forms of tobacco use are orders and orders of magnitude more dangerous to the user and those around them.

          1. Biff*

            Cept… that’s not really true. Sure, if you put me in a room with a coworker who smokes heavily and I breathe in ciggie odor and linger second hand smoke all day, there’s a direct impact to my health. But being I’m much more likely to be killed by a drunk driver than I am by a smoking coworker.

            1. Basiorana*

              I have thrown up multiple times when a coworker stood too close to me, because he smokes and smells like it.

              Long term smoking is bad, sure, but ultimately that doesn’t matter. In the short term, it impacts health and morale for other workers, and it means either more breaks or less efficient work while they are working. It possess safety concerns for the building (I’ve put out multiple cigarette fires).

              Most importantly, unlike weight loss or sobriety, quitting is relatively easy. No one smokes any more, nicotine patches exist, it’s much cheaper and there is no social penalty to it. Sure, some people struggle, but yeah. If you aren’t actively trying to quit, I’m not going to cry about any penalty you are given, including being fired because your coworkers dislike it.

              1. Elliot*

                Not true. Cigarette addiction is one of the hardest physical addictions to break. I am ten years sober from heroin, do not drink, curse, gamble, or eat junk food, and I still smoke. Just because you think something is gross doesn’t mean you should spend more on health insurance. My coworker eating a pint of ice cream at lunch then passing gas all afternoon because diary doesn’t agree with her is gross, but I don’t think her health premium should go up for it.

                1. Honeybee*

                  Those aren’t really comparable health behaviors. But generally, I agree with you – I don’t think people should have to pay more for certain “lifestyle choices”, because it’s a slippery slope on which everyone is pointing the finger at their coworkers/whoever else on their plan about whatever lifestyle choice they think is worse than the ones that they make. (Not to mention that smoking isn’t entirely a choice – like many things we cast as “choices,” it’s tangled up in socioeconomic class, neighborhood effects, childhood exposures, etc.)

        2. Katniss*

          Yup. And people who make unhealthy lifestyle choices? Still deserve good health coverage.

  26. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

    #2 is a “not-really, sort-of” thing. You can “earn a credit” for going through bio-screening and diet coaching.

    OK – let’s say a $500 credit for the year.

    Depends how you look at it. If you look at it as “I have to pay $500 a year MORE if I don’t do this” – yeah it’s a penalty. If you look at it, the way it’s sold to you, as a “credit” – then, well, you can get the money by sharing and probably convince yourself it’s not a penalty if you don’t go through with it, you just lose a “credit”.

    1. myswtghst*

      Did you click the link to the Buzzfeed article? Because it literally says “But if you don’t want to fill out a questionnaire or get medically screened? You won’t qualify for the discount. Or your premiums could go up by hundreds or thousands of dollars. in the second paragraph. That isn’t missing out on a credit / discount. That is a penalty which will be legal, and in one example in the article was up to $4000 per person.

      I’m not totally against offering wellness programs and even enticing employees to participate in them – but I think employers would do better to design programs employees want to participate in and that have proven positive outcomes, rather than punishing people for choosing not to participate in initiatives which go against current science and could risk exposing their private information.

  27. MsChanandlerBong*

    Most of these workplace wellness programs are total B.S. My husband and I had to do a health assessment for his former employer. The assessment involved a lengthy questionnaire about our health histories and health habits. Then we had to go to his workplace and have our height, weight, blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar measured. My test results were great, but due to my health history (lupus, kidney disease, heart disease, spina bifida, PCOS, hypertension), I scored a 39/100 on the assessment.

    To no one ‘s surprise, all they did was hound me about my weight. I was forced to talk to a “health coach” on the phone. Her brilliant advice? Cook meals ahead of time so you don’t have to cook when you get busy. NO KIDDING. I already follow a restricted diet due to my kidney disease (low sodium, low potassium, limited protein). I don’t eat fast food, I don’t eat packaged foods, and I cook almost everything from fresh ingredients (except for canned beans and such, which I rinse to reduce the sodium content). Not to mention my weight problems are almost entirely the result of having such a complicated medical history. I have problems with my pituitary gland, difficulty exercising regularly due to lupus, and an increased risk of obesity due to my spina bifida (I have fatty tumors on the end of my spinal cord, which is apparently associated with overweight and obesity).

    To add insult to injury, then they started sending me letters asking me to consider taking another blood-pressure medication. I’d taken that medication for years, but when I went into acute kidney failure, my doctor told me to stop taking it because it can increase your potassium level. Which can, you know, kill you. But that’s okay as long as the company saves a buck.

    After all that nonsense, the company did nothing to make it easier for employees to be healthy. They didn’t provide OSHA-required hearing protection to their warehouse workers. They routinely violated health and safety regulations. They made it almost impossible for employees to leave work an hour early so they could get to the doctor’s office before it closed. They went from a $1,500 deductible the first year of my husband’s employment to $4,000 the third year, with an $8,000 out-of-pocket maximum…for employees making $10 or $11 per hour.

    I’m sorry this got so long. I am still just REALLY mad about the whole thing.

  28. Slippy*

    #2 Yeah giving medical data over to your employer can in no way end well. Fun question, would the employers be bound by HIPPA regulations to secure and protect employee medical data if they collected it?

    Also with that data available to employers there is going to be increasing pressure to monetize it especially if the company is not doing well in other areas and under pressure from shareholders. I seriously doubt it will be more than a year or two before some company gets caught doing this.

    1. Honeybee*

      It’s funny, before I went to work in an open floor plan I heard nothing but negative things about them. Everyone talking about how hard it is to work, how distracting, loud, noisy, etc. So when I started my job I expected to dislike it.

      You know what? I loved our open floor plan, and I wasn’t the only one on my team who did. I think we were split about 50-50, with half the people explicitly and verbally expressing a liking for the open floor plan. We did work with headphones sometimes, but not always, and our work is VERY collaborative and it definitely facilitated conversations (both work-related and non-work-related) on the floor. I felt like we were often laughing about something silly or someone was sharing information from an overheard question. I know that sounds chaotic, but I never really had a problem getting work done on the floor. I used to sit in front of the common area and I loved when people would come by and play a game (I work for a video game company) or have some dumb nerdy conversation about comic books or something.

      We moved into individual offices (with glass doors and windows) about 2-3 months ago and I have mixed feelings about it. I do like having an office for when I need to take a call or have a small meeting, but I feel like we’re missing the collaborative spirit and spontaneity we had on the open floor plan, and I am not the only person on my team who has mentioned that. I leave my door open 90% of the time anyway, as does almost everyone else on my hallway, and we’re always shouting up and down the halls at each other or stepping into each other’s offices for a brief chat. It’s kind of the culture of the team. (I like it – I grew up in a large family that thrived on chaos, so this is sort of my default operating mode. I realize it wouldn’t work well for everyone.)

  29. Miss Displaced*

    WELLNESS PROGRAMS seem to me like nothing more than an invasion of privacy. I have no health issues, but I would never participate in one of these things, even for a discount.
    That being said though, before I started working at my company I had to go through a rigorous physical exam, that included bloodwork and everything short of an OBGYN exam! It was quite intense, but due to the nature of the company I see why it is necessary as a baseline for all new employees. If you choose, you can have the same exam once a year for free-done in-house, but I also choose not to do that.

  30. Jay*

    What is the one constant of virtually every open office plan? Everyone working with their headphones on in an attempt to avoid all the distraction. Such a stupid idea.

    Also, the wife’s work has done such a health program for a few years now. Via Anthem (who cares about you, which is why they take such great efforts to secure your personal information… oh wait). Once or twice a year we have to fill out a survey about our personal habits as well as our physical AND mental well being. You also must go to a primary care doc for a physical yearly. Failure to comply = higher rates.

    I’m one of those people who thinks if you don’t wear a seat belt, your insurance shouldn’t cover an accident. But stuff like this is seemingly part of the slippery slope that results from allowing that kind of behavior on the part of insurers. When it gets to the level of my willingness to share whether I feel sad or stressed impacting my insurance rates, it seems criminal.

    1. neverjaunty*

      The ‘no insurance unless seatbelts’ thing is also part of the slippery slope. And it’s not good for your pocketbook if people have to rely on publicly-funded health care and otherwise fail to maintain economic productivity because they can’t obtain medical care.

  31. HR*

    Wow! #2. I’m presenting a webinar on this topic on Monday! I see the concerns everyone has and don’t want to get into a debate but it is an interesting “spin” the writer put on the article. I have been studying and researching this topic for the past two weeks as I have created my webinar presentation. The “penalties” discussed are NOT part of the new regulation. The new rules released by the EEOC relate only to the “up to 30%” incentive that a company can offer for participating in the program. There is also emphatic language in the rule which states that a company can’t take adverse action (penalties) for not participating or reaching certain goals. The rule continues to discuss the confidentiality of the programs and requires that an employer can only receive information from these programs in aggregate form. The new rule now requires companies to provide a notice of what information will be gathered, how it will be used, and what measures it will take to keep the information safe. I am as freakishly secretive about my personal information as the next guy but truly the new rule was put into place to CLARIFY the vague language that the ADA already had since 1990. Could the new rule possible make some of the “dooms day” scenarios described …better?

  32. New Jane on the Block*

    I used to work somewhere that had an open-office plan. My job involved a lot of writing and proofreading, and it was incredibly hard to get projects done when so many people were chatting around you. The stress eventually caused me to leave.

  33. Amanda*

    How do these screenings affect you if you suffer from a serious, chronic condition that is not linked to smoking and weight?

    I’m a non-smoker who has normal BMI, BP and blood sugar. I eat healthy, drink lightly and exercise regularly. But I do have a serious medical condition. My husband will always carry the insurance in case I am unable to work at some point. How deep does this stuff go? Does it just cover smoking and obesity related issues or does it cover everything? Basically, if my husband’s workplace implemented something like this, how badly are we screwed?

    1. HR*

      Programs vary. Some wellness programs are participatory only and are required to make accommodations if needed. Other programs ask a lot of questions or screen for things like cholesterol, obesity, etc. Wellness programs aren’t looking to disengage someone with a chronic illness, rather they attempt to encourage healthy choices (eating right, excessive, not smoking, etc.). The idea is to have a healthier workforce and their covered families in order to control healthcare costs. The best advice is to be informed about what the company is asking/requiring and what you will receive for participating.

  34. KR*

    My office is always noisy because there’s always a rattling fan or the server room door is open somehow or the noise of the TV feed or the server that’s been living on my bosses desk for a month humming away very loudly. I long for silence.

  35. spinetingler*

    If my (county) employer started a “wellness program” that included free access to the county exercise facilities I’d probably consider that a decent enough trade-off. A plus would be that I would actually get in better shape, which presumably would be a plus for both of us.

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