what are the bare minimum benefits an employer needs to provide?

A reader writes:

I have a question regarding employee benefits. What do you (or your readers) think are the absolute minimum benefits an employer should provide? I’m a business development consultant, and work with a lot of start-ups assisting in total compensation development. I, of course, try to work with my clients to develop the most competitive benefits package they can afford. However, I’ve often run into the situation where the client believes they absolutely can’t afford even the most basic of benefits. As in, won’t even consider providing PTO or paid holidays until employees have been at their company for 12 months or longer.

I understand my clients’ perspectives to a point — most are in the medical field, and associated at practices prior to opening their own where they were classified as contractors and didn’t receive benefits. So their logic is often, “Well, I’ve never had paid time off. Why should I give my employees any unless they’re working 38 hours a week and have been here more than a year?” Alternatively, they say they want to provide benefits but are so nervous about the cost of starting their own practice they just truly feel they can’t afford it.

I get it, I really do, but I’m of the mind that there should be a basic benefits package factored into total compensation … not just an hourly rate and payroll taxes. I completely understand if they can’t afford to provide 100% paid medical coverage, unlimited PTO, 10 paid holidays, a significant match on a 401k, catered lunches, etc. But some of my clients are completely resistant to even paying for a couple of holidays during the first year, which baffles me … especially when they complain about the cost of employees, but keep hiring as if they can afford to. I look at it like some people look at eating out — if you can’t afford to tip, you can’t afford to eat out … and if you can’t afford any PTO, you can’t afford to hire.

Am I off-base? Is it acceptable or expected that new businesses only offer an hourly rate and nothing else? Is it a case-by-case basis? Or is there a basic employee benefits package that start-up companies should plan to implement when hiring?

Nope, you’re not off-base.

It’s helpful to think about what the purpose of benefits are: They’re not just about treating people well (although they’re also that). One of their main purposes is to attract and retain good employees. It’s similar to why you’d pay salaries that are at least market rate: if you don’t, you’re not going to be able to attract or keep high-quality employees.

There are basic expectations about what will be included in the compensation for professional jobs in the U.S., beyond the salary: paid federal holidays (10), paid vacation (absolute minimum of two weeks, although better employers offer more), paid sick time, and at least some contribution to health insurance.

Employers don’t have to offer those things, but if they choose not to, they’re only going to be able to attract candidates who can’t get a job anywhere else — because who would take a job without health insurance and paid time off if they can instead work for a place that does provide those basics? The only employers who can really get away without offering the basics are employers who are have so many people clamoring to work for them that candidates are willing to make ridiculous sacrifices to get a foot in the door (think interns in incredibly competitive industries like fashion) — and even then, that’s increasingly considered exploitative.

So first, your clients won’t be able to hire great candidates. They’ll be stuck hiring people who can’t get jobs anywhere else.

Plus, if they’re not willing to provide the basics that most other professional employers do, they’re going to have a very low level of investment from the people they do hire. Employees won’t invest in an employer who isn’t willing to meet basic professional standards of compensation. That’s going to affect what type of performance they get from people. Will your clients be bothered if their employees do sloppy work, don’t put in a ton of effort, and do the bare minimum? If so, they need to up what they’re offering people in return for their labor.

Not offering benefits also means people are going to leave as soon as they can get hired somewhere that provides more reasonable compensation. So they’re going to have high turnover.

Your take is correct: If they can’t afford to meet minimum compensation standards, they can’t afford to hire — or at least they can’t afford to hire if they want quality employees who they can hold to high standards.

None of that is to say that there aren’t any businesses that choose to operate like your clients want to. There are — but they’re not the kind of business anyone wants to work for or should aspire to operate.

{ 548 comments… read them below }

  1. Mike C.*

    “Well I never had X, why should they” is a terrible, terrible line of reasoning that when taken literally means that things will never improve and could actually get worse.

    1. Caramel & Cheddar*

      Yeah, I never understand this. Why do you want people to suffer as much as it sounds like you did? Wouldn’t you have liked to have had these things when you were in a similar position? Think about how much better your quality of life would have been!

      1. hermit crab*

        I think it’s an especially easy mindset to fall into because it seems so very close to (and yet is so very far from!) valid lines of thinking about starting out, building your skills/reputation, etc. For example, “I worked really hard on my first research project/grant proposal/year of teaching/whatever, and it was really challenging and I got frustrated at times, and there were some things I just had to figure out on my own, and it was tough but I did it and it ended up being a valuable experience that I think is important for new people who are starting out in the field” – sure, that’s fine! But it is leaps and bounds from “All new people should be miserable in the same ways that I was miserable,” and I think not everyone recognizes the difference or realizes when they have crossed over the line between the two.

      2. Batty Twerp*

        Because it’s a small enterprise business owner mindset. It boils down to “I had to start with nothing and worked my way up to success, so why should I give you the benefit of my hard work – you have to start with nothing too.”

        It’s not just start ups that suffer from this. Both hubby and I have worked for small minded/small enterprise managers that have actually been in business for 10+ years that STILL have this attitude, begrudging their employees every little pay check.

        1. nonymous*

          It’s not just a small enterprise business owner mindset. My father believed so strongly in the “pull ’em up by bootstraps” philosophy that he refused to have any conversations about career or college prep with any of his kids (all three of us), or familiarize himself with current educational standards on his own to create relevant opportunities for success.

          I had to hide birthday money in order to pay for things like college entrance fees, because he just wasn’t aware that it costs money. There was literally no plan to pay for college tuition, he refused to fill out the FAFSA, and I was not allowed to work part time in high school (not even in summers, because “family commitments”).

          1. Not So NewReader*

            For different reasons I ended up in the same spot, my folks were out of touch about costs and they saw every expense as someone’s attempt to rip people off. Yeah, there is some truth to that but you still have to pay for some things and no amount of “should be’s” or “there ought to’s” are going to change that.

            In an attempt to keep a perspective on things my father’s parents died before half the kids grew up. My mother’s parents where all about keeping their heads down and being grateful for what was. So neither one of my parents would have learned about this through their own lives.

            Currently, I see this type of thing and think to myself, “Don’t people look around and see there are different ways of handling things and that society has changed?” I guess the answer is no, not everyone. A family member is paying minimum wage, no benefits and repeatedly says, “That’s all I can afford!” sigh.

            1. Apt. Manager*

              I often see young people fresh out of college (or still in college) looking for their first apartment who have parents who absolutely refuse to co-sign for them because they have a strong belief that their child should be self-reliant and not be dependent on them in any way, shape, or form. Unfortunately these young adults will have no rental history, no credit history (because they were too responsible to get a credit card), and no one who will vouch for them other than maybe a teacher (friends and family don’t count as references). Without a co-signer in these instances we simply cannot accept them, we advise applicants about this up front and they will say “Oh I am sure it will be fine, I make enough money and my family encourages me to be independent.” OK… but my boss doesn’t really care about that. So their application ultimately gets rejected and we move on to the next person in line. *Sometimes* they come back begging for the apartment when their parents finally see the light and are ready to co-sign. But by then it is already too late. I really feel for them, but there is only so much advice you can give people, and if they ignore you that is on them.

          2. beenthere*

            OMG. I thought I was the only one. I have a college degree because I paid for it myself. I very clearly remember trying start a conversation with my upper middle class father about college in elementary school, and being told point blank he would not pay for it and would do nothing to help me. Guess what? To this day I still deal with consequences of that and it has affected how I feel about him.

            1. JustaTech*

              I went to private high school and remember distinctly the day my classmate came into ceramics class in hysterical tears because (in the middle of her senior year) her parents decided that they would not pay for her college. Most college need-based scholarships take parental income into account, and won’t accept “my parents are rich but won’t pay” as a “need” (reasonably), and it was too late in the year for her to become an emancipated minor. So she had to pray that one of the schools she had applied to would give her a full ride based on her academics.

              The ceramics teacher took her to one side and said “Remember, *you* will chose their nursing home.”

                1. Random Obsessions*

                  Unless they thought that was enough of a foot in the door for the university to consider her a better student? Weird logic either way.

                2. whingedrinking*

                  People can be really weird like that. A friend of mine was told by her father that he would not pay for her university education – but he was willing to pay all the expenses for her wedding. The result was that she got married at age 21 and had a big fancy hotel blowout that was nicer than anything even my high-paid professional friends had in their thirties. I later asked her about it because a lot of it didn’t really seem to be her style, and she shrugged and said, “I figured if that’s what my dad was willing to give me, I was going to get my money’s worth out of him, so to speak.”

                3. nonymous*

                  Some parents are coached to do this in order to maximize their grants in college (and ensure the most $$ get spent on kid’s education over their entire lifetime). But personally, I think it’s a marketing gimmick of the private schools preying on anxious families.

                  The EFC assesses non-retirement savings at ~12% (so ~$12K of every $100k in the bank is considered available for tuition). The big kicker is that the income protection allowance is <$30K in most cases (after deductions like taxes). In my area HUD designates very low income at $48K, and median income at $70K+ and I think those households are affected the most. Link to full worksheet in name.

              1. Jady*

                Ugh, this happened to my husband too. His father was very well off, but estranged from the family. They weren’t even on speaking terms. His mother was dirt poor. So because of that he didn’t quality for any financial aid.

              2. Ms. Ann Thropy*

                That’s right. Colleges don’t care (or maybe don’t believe) that parents who could contribute financially won’t do so. Love the line about choosing their nursing homes.

            2. Rae*

              Not to be dismissive, but why should your parents shoulder your college costs? I was in a situation where I was adopted as an older child, unplanned, so my parents had funds for my brothers but nothing for me besides allowing me to stay during breaks. I did not get income-based scholarships because they were in a place where they weren’t poor, but just couldn’t pay the EFC so I took out loans in my name (not theirs). It sucked but I feel all the better for it.

              Yeah, I felt resentful at the time, but I realized it was for the better and I wound up being the only one of my siblings to get a masters and my income is equal to or higher than theirs is. The truth is that there was real value in me earning and paying off my degree. I will not be paying for my kid’s college although I will pay for things like CLEP and the like while they are in high school or allow them to live at home full time while going for a degree, trade school or apprenticeship.

              1. Agnodike*

                The average student loan borrower owes almost $40k. With well-paying entry-level jobs increasingly difficult to come by, that debt can stay with you for a long time. I certainly don’t think paying for university is mandatory for parents, and not every family can afford that, but the easy answer to “Why should parents pay?” is “Because they don’t want their children to struggle for years.” I’m glad your experience was good, but that’s far from universal.

                1. Rae*

                  Struggling is not a bad thing. I paid off around 40k on a 30k income in a hcol area. I didn’t do much for fun and I ate cheaply. It took 8 years. But it was my debt and no one else’s.

              2. Mike C.*

                Because society builds the rules such that if you just kick your kids to the curb the moment they hit 18, they’re really, really screwed.

                Also, did you ever wonder what your siblings could have done if they had a little help?

                1. Rae*

                  They had full rides between money saved, academic, sports and minority scholarships. (I am not a minority) While they didn’t squander it, I think now that they should of had skin in the game.

                2. Rae*

                  Also I didn’t say anything about kicking a child to the curb, just questioning why someone feels resentment for having to pay for an adult education choice.

              3. DNW*

                They said their dad wouldn’t even fill out the fafsa so they couldn’t get any kind of financial assistance – federal loans, grants, anything. That’s very different from just not paying.

                1. Rae*

                  I didn’t respond to that poster. I do think withholding FASFA information is wrong. However, I am against the idea that parents owe their children a college education.

              4. Mad Baggins*

                Your situation is so unique that I really wonder if we should use it as a guideline for what children deserve or what parents should do. Presumably many parents want their children to have the best possible shot at a successful life and career, and that’s why they (who are more likely to have money, education, and an established career) assist with paying for the education of their children (who likely have no money or education or work history).

                1. Rae*

                  I’m not saying it’s an absolute guide. However, because of my years in debt, choices I was basically forced to make and how I had to operate I am a female out earning my brothers. For one it’s because he got a “follow your passion” type degree.

                  There is so much I would have loved to study, but I knew I had to take what I seriously. I was in the career office from my sophomore year on figuring out how I was going to pay off my debt.

                  My brothers worked hard for sure… but it’s simply not the same. And again, I’m not advocating for throwing a kid out at 18, but I don’t believe tossing thousands at an 18yo is a good idea. I think kids should spend the later high school years understanding what they face and deciding how they want their future to look.

                2. Mad Baggins*

                  You sound very hardworking and dedicated. I wish that you had also had the breathing room to study what you loved in addition to your other serious studies.

              5. nonymous*

                I think it’s completely reasonable for each family to decide how they want to divide responsibility for college tuition. However, I do believe that it’s parents’ obligation to prepare their kids for whatever road they choose, at minimum setting expectations about living conditions, educational & career opportunities that are the natural consequence of certain choices. So while one family might pay for their kids to participate in the supervised after school activities that position them well for the almost-ivies, another family might steer their kids to taking after school/summer jobs so they have references & a deposit saved up for the first apartment.

                What I think is unreasonable is when expectations of performance are not right-sized to the preparation & resources. Parents who are not paying for college should be making that position clear in elementary school, and help their kids understand the impact it will have on their life. It shouldn’t be a surprise, and the parents should absolutely help their kids develop an attainable plan for adulting that accurately reflects resources available. For example, don’t expect to achieve an ABET degree within 4 years unless entering with appropriate HS prereqs and getting the grades to meet the program’s competitive admission standards. For families that refuse to fill out the FAFSA, kid might have live at home and work while taking one or two classes at a time at the local community college … which would turn an associate’s degree into a 4+year experience. Is kid planning to major in a field that expects intense unpaid internships? how will they pay for food & shelter during that time?

                The estimated cost of attendance at my local state school (living at home) would require parents to set aside ~$400/month for the first 18 years of kid’s life ($20K/year x 4 years)/(18 years x 12 mos/year). If the parent chooses not to pay for higher ed, then the student should be prepared for this level of financial commitment, as it affects back end debt ratios (used in lending and rental approvals).

                1. Michaela Westen*

                  College is another thing that favors the rich. Tuition is out of control. Only students who have parents helping them can afford the unpaid internships. It’s another system that favors students from rich families (assuming their parents are paying) and oppresses students who aren’t.

                2. nonymous*

                  @Michaela Westen

                  A lot of families can afford to pay for a good portion of community college + living at home, assuming that the student pays for their own transportation and books. My local community college charges ~$4K for three quarters of tuition, which would mean that if parents set aside $150/month during the four years of HS they would have most of that saved up by HS graduation.

                  But a lot of families don’t want their kids to go the two year route, and I don’t blame them. I would say that for students who get degrees in their field of employment, the community college track puts graduates a generation behind in employment when compared to a the flagship State U program, mostly because it limits opportunities.

                  For example, the local State U offering an ABET degree only takes like 5% of transfer applicants (compared to ~50% of HS applicants). But students can get degrees in early childhood ed or accounting on the community college campus via a State U partnership. And then student’s own kids might be able to go to that ABET college?? It sucks.

                3. TardyTardis*

                  There are statistics showing that families are more likely to help sons than daughters in college, for what that’s worth.

              6. Flower*

                There are ways to teach those values without forcing your kid into debt, though. Sure it can be more difficult to teach it, but it can be done.

                1. Rae*

                  Forcing them to go to college is wrong. Debt is their choice. When they look at the numbers it’s up to them to decide to how their future looks without me bankrolling it.

              7. UghThatGuyAgain*

                Hello! Longtime lurker, rare commenter. I also struggled and had no parental help with college (or adult life in general) but I disagree with you, Rae. You said you don’t understand why parents should shoulder startup (college, trade school, etc.) costs for their children. I think parents (all adults!) should help the next generation do well, even if we weren’t given the same opportunity, because we want them to be informed, productive, unencumbered by debt, and yes, happy.

                So here’s my story:

                My parents decided not to pay for my college. I’ve never gotten a straight answer as to why, but at the time, my parents probably had the money to help, and definitely decided not to use it on me. My childhood was…very bad. However, I had a waitressing job and cash from a small inheritance. I also used a state program to do two years of community college for free, in place of my last two years of high school. My savings weren’t enough to pay tuition, but they WERE enough to put first and last down on a room in a house, so I landed on my feet as a college junior at 18.

                I found a good job at the public library and worked all through college, as many hours as they would let me. I earned a fellowship for part of my senior year on top of my two free years. I went to a public university with in-state tuition. I never moved back in with my parents. I did everything “right”. I graduated in 2009 with 15k in debt.

                Like you, I went on to be happy and successful, much more successful than my sibling, who never finished his degree and works a low-wage job. But I don’t view those years of struggle as a good thing. One of the greatest regrets of my life is not being able to support my brother when he dropped out of college. And I am not a better person for having struggled. The struggle made me who I am, and I’m a pretty cool person (I think!) but I also wonder who I would have been if I had had support and encouragement, which is why my husband and I are already putting aside money for our daughter when she turns 18. It’s not about entitlement. (Oh, how this Millennial tires of that word!) It’s about leaving the ladder behind us, or strengthening it, rather than pulling it up after we’re done climbing.

                1. Rae*

                  I guess I just see it differently. If my kids are working to a productive future, I will provide them a place to live. That alone is enough of a “hand up”, especially in an HCOL area.

        2. AnnaBananna*

          The medical field is a gnarled and twisted culture of mentors that recoil against the idea of changing their methods from how they were taught, so the idea of ‘well, I never got sick/took a vacation/got hit by a bus during my first two years’ seems not only plausible but like a rite pf passage. This leads to not only unreported ‘hazing’ and microagression but pretty extreme burn out later, as well as increased accidents in the OR. All things that are totally avoidable.

          Sure, small business owners are going to worry that they can’t afford benefits. What they need to understand is that if two weeks of PTO will break the bank, then they’re likely not finanically stable to open to the public anyway. And like Alison said, they’ll end up hiring folks with sketchy backgrounds and/or have a revolving door of workers who leave to go to work at a place… with benefits. This means instead that staff and management will spend a lot of time constantly training new people – how much $$ is being wasted training new people and losing out on new clients/business because of this? Opportunity costs can hound a new business owner for sure. Investing back into your business, and in your employees, is usually a great strategy to build long term practices with stable foundations. I suggest it.

          Further, they should model their practice on a successful hospital/care center, etc, just on a smaller scale. That means that yes, everyone will have benefits, but you won’t have as much staff. And there’s no need to panic about that because you’ll also have less clients – and the ability to quickly find the best way to implement turnkey processes.

          1. AnnaBananna*

            The hazing and microaggression and burnout from above are from actual studies but I am way too lazy to look them up. I’m sure using those terms in pubmed will find you some stuff. Sorry folks for my lehzeh. Zzzz….

        3. aebhel*

          My spouse works for a guy like that. The business has been around for ~12 years and makes plenty of money, and he pays something like half of market rate, offers no paid holidays, and only started offering 5 days of PTO per year and a lousy insurance plan after all his employees threatened to quit en mass. The turnover is insane and everyone who works there does the bare minimum, and he can’t figure out why.

          My spouse has been around for ages, but the trade-off is that he can get away with doing essentially whatever he wants, up to and including mouthing off and walking out halfway through the workday, because his boss will never be able to hire someone else with his skillset without paying double what he’s paying him. Super dysfunctional, and not at all how someone should aspire to run a business. And I see it all the time with small business owners (who mostly didn’t actually start with nothing, ime; this particular guy started with a $150k interest-free loan from his parents).

      1. no explanation needed*

        One job I had, there was a higher up who believed that he shouldn’t have to explain how he actually wanted something done, but was happy to point out that whatever you did was “bad.” I had heard that this was because nobody else explained things to him when he was in a more junior role so he shouldn’t have to explain things to other people either. *eye roll* Since he couldn’t tell me HOW he wanted things done, I did them my way and moved on with it. Happy to do it your way but I’m need to know how you want it done.

    2. Falling Diphthong*

      I picture all the would-be benefit-less employer explanations as sprinkled with many “By crikey!”s. Snow, uphill, both ways.

      1. BookishMiss*

        While riding a triceratops, in the middle of summer.

        It’s a dehumanizing mindset, and can lead to hazing and discrimination. Yet it persists… Last Job offered literally the bare minimum – 10 total days PTO/sick time, health insurance that covered nothing behind mandates and cost half a paycheck, less than market 401k match, and a TON of stress.

        Do people there take pride in their work and seek to excel? Nah, everyone jumps ship as soon as they get a better offer.

        1. Meh.*

          My first “real” job out of college was like that. They didn’t offer paid federal holidays because under the law, they didn’t have enough employees for our state to require that from them. So employees were forced to work 4th of July, Labor Day, etc or take unpaid leave. I always chose the unpaid leave because I was living at home at the time and would rather have a 3 day weekend. Starting salary for that “real job?” $12/hr.

      1. HarvestKaleSlaw*

        I could provide a cautionary tale from a small business where I worked for World’s Cheapest Boss. She was a nice lady in other ways and very good at doing the actual CPA work for her clients, but she was hiring people to do bookkeeping and tax accounting for pennies over minimum wage, hourly, no vacation or holidays or medical or any benefits of any kind. She would dock people’s pay (illegally) for mistakes. Like, if you incurred a $30 overdraft for a client, it would be $30 (or about 4 hours) out of your pay.

        It was the depths of the recession, and I did a (very brief) stint there and picked up some skills. The place was a total disaster – just complete chaos – with people’s tenure measured in months or even weeks. I am literally talking piles of abandoned paper lying around the hallways, phones ringing to dozens of empty desks – just chaos. It was so Mad Max, I would not have been shocked to come in one day and see stray dogs fighting over a rat carcass next to a broken window in a derelict conference room.

        Boss pulled in retired CPAs looking for extra money to do the serious work, but the pay was so absurd, they would walk after a few weeks and leave projects half done and more confused than before. The rest of us were just hired randomly off Craigslist and via a job training program for single moms run by her church. She lost her two biggest clients in the short time I was there because the woman I replaced – HS dropout with poor literacy skills – had been stuffing clients’ documents in a drawer and not filing their payroll or sales taxes. For a year. I seriously don’t know how this woman kept her license. She had to pay thousands of dollars in fines on behalf of the clients and refund them everything they had paid her. Being a complete cheapskate cost her 50% of her billings, and probably could have landed her in jail.

        OP, ask this guy if his clients are going to be happy with their needs being met by literally whatever person is currently available at the lowest price.

        1. sofar*

          Some of my relatives have a family business that is eerily similar. Their turnover is insane and the work is specialized enough that it costs them tons to train a new person, just to have them quit. They’ve had some great employees who were in dire straights, but who left the second they found something better. And they’ve had scores of less-than-ideal employees because they’re the only ones willing to work for them (because literally nobody else will hire them).

          In a way it’s karmic because the owners can’t go on vacations themselves or even get a full night’s sleep, thanks to all the turnover, drama and angry clients.

          1. HarvestKaleSlaw*

            It’s crazy, right? The very definition of penny-wise and pound foolish.

            World’s Cheapest Boss also got a couple of great employees (not to brag) – but it was the same as what you describe. We were there because of the recession or because we were going back to work after a long hiatus. As soon as we found something else, we bounced and doubled our pay.

            Cheap Boss had one really great lady who held the place (somewhat) together out of loyalty. She had been hired out of a terrible situation – former stay-at-home mom who had left a bad situation in a bad economy and was facing homelessness with three kids and no work history. Awesome Lady put up with so much there – but she didn’t have the background to do a lot of the work, and with the turnover, she was always doing five people’s jobs at once. Cheap Boss praised her to the skies and used to tell us how much she had done for Awesome Lady and how Awesome Lady was so great that she was paid more than any of us… $10/hour.

            The Great Recession was pretty crap.

    3. neverjaunty*

      It isn’t so much a line of reasoning as a knee-jerk emotional reaction, and one that doesn’t say good things about the clients’ ability to run their business.

    4. Bea*

      It’s vile and speaks loudly of them as managers and business owners.

      A good business owner, like a good parent, wants better for the next generation. Otherwise you’re spinning your wheels and won’t evolve at all.

      Business is a rapidly growing world and keeping up with your competition is the only way to thrive. Maybe you’ll survive awhile the old fashioned way but good luck in the long haul.

      1. Kathleen_A*

        And besides, offering a pension could also be considered “old-fashioned,” and I’m betting that’s not in the cards, either.

        1. Bea*

          Retirement funds are not new ideas but there are sure as hell a lot of options and not offered to every kind of job.

          It’s still a growing area of benefits packages.

          I’ve had profit sharing, an IRA that had no match and an IRA with a match over the course of 15 years.

      2. Anonymosity*

        There are a lot of small businesses here where I live who have been in business for years, doing everything the same way. They pay very little–it’s a trap, because you can’t earn enough to leave, so you either get stuck working there for peanuts forever, or you manage to escape to another, only slightly better-paying job. All the salaries here are well below the national average. And you see the same positions advertised over and over, endlessly, world without end, amen.

        If you’re lucky, you can get out of the city completely. That’s my goal.

        1. HarvestKaleSlaw*

          Too real. This sounds like my hometown. It’s like this crazy caste system where the business owners pass down the business to their offspring and their offspring’s offspring… they are like the little lordlings of the town and have an insane amount of power over their workers because everyone who lives there is only there because they are stuck.

          1. TardyTardis*

            Are you sure that’s not my town? Unless you’re well connected or in the medical/college biz, the jobs that pay real money are scarce on the ground. There’s a reason the number of retirees is way high, because they managed to get their house paid off somehow anyway, won’t or can’t move, and end up working part time. But once that COLA comes through, they’re gone. This of course makes most of the businesses, including a couple of big ones, feel assured that they have a pool of people who will work well for nothing.

    5. Amber T*

      Honestly it reminds me of a comment I got here about the newer generation wanting change for the sake of change (I’m NOT trying to bring up generation crap to this discussion, it was just relevant to the post then). It’s not for the sake of change (and it never is, that’s a dumb phrase), it’s because people are unhappy with the status quo and are trying to improve it. Just because you (general you) put up with something when you started out doesn’t make it right, and it does’t mean that that’s what you should offer or what should be accepted now.

    6. Hey Karma, Over here.*

      It sends flashes the Homestead Steel strike in 1892. Carnegie pulled himself up by his own bootstraps and figured anyone not doing the same was lazy or weak.
      Unlike Henry Ford, who realized that if employees had a good wage they could BUY HIS PRODUCTS. As long as they weren’t Jewish. So yeah, he was messed up about people too.
      And I think there is something wrong with an individual whose business plan is simply: eff these people. I got mine.

      1. Natalie*

        Although Carnegie probably wasn’t expecting any of his employees to ever need large quantities of steel…

        (I agree with your overall point, I was just struck with the simple logic of underpaying on labor allowing a company to buy more commodities, for someone who owns a commodities firm.)

        1. MK*

          They could need things made of steel, or things that are manufactured by machines using steel or transported by vehicles made largely of steel, etc. The economy is a complicated symbiosis, not a quid pro quo.

      2. Lord Gouldian Finch*

        The situation in Homestead is an even more ridiculous example of this mindset – I seem to recall the mill management and Frick had gone to an eight hour shift system to save money – they were making more steel and having fewer accidents for the same cost by having three shifts instead of two – and Carnegie made them go BACK to two 12 hour shifts because, dammit, he’d had to do 12 hour shifts in HIS day and otherwise was coddling workers… or somesuch.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Not everyone rises to Company Chief. If you know that all you will ever do is work 12 hour shifts that changes the mind-set. And what happens next are things that ordinary people don’t even think of. Wasn’t there a song about someone taking an entire car out of a plant piece by piece in their LUNCH BOX?
          Several mills near me were known for having areas turned into make shift beds so people could nap while they were on the clock. Thought I was going to say something else, right? Well that, too. One mill I heard about had places where people could go to make out. Since I heard this from many different sources I assume it’s probably true.

      3. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

        What’s interesting — and very telling — to me is that “to pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” used to be a phrase that signified a literal impossibility, and now it’s used to mean getting where you are through hard work, as something that is possible if you only work hard enough. I feel like it says a lot about the kind of discourse we as a culture have over concepts like this.

        1. Sacred Ground*

          Yes, exactly this. Using this phrase to describe getting ahead and being a success by simply working hard, people think they’re talking about something anyone can do if they just try hard enough by describing something that’s literally impossible no matter how hard you try.

          And then they blame the people for failing to do that which is literally impossible.

    7. KRM*

      Reminds me of academia, where people are like “well if *I* worked 12 hour days as a grad student/post-doc, then OF COURSE you have to do the same!’, completely ignoring that requiring those hours just means that those in that position just take long coffee breaks, save work for two hours later, etc. And also conveniently forgetting that they did the same thing in that position! Just let people arrange their work as they see fit and look at results! I think you’ll find everyone works better when you trust them to get it done.

      1. Snark*

        Yeah, having been through a PhD program, the amount of bullshitting people do – for their own benefit, and others’ – about how many hours they worked in grad school is truly breathtaking. Yeah, yeah, yeah, sure, pal, you spent 12 hours in the lab yesterday. Oh, except for when you spent an hour getting coffee, an hour eating lunch, an hour talking to the department secretary about whether you’d get a TA next semester, an hour and a half getting beers with a few cohort-mates, and who knows how many time checking your email.

        1. Overeducated*

          Yeah, somehow the 2 hour break for yoga didn’t work its way in there. Oh and commute time and picking up dinner counts within the 12 hours of work because “I was thinking about my research the whole time. I never turn it off, my work is my life.” Literal quote from a dear friend and former roommate who is very smart, very dedicated, but didn’t observably work 50% more than me despite my efforts to keep my work hours within 8-5 or 9-6 whenever possible.

          I never want to work somewhere with a culture of appearing to be busy again.

          1. Snark*

            “I was thinking about my research the whole time. I never turn it off, my work is my life.”

            I’ve been trying to figure out how to side-eye someone I’ve never met and who isn’t physically present for like ten minutes now.

          2. Annoyed*

            I came thisclose [] to quitting my PhD ¾ of the way through my research for just these kinds of reasons.

        2. nonymous*

          I feel like a lot of grad school was about being on call at all hours. I know I didn’t make brownie points with my PI by repeating patiently that I had off-campus commitments at designated hours (they were funding the degree so it wasn’t like I was shirking).

        3. Flower*

          I did a project once that involved waaaay too many animals, twenty minutes each (not counting the time to switch between/prepare the area/clean between animals). I really was working 11-13 hour days (not counting commute) & 7 day weeks (for only a couple weeks, thank goodness), but it’s true there were a lot of short breaks (like 10-18 min) between doing things that weren’t long enough to get much else productive done. Ate in those breaks, got food from the cafeteria to bring back, etc; just didn’t have enough time to leave the lab for any other reason.

          It was awful and I never want to do it again. The day that I was excited I’d been at home for more than 12 hours the previous night was the day I decided I was never, ever doing a project with that many animals at once again.

    8. Cedrus Libani*

      Also, if you’re a well-paid contractor who can choose your schedule, then you’re a lot better positioned to deal with not having benefits. It’s not unusual for some medical fields, especially ones that need 24/7 coverage (ER doctor, nursing, etc) to have a stable of contractors. It’s still a jerk move to do that to your receptionist.

      1. Lil Fidget*

        It’s true, there are also advantages to being a consultant/contractor that offset the loss of some of the perks traditionally granted to full time employees. Trying to turn it around on your staff so the FT folks gets none of the FT perks and all of the contractor drawbacks is a false equivalency.

        1. Overeducated*

          Wait that sounds like my last job…because there are categories of jobs that count as “training positions” even though the average holder is in their late 20s or 30s with a PhD, JD or MD. Sigh.

    9. Jake*

      Especially in the medical field where these contract employees were making 6 figures after insurance, taxes, unpaid time off,etc.

      Its not fair to compare a doctor working without benefits to a receptionist working without benefits.

      1. The Person from the Resume*

        PRECISELY! Actually that Doctor working as a contractor could afford not to have benefits; new employees in his practice nurses, techs, medical office admin, etc. cannot.

        Does anyone have an script for the LW to say to the doctor to make clear why that reasoning (I was a contractor/doctor, I should be able to treat my actual employees as contractors with zero benefits) is logical?

    10. LaurenB*

      It’s also ignoring the reality that you have a lot more motivation to work flat out and suffer for a while when you’re working towards being a doctor with your own practice. I wouldn’t feel the same motivation as a medical office assistant working towards being a medical office assistant with two weeks of PTO.

      1. Lil Fidget*

        I think this hits on why fulltime staff need to be differently compensated. In a startup / private consultancy, you’re incentivized to take on more work because you directly benefit from adding clients or completing projects with more money. You feel empowered to make the decisions that affect your bottom line so there’s more advantages to dealing with the drawbacks like not choosing to have insurance . Salaried full time staff doesn’t have the same incentives. Instead, they are often motivated to stay on and work hard by good benefits and being generally satisfied with their situation.

        1. Sarcastic Fringehead*

          Yep. I want my employer to succeed only to the extent that it benefits me (and to the extent that I like the people I work with and don’t wish them any particular harm). For an owner, if profits increase, they get more money; as an employee, if profits increase, I don’t automatically get a raise or better benefits, especially if the profits are based on paying employees as little as possible.

          1. Lil Fidget*

            Yeah, if I bring in a new client or maximize a process … I just get more work. Sure, I might get a raise out of it in twelve months (or not) but it’s not like it will be tied to how much money I saved the company. That’s why I need to be satisfied with my working conditions overall, because that sense of stability and security is what makes me want to stay and do a good job.

    11. Michaela Westen*

      I work with physicians. I’ve seen corporate try to find ways to pay them less, just like corporations try to treat everyone everywhere. The only difference between the way corporate treats physicians and the way most corporations treat staff, is the higher salary.
      I’ve seen physicians hired on a contract basis, though the times I’ve seen it, it was temporary to cover someone on leave, or a physician doing part-time in addition to their day job.
      The contract rate for physicians is much more per hour than most fields. As it should be! A physician with the hourly rates I’ve seen really could afford to buy their own benefits.
      I don’t think that’s comparable to hiring a staff person for, say, <=$15/hour. A person could not buy their own benefits with that.
      To me offering benefits also sends a message that the employees are appreciated and valued. No benefits is basically saying, "We're using you and don't care if you get sick or need time off."
      Also it occurs to me, what about the ACA? Could the employees of OP's clients get benefits through that, or at least get part of them?

      1. BenAdminGeek*

        Yes, the health marketplace is where these employees will need to turn if health benefits aren’t offered. But things like PTO and sick days won’t be covered there- it’s just for health benefits.

      2. Overeducated*

        They could, but then it’s not a “benefit,” it’s a cost borne 100% by the employee. And it’s generally more expensive to pay for 100% of your own insurance, with prices rising shockingly each year – one of the big reasons I took a job that got me OFF the ACA market.

        1. Anonymosity*

          Yeah, the ACA was a step in the direction of uncoupling healthcare from employment; it wasn’t meant to be the end solution. Its major successes were some of the regulations around pre-existing conditions, etc. rather than costs, because as long as insurance companies have a stranglehold on healthcare, we’ll never be able to afford it on our own.

          Would have been nice if all the states could have expanded Medicaid. Mine didn’t, and I’m not eligible for it, nor can I afford ACA on the pitiful salaries around here.

    12. Snark*

      There’s a lot of people who would, it seems, rather see things stay crappy for everyone than see things improve for everyone, mostly because that would mean people who aren’t like them would benefit as much as they themselves would.

      1. NW Mossy*

        I’ve often found it very revealing to understand which of the following scenarios offends someone more: the thought of a person receiving something they do not deserve, or the thought of a person not receiving something they do deserve.

        1. As Close As Breakfast*

          I cannot express how much I like this! I’m filing it away in my brain to use on my boss sometime. He’s very much of the small business / bootstrap mindset described above. I’m honestly curious what his response will be!

      2. whingedrinking*

        You nailed it. There are all kinds of scenarios where the humane, compassionate approach is not only, well, more humane and compassionate, but more effective and often cheaper to boot, yet people fight tooth and nail against them. (See: supervised injection clinics, access to contraception, subsidized housing, etc., etc.) It never fails to blow me away when people fight against something that will *save them money* just because they don’t want to even indirectly be nice to the “undeserving”.

    13. CaitlinM*

      Doctors especially feel this way, very strongly (see any attempts to make medical residencies more humane and safe…

  2. you don't know me*

    Apparently I was willing to even less than Alison stated. When I was job searching last year, I was looking for a minimum of two weeks paid time off and access to health care. I didn’t even think about sick time or holidays. But then again, I was pretty desperate.

    1. EddieSherbert*

      and even then, you still expected PTO, which apparently these companies aren’t offering…

  3. Amber Rose*

    I’m gonna point out too that for all the nice things my job offers, I am absolutely considering leaving for a position that offers more than 2 weeks of vacation a year. That’s not enough to accomplish anything, and the burn out is real. Also most places I’ve worked don’t offer PTO until after the year mark. Some of them have been willing to grant a little bit of accrued time off after three months, but not all of them, and that’s also not a great policy.

    By contrast, my husband got 2 weeks right off the bat, and after a year another week, and is currently sitting at four weeks.

    I’m so envious I can hardly stand it. *sigh*

    1. ThatGirl*

      My husband is not well paid and the administration at his university sucks (he’s staff, not faculty) but he does get like 5 weeks of PTO plus a ton of sick time.

      1. Treecat*

        Yup, this is me. I’m not paid all that well in my position, especially for the minimum educational requirements of the job, but I get 26 paid vacation days a year + 10 days sick leave, and my health benefits are very good, so I’m not going anywhere.

      2. Justme, The OG*

        This is me as well. But we get 14 holidays, minimum 12 days vacation, and 12 days sick. With really good insurance.

      3. Corky's Wife Bonnie*

        My friend is like this too, and for her, the amount of time off is critical. She is accounting staff at a special needs school. She has a live-in mother that requires a lot of medical appointments, and a daughter that needs a lot of help with her children. My friend travels an hour and a half each way for this job, the time off she gets (plus an understanding boss) is absolutely necessary.

      4. CmdrShepard4ever*

        I agree, where I work the pay is below market value, but the benefits are amazing. I get 4 weeks of PTO (after 4 years I get another week), 6 months paid parental leave, 100% employer paid medical/dental/vision for entire family with a $0 deductible. A good retirement match %. I venture to guess on the low side the benefits are worth an extra $20k in the overall compensation package. Bringing my overall compensation package in line with the market rate. The benefits at this job will make it VERY VERY VERY hard to leave and find a better job.

        The last job I had was only a hourly rate. I took the job because I was desperate and had been out of a job for a little while. I was only in that job for 2 months before I accepted my current job. I had already started the process with my current job before I accepted the last job, but had not heard back for a while and then out of the blue I was called in for an interview. If my last job would have had halfway decent benefits I would not have even gone in for an interview, but since they were non-existent I jumped on the chance to go in for an interview and eventually take a new job with AMAZING benefits.

        1. Pescadero*

          My employer pays well below market… but:

          I get 24 vacation days
          I get 15 sick days (which can be used for preventative care/appointments or illness/healthcare of children)
          I get the Christmas-New Years off.
          I have good medical benefits.
          My 401k Match is 2x up to 5% (You put in 5%, they put in 10%)

          1. NACSACJACK*

            Wow, that 401K match is amazing!! We have 1X1 up to 6%. They match 100% to 6%, after that, you’re on your own. What you have above is exactly what they say should be going to retirement.

        2. BenAdminGeek*

          Yup, my dad had a similar job and stuck it out for 40 years because of that. Low pay, but he was able to spend time with the kids.

        3. Michaela Westen*

          If I had those benefits, they would be stuck with me for life! Or at least till retirement.

          1. As Close As Breakfast*

            And conveniently, you’d probably be able to actually retire since the retirement benefits (a) exist and (b) are good! An actual “no longer have a job” retirement isn’t something that seems feasible to a lot of people these days!

      5. AKchic*

        My last job was terrible with pay (non-profit, grants-funded), but the annual leave was amazing. When I left, after 8 years there, I was accruing 5 weeks of vacation, 2 weeks sick leave, a personal holiday, and 12 days of paid holidays (2 days for Thanksgiving, 2 days for Christmas).
        I couldn’t use up all of my vacation time because honestly, I couldn’t afford to go anywhere. I struggled to pay my rent.
        I finally had to leave if I wanted to live anywhere but a falling apart slum with a slumlord landlord who kept wanting to raise the rent to above-market-rates for something that should be condemned (and 2 years later, still can’t get renters in the place).

      6. Mallory Janis Ian*

        I left the university for a job that paid about $10,000/year more. By the time I monetized the non-salary parts of my university compensation package (401K matching, kids’ tuition discount, generous vacation, holiday, and sick leave, etc.), it was just about a straight wash. I realized after a year that I valued all the time off more than an equivalent amount of higher pay, so I went back to the university.

    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I agree. After 2 years (and especially at high-intensity jobs), 2 weeks of paid vacation is not enough. I have a colleague who routinely takes off 3 weeks twice a year (6 weeks total) to travel in order to prevent burnout. But she also works like the dickens the rest of the year.

      I’ll also say that I think any bar on PTO beyond six months is not reasonable. PTO should accrue as soon as you start working, and you should be eligible to use it after 3 months (but most places I know don’t allow its use until the 6-month mark). Delaying access to leave benefits by a year (!) is a recipe for burnout and dissatisfaction.

      1. Amber Rose*

        I don’t get another week until I hit the 5 year mark. It’s awful. We do have a policy that you can, with permission, borrow against next year’s PTO, but say I did that. I’d have even less time off next year. How would that make anything better? I’d just be delaying and worsening the inevitable mental breakdown.

        Plus I doubt I’d get permission. The owners of our business don’t think the admin team does any work, I’m told. But that’s a complaint for tomorrow’s open thread.

        1. Ann Perkins*

          Solidarity. My employer is similar – 1 week for years 1-2, 2 weeks for years 3-5 and 3 weeks for 6-9 and then 4 weeks at 10+. I have a high stress job and am only in year 4 and it’s not enough PTO at all. Our other benefits are great but the terrible PTO always has me open to other options.

          1. Lumos*

            I have two weeks right now and I don’t get any more until year 5, when they toss me a measly two days. -.-

          2. Amber Rose*

            Yeah. My health benefits are solid and my pay is quite good, but my husband works for government healthcare. Our benefits through him are so good, if I got fired tomorrow my plethora of extremely expensive medications would still barely cost me anything.

            I work a stressful, exhausting job with a lot of minutia and BS to deal with. I took all my sick leave in January for a surgery, and all my vacation in June for burnout, and now I’m facing another 4 months where I don’t even dare call in sick. It sucks.

      2. Dragoning*

        I don’t get any PTO, but I honestly can’t understand why you’d never be allowed to take your vacation for a year. A whole year! Of no time off!

        Going from January 2nd to Memorial Day without a single day off (because no PTO) is hard enough.

        1. NACSACJACK*

          Certain big name brick&mortar retailers believed corporate ee’s should never get better than store employees. Store employees are a dime a dozen at the sales level. Management and Corporate EEs are not. Just sayin’

      3. Detective Amy Santiago*

        I think I started my current position with 21 days of PTO (sick & vacation in one bucket), but they also offer a program where you can ‘buy’ an additional week of PTO and we’re allowed to roll over a certain amount of hours every year. But holiday pay is immediate. I started here on May 7th and was paid for Memorial Day.

        1. Queen Bee*

          I started a position with those exact perks in 1999! And I bought vacation immediately, my first year. It was wonderful having 4 weeks right off the bat. I haven’t had PTO that was even close since I had to leave there in the early 2000s.

          As a matter of fact, I see more companies that allow you to SELL vacation back to them! Of all the *noive*!! (Michigan, here).

    3. sometimeswhy*

      Yep and the flip side of that: my eye-poppingly excellent benefits package is why I stuck it out through a really, really rough patch that affected every single facet of my life and was the event that finally got me into therapy *EVEN WHEN* I’d found another one that, duty-wise, I would’ve loved with my whole soul.

    4. Weyrwoman*

      To piggyback on this: Back in March I accepted a position at a company for similar reasons. OldJob offered the bare minimum Alison mentioned, with a slight upgrade in that they profit-shared into 401k. Despite that, the work environment was otherwise less than stellar and quite stagnant. CurrentJob offered me mobility, similar hours, and flex-time, at the loss of the 401k boost (they do a 5% match, I think). When I asked about the flex-time re: vacations, they said most people take anywhere from 3-5 weeks, and as long as I wasn’t excessive and got my work done, they wouldn’t look too close at time off.

    5. T*

      I agree, I’m in the same boat and get two weeks vacation until I hit the six year mark, then it increases to three. I’m also 10 miles from a major city and this is definitely not the norm for the area. I’m currently looking for a new job and better benefits are at the top of my list.

    6. Miss V*

      I left my previous job for the one I have now and, even though I technically took a pay cut of about $1.50/hr, I went from one weeks vacation (I had been there three years) to 19 vacation days, and 100% employer paid healthcare. My old employer offered me a raise and when I explained that unless they were willing to match PTO from my new offer I wasn’t staying all he’d say was ‘but this is all we’ve ever given.’

      Since I’ve left they’ve never been able to find someone to replace me for longer than six months.

  4. Detective Amy Santiago*

    If they can’t afford to pay for benefits, then they should utilize a staffing agency and only hire temp workers. Some agencies do at least provide some basic healthcare and PTO to their employees or sometimes people pick up temp work because they don’t need the benefits. They can do temp to perm evaluation hires to determine if the candidates are a good fit before they invest financially in benefits.

    The trade-off being that some temp workers can be unreliable or have criminal records or other barriers to employment (though that is not universal) and the workers are also not committing to the employer, but that only seems fair if the employer isn’t willing to commit to them.

    1. Is pumpkin a vegetable?*

      Exactly what I was coming here to say. If you can’t afford to pay your employees a decent wage, and provide competitive benefits, then you can’t afford to open a business. It’s kind of like saying you’ve got money for dinner, but can’t afford to leave a tip.

      1. Mephyle*

        I see what you mean, and I don’t say this to take away from your point, but if you pick apart the example it’s rather an ironic one, because in non-tipping or small-tipping countries, the principle at play is that if you can’t afford to pay restaurant staff a living wage, you can’t afford to run the restaurant.

        1. Observer*

          And that’s an argument that a lot of people make here are well. But if tipping is the norm, then you can’t go out to eat and not tip.

        2. Akcipitrokulo*

          Yeah…. but where it is the norm where people rely on it…?

          Not tipping in a country where it isn’t the norm because wages are sufficient is fine. Not offering health insurance in the UK is fine because it’s a luxury item.

          Not tipping where the staff rely on tips or not offering healthcare benefits where that’s the basic available… not good.

        3. Yikes*

          A better example may be, it’s like saying you have the money to eat out, but then expect the waiter to pay for your cocktail and appetizer.

      2. CaliUKExpat*

        I have a feeling I’m about to lose a friendship over this particular issue. Although it’s more that we’re politically different, but it usually comes up over this one issue. Not politics that’s ruining it, but more her thinly veiled contempt for my views and anyone who shares them. “But small businesses” is not a valid reason for paying people below-poverty wages.

    2. louise*

      That’s a great solution. And if the per hour fee to a temp agency that provides benefits to their people is “too high”? Well, that further shows to the client that the cost of employing humans is more involved (and higher) than simply calculating Xhours x Ymeaslyhourlyrate. Employees can be like budget airlines—that base fare looks good on paper, but unless one is okay with how little it includes, there are a lot of add ons before it’s an adequate solution.

      1. Frankie*

        Yeah, and the hourly fee to the agency is also a convenience fee that saves you from the hassle and time suck of recruitment, and that saves you from the long-term cost of salary + benefits to a recruiting professional.

        1. As Close As Breakfast*

          Or it’s for the benefit/convenience of not having to pay for insurance and things (liability, etc) for your employees. Most of our labor goes through a staffing agency but 9 times out of 10 we find the employee and then they sign up with the staffing agency. Because of our size, it works out to less money. Although that’s all changing soon because we’re at that size tipping point where it will soon become less expensive to have all of that in house.

          The agency we use only pays for 5 holidays and 5 days of PTO, but that’s better than nothing I guess?

          1. Anita*

            I work as a contractor through a staffing agency and the only reason I get a minimal amount of sick days is because of the state of California’s requirement. No holidays, no paid time off. The only benefit, I suppose- I can take a week or two off to travel when I budget for it- and its simply unpaid time off

    3. Random Thought*

      +1 Staffing agency is the way to go here, and then decide at the year if you want to hire them on permanently, and what it would be worth to do so.

    4. Ali G*

      You can also outsource services. We did this at the small 5-person non-profit I worked for. Outsourced HR, Payroll, Accounting, Legal, etc. It’s really not that expensive. Also the HR folks also acted as a broker to get us a great healthcare plan by putting us into the catch-all group for that provider. Otherwise we wouldn’t have been able to get such good coverage at a price we could afford for 5 employees. There are lots of these types of services out there that are much more cost effective than hiring full time people for a small business.

    5. Nacho*

      The trade off is that temp workers usually cost about 3-4 times as much as non-temps once the temp agency takes their cut. I used to work for $15.50 an hour as a temp, and my temp agency charged almost $60 an hour to the office they sent me.

      1. Michaela Westen*

        That’s higher than when I was temping in the 90’s – 2000’s. The agency charged a little more than twice what they were paying me. This was for regular office support, not trained medical assistant.

  5. ThatGirl*

    I was a contractor for ~4.5 years before getting hired on full time at my last company, and it was kind of rough. I was paid decently, and had good flexibility, but I had to get my own health insurance, had zero PTO or paid sick time, etc. That to me drove home the benefit of …well, benefits. Beyond even things like 401K matches or long-term disability, simply being able to go on vacation without losing a week’s pay or having better-quality, lower-costing health insurance was huge. I would never work as a FTE for a company that didn’t offer the most basic of benefits, and in some cases, they’re just as important or more important than salary.

    1. Justme, The OG*

      I even got sick and vacation leave when I worked in retail, so I cannot imagine employers not having it.

      1. ThatGirl*

        It was because I was technically a long-term temp (through a staffing agency) but it was honestly ridiculous since I’d been there so long. My holidays weren’t paid either!

      2. Jadelyn*

        When I worked retail, the full-time staff got sick/vacation – but the company employed literally only 2 full-time staff out of about 15 total people for that store, the store manager and the assistant manager. The rest of us, including shift leads, were kept under 35 hours a week so that we wouldn’t be eligible for PTO. I didn’t get sick or vacation time until I managed to land a full-time regular office job, after several years of retail and temping.

        I literally cried the first time I got sick after I got a job with PTO benefits, when I realized that I didn’t have to force myself to work through it or come up short on my bills for that month because I’d taken unpaid time. It makes a huge difference to an employee’s quality of life.

        1. ChachkisGalore*

          Ughhhh – flashbacks to my job at a tiny family owned company. Pay was awful. Benefits… existed but were sparse. Paid fed holidays, 5 pto, 5 sick and health insurance that I contributed something to (but the coverage was absolutely laughable).

          Sprained my ankle, and it would have been financially ruinous to take care of it properly – they wouldn’t give me any sort of short term accomodations. Told me if I couldn’t get up to walk to the printer to pick up boss’s printing and deliver it to him then I could go home and take the time off unpaid (he sat 10ft away from that printer). Health insurance coverage was so bad that I could afford the copay for a basic dr’s appt, but a specialist (podiatrist), physical therapy nor any imaging wouldn’t be covered (it was a very bad sprain – there was most likely tendon damage).

          That whole experience was so traumatic. It literally changed my career path because I knew I needed to prioritize getting into an industry known for solid benefits.

          Oh and the most fun part. Just saw the owner of the company on Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous type show showing off his car collection. It made me want to vomit. I know it’s way more complicated than this, but all I could think was “all you had to do was sell one of those 20 cars and you could have provided decent insurance coverage for all of your (3) employees and then I wouldn’t have permanent ankle issues”.

        2. Former Retail Manager*

          Did you work for my old retail employer? They literally did just that. I was one of the full-time employees and I always felt so horrible for the way they did things. And then they were baffled at the fact that there was constant turnover among the part-time managers. And then the turnover made the two full-time manager’s lives hell because you were forever behind because you were forever short-staffed. Vicious cycle. And no one believed that offering even bare bones benefits would attract better candidates. I hate to say I’m glad the company folded, but I’m glad. They deserved it for that reason and so many others.

          1. Michaela Westen*

            “they were baffled at the fact that there was constant turnover among the part-time managers.”
            “no one believed that offering even bare bones benefits would attract better candidates.”
            I’ve been seeing such things all my life and I’ve come to believe it’s denial. They stay in denial about what they’re doing so they don’t have to deal with reality and be responsible.
            It’s amazing how often this happens, in how many places, in how many ways, with how many consequences.

    2. Clisby Williams*

      I agree. For a few years, I had a contractor job like that – it worked out great because the pay was good and my husband’s job provided health insurance. It didn’t really matter that holidays/vacation weren’t paid – I still got to take them. I would not have agreed to that deal if I were on my own, or if my family needed my benefits.

      1. Clisby Williams*

        I would have stayed as a contractor forever if the company had allowed it. It made a lot of sense in my own situation (not claiming it’s a good deal for everyone.) I basically had unlimited (unpaid) sick days, unlimited (unpaid) vacation, unlimited (unpaid) family leave. It suited me fine, since I had young children at the time.

    3. NotALeader*

      I’m a contractor now and even though I like what I’m doing and I’m paid decently and I like my co-workers, the lack of benefits is why I’ll end up leaving. So far two of my co-workers have left for permanent positions and I’ll probably follow them in the next few months.

    4. CR*

      Yes, I left my last job (where I was very well-reviewed and promoted twice) because they would not hire me permanently. It was just contract after contract with zero benefits. I wised up and got a new job.

  6. alice*

    I think OP should highlight the high cost of turnover more for her clients. How much does a company end up spending on hiring? There’s all that time spent searching for people and interviewing, and then there’s the time from multiple employees spent training that person. If you believe in the adage “time is money”, that adds up very quickly. At a company with no benefits, I can’t imagine most people staying for even a year. That’s a huge cost to the company, which could instead be spent on benefits.

    1. LawLady*

      Agreed. This is penny smart, but pound foolish given the cost of turnover and the loss of competitive candidates.

    2. Ennigaldi*

      Great point. Especially at new medical practices, there’s frequent turnover in office staff and medical assistants, and a high learning curve. OP could point out that this turnover damages relationships with patients, who can quickly lose trust with a doctor who can’t seem to retain staff.

      Additionally, having worked in medical practices where insurance wasn’t offered, it’s HIGHLY demoralizing to realize you can’t even afford your own care while spending all day every day on the phone with insurance companies on behalf of patients.

      1. Mad Baggins*

        This. It’s so ironic to be a medical professional who doesn’t offer sick days to their workers. What if /they/ get sick?

        1. TardyTardis*

          Note that people who come into doctor’s offices are often sick–guess what the receptionist inhales nonstop.

    3. PDXJael*

      Agreed. Good people will work for less than Alison’s minimum because they need a job (I did when graduating with an advanced degree during the bottom of the Great Recession). But they won’t stay, they will leverage it to something better.

    1. Lil Fidget*

      I have seen so many people who want to live the dream of being “entrepreneurs” and opening a small business, but the immediately look to cut staffing costs to ‘make the numbers work.’ They seem to feel at this point that everybody is in it together as team (and to be fair, may not be drawing much by way of salaries themselves). Um, your dream should not have to be subsidized by the most vulnerable members of our society, people!! The numbers need to “work” WITH reasonable wages for your employees!

      1. Orbit*

        I used to watch a show that had a financial advisor come and help out people who were having money problems. One episode had a woman who was running her own business at a loss and not taking a salary it keep it afloat. The advisor pointed out that this was no longer a business but a hobby, an expensive one at that.

    2. Jadelyn*

      This is why I have absolutely zero sympathy for business owners (of any size) who protest minimum wage increases. If your staff can’t afford to live on what you’re paying them, relying on public welfare assistance to make ends meet, you’re literally subsidizing your business with public assistance to keep your payroll costs down. If increasing the minimum wage to something people can live on causes your business to go under, then it deserved to go under.

      1. Sarcastic Fringehead*

        I can’t speak to other countries, but in the US I feel like we treat the right to own a business as more important that employees’ rights to living wages, healthcare, etc., and it’s a huge problem.

        1. Lil Fidget*

          This is coming from the common perception that business owners “create jobs” rather than that labor “creates business” even though you could look at it either way. In policy, jobs creation is the given reason for all sorts of poor decisions if you ask me.

          1. Sarcastic Fringehead*

            And it’s tied in with the idea that if you have a job, you’ll be fine, and if you’re not, you need to work harder or find another job, not ask for more money or better benefits.

      2. Genny*

        In my limited experience with small business owners, it’s not the salary per se, it’s all the taxes they have to pay. Instead of opposing minimum wage increases, they’d be better off lobbying for a more efficient tax system. But getting into the nitty gritty of tax law/policy isn’t as sexy as sounds bites to the media explaining how you’ll have to close up shop because of a 50 cent minimum wage increase.

        100% agree with your point about being subsidized through public assistance. Kind of destroys the whole “I pulled myself up by my bootstraps, and so should you” line of thinking that OP mentions. You’re never going to convince people who use that line that “they didn’t build that”, but they might be convinced if you can point to turnover these types of companies face, how much that costs, and how that affects the business. The more hard numbers, the better.

        1. Sacred Ground*

          Everyone I’ve ever heard use that “bootstraps” talk also thinks the public assistance should be cut or eliminated.

          1. Mad Baggins*

            And then you find out that while they were bootstrappin’ they also were on food stamps. Siiiiighhhh

  7. Justme, The OG*

    i was looking at a job recently (one I was really otherwise interested in) but in the listing they said that they do not have company health insurance. That went into the DON’T EVER APPLY HERE pile. Another had benefits starting at day 91, which I realize is not out of the norm, but I got benefits from my employer as soon as I filled out the paperwork.

    1. Lil Fidget*

      I am increasingly seeing mid-career, white collar offices that do not offer insurance before 3 months. I don’t know if it’s really knew or I’m just suddenly encountering it, but it is devastating to a candidate like myself, who does not have a partner’s insurance to join. What do they think people are doing?? Three months is a long time, and I have a hard time believing that the company saves THAT much money , compared to the major burden on the employee.

      1. Lil Fidget*

        I say it’s devastating because this often seems to be revealed at or close to the offer stage, when you previously were given to understand that the job offered standard benefits.

      2. Oxford Comma*

        It used to be longer. When I first entered the workforce, the jobs I had were anywhere from 6 months to a year before you went on their plan.

        I went broke with the COBRA payments till I was eligible to go on their (really really crappy) plans.

          1. Jadelyn*

            Yes but have you looked at how much COBRA payments are? When I came off my dad’s insurance when I left college at 22, he told me I should look into COBRA. So I did.

            For a fairly healthy single 22-year-old with no kids, it would have cost me $400 a month. And this was ten years ago, so I can only imagine it’s gone up from there. That’s a car payment on a brand new car, or a third of a rent payment on a crappy apartment around here, or a student loan payment. Is COBRA technically available to people? Sure. Is it accessible? Not so much unless you’ve got hefty savings to draw on.

            1. Lil Fidget*

              The retroactive element is a nice perk, I admit, for those of us who are fortunate to be healthy (how it works is that you don’ have to pay for the insurance at all if you don’t end up needing it, and if you do need it, you can jump back in and pay at that time). But it doesn’t help people with chronic conditions or kids with chronic conditions, and I don’t think it helps people who are coming off of unemployment or any other uninsured situation.

            2. Erin*

              Last fall cobra for just me was $600/month. I risked it and did without for 2 months. Couldn’t afford to have 1/3 of my income in just cobra payments for 2 months. Everything for me worked out okay.
              I found out I was pregnant a week after my health insurance kicked in for my current employer.

        1. Lil Fidget*

          6 months?? Under current US law, an individual can’t be out of insurance for more than 3 months (conveniently that’s the exact wait period I’m seeing now, natch) without incurring a fine. That’s super crappy. Nobody wants to go through all the trouble and expense of enrolling in a plan for just a short time :(

          1. Natalie*

            Waiting periods for new employees are capped by the ACA. When longer periods were allowed, there was no individual mandate.

              1. Natalie*

                The ACA is a large and complex law. You’re right that not all employers are covered by the requirement to offer health insurance or pay a penalty. However, I believe the waiting periods issue was actually accomplished by amending ERISA. ERISA is a somewhat obscure law that sets minimum standards for retirement and health plans in private industry, and it applies to almost all of those types of plans.

          2. Oxford Comma*

            To clarify, my experience predated the ACA. This would have been in the early 1990s. There was no way I could have risked going without health insurance at that point. At the time I had a d/x for a neurological condition that meant I needed regular scans and appointments with specialists. If something had gone wrong, it would have meant brain surgery and a lengthy hospital stay. IIRC, my COBRA payments started at $125 a month, but by the end were up to nearly $750. My annual salary was below $25k. I ate a lot of Maruchan ramen, put far too much on my credit cards, and had to be bailed out a couple of times by family members.

            So I have come to value things like health insurance and decent sick leave.

      3. Jadelyn*

        The logic, I believe, is that if you’re not going to work out in that position, it’ll happen within the first few months. They don’t want to invest money in getting you on their benefit plans until they have a bit more confidence that you’re going to work out long term, and 3 months is the (relatively arbitrary) threshold they’ve set for feeling confident about that.

        Which is not to say I agree with it. My org gives benefits starting the first day of the month after your start date (or on your first day if you start on the 1st or 2nd of a month), and that only because it works better logistically to add people at the start of the new month.

        1. Lil Fidget*

          Yeah, I do understand that sometimes companies need a “lemon period” … but three months (a full quarter of the year) is too long for this if you ask me. 60 days is as long as I think it can reasonably be stretched out just to save HR the trouble of filing some paperwork.

          1. Jadelyn*

            I’d actually love to see some research on this – for employees who leave within their first year, at what point does it usually happen? Especially if it’s an involuntary termination – for performance or attendance or something like that?

            I have a suspicion, just based on anecdata, that research wouldn’t bear out the 3-month threshold rationale. 3 months is too short to get a real sense of how someone will do long-term, as at 3 months they’re just getting a real grasp on their role and weaning off of depending on others for training and information every time something new comes up, so if the waiting period is based on “can they do the job well enough?” then 3 months isn’t long enough. But if what you’re looking for is bad behavior, slacking off, attendance problems, etc. I also think 3 months isn’t enough because most people are on their best behavior when they start a new job. After the honeymoon period wears off, then they might start slacking off, so you wouldn’t necessarily see that problem manifest until that point.

            Either way, it would mean 3 months is a crappy threshold point, and it’s frankly inhumane to push it out to 6 months or more, which I think is where you’d start actually seeing the issues with a new staff member who isn’t going to work out. Just give people stuff from the start and let it shake out from there. HR can handle the paperwork burden just fine. (And I say that as someone in HR who handles new hire paperwork. It’s a pain in the ass, but it’s not *that* hard.)

            1. Lil Fidget*

              Yeah the lemon period is to weed out obvious failures in attendance, starting fights, etc. If it takes you a year to decide that this employee’s organization skills just aren’t on par with what you need for a position … yeah sorry, you need to pay that employee for that year, and give them the benefits you agreed to.

            2. Mad Baggins*

              I still think that this should just be a cost of hiring people to do work. You need to provide them with a security card so they can get into the building, and a laptop so they can do the work, and a salary in exchange for their time and skills, and also health insurance. Skipping these basic things is like building a car without brakes and relying on people Flintstoning to stop.

      4. Angelinha*

        I didn’t get health insurance until day 91 at my job in state government! I didn’t know that was legal and actually wrote the HR person to point out the “typo” in my offer letter – which turned out to be not a typo and totally in line with policy. The funny thing is that in my state, health insurance coverage is mandatory.

      5. Christmas Carol*

        I’ve posted this several times before, and I know it doesn’t help if your currently unemployed but, whenever I’ve been “changing” jobs, and losing my old employer’s health plan, I always ask, when negotiating my offer, to be covered under my new job’s plan on day one. The response is always that according to the contract with the insurance provider that it is not possible. I then counter offer with a request for my new employer to help w/my COBRA premiums. Hasn’t failed me yet. One employer gave me a “signing bonus” to cover the payments, plus extra to cover the taxes. One just bumped my salary to cover the costs (and forgot to remove the bump after I went on the company plan!) Another boss just told me to bring in by COBRA bills, and he authorized accounting to pay them directly for me.

      6. Hamburke*

        Hubby’s company offers benefits starting the first of the month following a full month employment. I saw that as practical from a benefits management standpoint but annoying from the employee side (we had the option of COBRA coverage during this period). 90 days would have been a non-starter with active kids and I would have asked hubby to negotiate the cost of COBRA into his offer.
        I’m part-time, hourly and work for a small business. I have paid holidays but no PTO or health coverage. If I worked full time, I would expect some PTO though (accrual is fine but my first job did vacation grants in Jan and July and I thought that was pretty cool since it was given up front and could be carried over).

  8. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    It’s also draconian not to offer benefits/holidays during the first year (!). Start-ups are notorious for terrible benefits packages, but OP, your clients need to get out of their own (limited) experience and evaluate the market in which they’re competing. As Alison notes, they’re not going to be able to attract or retain high-quality talent if they’re miserly or begrudging in their approach to benefits.

    I would go further on what the “bare minimum” of benefits should include. In addition to all federal holidays, 10 days (minimum) paid vacation, and paid sick leave, there should be a significant contribution to health insurance which covers spouses/dependants without a significant financial hit for the employee, a parental/family leave policy, and a retirement contribution of some sort (the retirement contribution can increase up to a certain % in relation to duration of service).

    When people evaluate their compensation packages, they need to be making enough to cover their essential costs. If you withhold things like vacation or competitive health insurance contributions, that money comes out of their pocket, so their wages need to increase. As expensive as benefits are, your clients may find they’re cheaper than paying employees more to purchase insurance directly or to establish a retirement account. It’s reasonable for employer contributions to a benefits package (i.e., health insurance and retirement—not even counting vacation/sick leave) to cost about 33% of the total compensation package.

    1. TCO*

      I will say that a significant contribution to a family/spouse’s health insurance seems to be less common these days. It’s a benefit that my husband and I have seen only rarely throughout our careers, and between us we’ve worked in nonprofits, government, and large (Fortune 50) and small for-profits. Many of those places offered excellent employee coverage but not much help with the costs of family coverage. So depending on the industry the OP’s clients might be able to stay competitive without offering that particular benefit. (That said, it’s a hugely attractive benefit for many employees!)

      1. ThatGirl*

        The last two places I’ve worked – and I think my husband’s job as well – offer couple/family coverage BUT if your spouse *can* be covered at their job but opts not to be, there was a surcharge (like, $50 a month or something). So it was easier for both of us to keep our own separate (no kids).

        1. Unike*

          I faced the same surcharge when I just accepted a new job. Except the surcharge was literally double the cost of the family insurance! So it went from $450 to $900 just because my husband wanted to be on our insurance but could be covered on his own (also very expensive) employers. I asked for 3K more on my salary to offset the big increase in insurance premiums.

        2. Dee*

          Yep. They call it Defensive Coordination of Benefits, and my employer and husbands former and current employer implemented it in the last few years. So next open enrollment, we’re going to have to do two sets of math, manage two difference insurance companies, keep track of two different FSAs, and so on.

        3. Persimmons*

          The places I’ve worked have made it mandatory for the spouse to use their own coverage if available. Only unemployed/SAHP spouses can be covered.

          Someone I know working FOR a health insurance company has the same rule, and the spouse also has to “prove” the lack of coverage through signing an affadavit and providing tax paperwork.

      2. BRR*

        At all three of the employers I’ve had, it was incredibly expensive to add a spouse to health insurance.

    2. jb*

      Came here to say your first sentence.

      What is even the purpose of that? Everywhere I’ve ever worked has calculated your PTO as a fraction of your hours worked and allowed you to accrue from the start. For example, assuming a 40-hour week and 2 weeks vacation, you’d earn ~1.5 vacation hours a week starting your very first week.

      There is no reasonable rationale for phasing in benefits after a year worked.

      1. Observer*

        It depends on how you define “reasonable.” If you mean “treating people decently” you are correct. If you mean “saving every possible penny”, perhaps not. On the one hand, you don’t have to pay for time taken, on the other hand it probably contributes to lower productivity and higher turnover which are costs that are hard to quantify.

    3. pleaset*

      “As expensive as benefits are, your clients may find they’re cheaper than paying employees more to purchase insurance directly or to establish a retirement account.”


      1. Clisby Williams*

        On the other hand, paying employees more to buy their own insurance is a big benefit to people already covered by a spouse’s insurance. One of the reasons I hate the US system of getting health insurance through employers.

        1. Lil Fidget*

          As people are saying above though, it’s increasingly expensive to add a spouse or family to an individual insurance plan. The last place I worked, there was no cost savings – adding someone was literally double the cost of one plan.

    1. There is a Life Outside the Library*

      Depends on the type of job, locale, etc…but some “extras” I can think of off the top of my head would be the Friday after Thanksgiving, Xmas Eve, President’s Day…

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        As a former federal employee, I can say that the eves and Fridays don’t count. I had to work every day after Thanksgiving and every “big holiday” eve. At one employer, I had all federal holidays off, but at another, I was expected to work on the “minor” holidays (Presidents Day, Columbus Day, etc.).

        The 10 holidays are: New Years, MLK Day, Presidents’ Day, Memorial Day, July 4, Labor Day, Columbus Day, Veterans’ Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas.

        1. Indigo a la mode*

          Yeah, I love my company and all, but their time off package is pretty lacking…10 days of PTO for the first two years (which includes sick time), and we don’t get MLK Day, Columbus Day, or Veterans’ Day off. And we’re a veteran-owned company!

          1. Art3mis (fmrly Bad Candidate)*

            I’ve only ever worked in Professional Office type jobs and only one did I get days like MLK Jr or Columbus Day off.

            1. Lil Fidget*

              Everybody back home in the midwest makes fun of me (in the midAtlantic) for getting MLK day and Columbus day off.

              1. Retired accountant*

                Columbus Day is very regional (for employers who don’t go by federal holidays.) I’m in the Midwest and have never had it off; one company gave their east coast locations Columbus Day but not midwest ones (and no floating or other holiday.) I’ve been told it’s to encourage leaf-peeping tourism in the east, and also that it’s cultural for regions that have more Italian-Americans.

              1. KayEss*

                I worked at a university that started giving us MLK Day off a couple years after I started… and after a rash of negative PR incidents involving their very white, very affluent student body doing stupidly racist things on a campus bordering an urban area with racial tension issues.

                (For the record, I mean “stupidly racist things” like blackface Halloween parties, not outright hate crimes. But still.)

          2. Antilles*

            I hate to disagree with you here, but there was an interesting study on holidays a while back from a HR industry trade group (link in my next post) that found that in private companies, it’s more like “6 standard holidays” and then the others were significantly lower odds:
            >90%+ of employees get New Year’s, Memorial Day, 4th of July, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas.
            Less than 20% got Veteran’s Day and Columbus Day and only about a third got MLK Day and President’s Day off.

            1. Detective Amy Santiago*

              I think Alison’s point is that those ten are recognized by the federal government. Whether or not an individual employer provides them as a paid holiday is a separate thing.

            2. Antilles*

              Here’s the link by the way (it’s a PDF, in case that matters to anybody’s IT):
              The number of different companies isn’t too big (415), but I can at least say that it seems consistent with what I’ve experienced directly and indirectly via friends/family and also seems reasonably similar to similar studies I’ve randomly come across elsewhere.

              1. Jadelyn*

                That’s consistent with my experience as well. My company does all 10 – well, we don’t get Columbus or Veterans, but we traded those to get the Friday after Thanksgiving and Xmas Eve as holidays instead. Still comes out to 10.

                However, my partner and my mom both get just the core six at their respective companies. Most of my friends have the same.

            3. ThursdaysGeek*

              Yeah, I’ve had several jobs over the decades, and have never had Columbus day, and only at the current have I had Veteran’s Day. I sometimes get MLK or President’s day (never both). But often get 2 days at Thanksgiving or Christmas. I’ve had as little as 6: the ones named above.

              All of my jobs have also started at 2 weeks vacation. Getting more requires working about 5 years, and only occasionally have I worked up to that.

              Still, since I know many who get no holidays, no paid vacation, no insurance, and only get sick because my state now requires it, I don’t complain. Probably very few of the service and non-professional jobs (where so many, many people work) get even these benefits.

          3. KayDay*

            By any chance, does anyone know if it is a new-ish (past 20 years) thing that non-federal employers offer all 10 federal holidays. Or a mid-Atlantic thing? When I started working (not for the feds, but in DC where the Fed influence is strong), my mother was shocked (shocked!) that I got days like MLK, Presidents’, Columbus, and Vetran’s days off. Her exact words were “honey, those holidays are only for school children. You should probably go into the office just in case”. But at all my jobs I’ve had those days off (although sometimes the Friday after Thanksgiving instead of Vetrans day.)

            1. Antilles*

              It might just be a mid-Atlantic thing, because I’ve worked in the Midwest* and in the South and talked with friends/family in those regions too..and the four holidays you’ve mentioned seem to be completely ignored by employers outside of the financial/banking industry.
              *Most ironically, Columbus Day was not at all celebrated by companies in the city of Columbus (Ohio). The entire city is named after the person being celebrated, but no, we still expect you to work tomorrow.

            2. Cacwgrl*

              When I was in private industry, across our sites everywhere, we followed the 10 holidays plus whenever the President declared a holiday (Reagan’s observance is the only one I remember). But we were also contractors to the government so we followed what they told us to follow, or what they agreed to pay us for giving off.

            3. DCGirl*

              You will definitely see it more in the DC area than you will elsewhere. People like to take those days off if they have a spouse who works for the government (I know I do).

              The best place for holidays I ever got was when I worked in fund raising for a Jewish women’s organization and we got all, and I mean ALL, the Jewish holidays off (I’m not Jewish).

              I vividly remember one day at work when a member called to rip me a new one because no one had answered the phone at headquarters the day before (this was before before voice mail). I said we’d been closed for the holiday. She indignantly inquired, “What holiday” as I frantically thumbed through my files for the list of holidays. “Shemini Atzeret,” I read from the list, “it’s the last day of Sukkot.” There was dead silence on the other end of the phone.

              1. AMPG*

                I actually get MORE federal holidays off now that I’ve moved away from DC. But my old company didn’t give us Columbus Day or Veteran’s Day so that they could close entirely for the week between Christmas and New Year’s (extra holidays that we didn’t use vacation for), which was a lovely perk that I miss.

              2. Turanga Leela*

                God bless the Jewish holidays. There are so many of them. I was always delighted to get (what were to me) random weekdays off for the high holidays. I miss that in my current job.

              3. Washi*

                I’ve had literally that exact conversation about Shemini Atzeret, which I also have off.

                I love getting Jewish holidays off, and the only difficulty (as a non-Jew) has been adjusting to the fact that the “holiday season” is actually September-October and I don’t really get time off around Christmas, except for the day itself.

                But yeah, after having worked for a Jewish org, I don’t know how I could go back to just 10 holidays :)

              4. Nana*

                G-d bless working for a Jewish non-profit! One year, I think I had 30 or so ‘extra’ days. Major holiday, the office closed at 1PM (to allow people to get home by sundown); Fridays and minor holidays, the office closed at 3PM. Raised Jewish, I’d never even heard of “Shemini Atzeret” — but it became one of my favorites.
                OTOH, a board member was annoyed that we closed for Christmas…we had to point out that it’s a Federal holiday.

            4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              I have never worked at a non-federal employer where I got all 10 days off. When I worked retail, I worked all of the federal holidays except July 4. As a white-collar worker, I usually received about 6–7 federal holidays (excluding Columbus, Veterans’ and Presidents’ Day).

              MLK Day seems to have the most variability, but I’ve primarily worked for social justice-y groups that always give that day off and encourage community service activities. My employers have generally been more willing to give “minor” paid federal holidays when they’re weekend-adjacent (e.g., Memorial Day, Labor Day, Presidents’ Day depending on the snow forecast).

          4. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

            I was surprised to see you say that. I’ve never had Presidents’ Day, Columbus Day, or Veterans’ Day off.

          5. ThursdaysGeek*

            Also, my spouse works for a company that does federal contract work (he has a .gov in his email address), and he’s never gotten Columbus, Veterans, MLK, and I think he also doesn’t get President’s Day. So he gets 8, since he gets 2 days at Thankgsiving and at Christmas.

            Maybe it’s a west coast thing – I’ve never heard of anyone getting Columbus Day off, Veteran’s is pretty rare, and the MLK and President’s are quite variable.

          6. ENFP in Texas*

            10? I work in Corporate America (Fortune 50) and we get 8:

            New Years Day, MLK, Memorial Day, 4th of July, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Christmas

            The only time I got more than that was when I worked for a bank.

        2. Pescadero*

          I work for state government… and we don’t get all those off.

          We get (for 2018):

          New Years Day
          Memorial Day
          July 4
          Labor Day
          Thanksgiving Day (and day after)
          Christmas Day – December 31

          11 days total, 6 holidays

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            Yes! States have different rules re: holidays because under the 10th amendment, the federal government (generally) cannot require them to expend money to adhere to federal requirements without compensation.

            State workers usually receive paid holidays as set by their legislature. For example, the State of California does not recognize Columbus Day, but it observes Cesar Chavez Day.

          2. Turanga Leela*

            State employee here, and our quirk is that we observe Presidents’ Day on the day after Thanksgiving. We get all the other Monday holidays off (including Columbus Day in a part of the country where it is highly controversial).

        3. DaniCalifornia*

          We only get New Years, Memorial Day, July 4th, Labor Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas. He used to automatically do the Friday after Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve or day after depending on what day of the week Christmas was. Last year he got tight picky. We didn’t know we had the Friday after or Christmas Eve off until the last possible moment. When many of us had already made our plans. That did not go over well.

        4. brightbetween*

          I’ve worked in municipal and county governments in California my whole career, and I have never had Columbus Day off, nor is it a school holiday. It’s just not really much of a thing here, so everyone always forgets that there’s no mail etc that day. We do get MLK Day and Cesar Chavez Day, though. I grew up here too, and we always got MLK off from school — Cesar Chavez is more recent. The holidays at my current (county govt) employer are:
          New Years Day
          MLK Day
          Presidents Day
          Cesar Chavez Day (Mar 31)
          Memorial Day
          July 4
          Labor Day
          Veteran’s Day
          Day after Thanksgiving

    2. J.*

      1) New Years Day
      2) Martin Luther King Day
      3) Presidents Day
      4) Memorial Day
      5) Independence Day
      6) Labor Day
      7) Indigenous People’s Day/Columbus Day (depending on where you live)
      8) Veterans Day
      9) Thanksgiving
      10) Christmas

      1. J.*

        At my last job we got the full week between Christmas Eve and New Years Day off as paid holiday days, and it was so nice not to have to eat up a bunch of PTO with travel to visit my family and in-laws at the end of the year, which was a huge perk. My current contract is still pretty generous (all of the above 10 plus the day after Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, New Years Eve, and 2 floating holidays) but I still need to use up some of my vacation days as travel.

        1. Judy (since 2010)*

          I’ve never received the federal holidays as an engineer for over 25 years, working for three F50 companies, and smaller companies. We generally get the major holidays, but then get extra days around Thanksgiving & Christmas rather than the lesser holidays. So we get New Years Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, Day after Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas, New Years Eve.

        2. pleaset*


          It would be even nicer to have the same amount of days as extra PTO you could use then, but other people could use at other times that are important to them.

          Frankly, if there is not a need for people to be working at the same time, fewer holidays and more PTO is better. Some global organizations do this as it is so much more flexible for people whose personal lives may not align with the traditions/holidays of the places they are working.

          1. J.*

            The justification for closing that week was about the amount of work we could accomplish during that time given our work (not much!) and was not out of the boss’s goodness of wanting to give us extra PTO. It was cheaper to turn off the lights and down the heat than to have us twiddling our thumbs for 8 hours a day.

      2. Wanda*

        In a state system where I worked, a bunch of the minor holidays got moved to the week between Christmas and New Year’s. So we would observe Columbus Day on, say, Dec. 26th. That meant you had to work on Columbus Day but only had to use 1 day of PTO to stay home the entire time between Christmas and New Year.

      3. TrixieBelden*

        Another one in the South – SC specifically
        Add Confederate Memorial Day for state employees. My office has a combination of federal, state and county employees and this one always surprises me.

    3. jack*

      We get: NYE, NYD, Good Friday, Memorial Day, 4th of July, Labor Day, Thanksgiving (2 days), Christmas Eve, Christmas, plus a Floating Holiday we can use any day we want

      1. Guacamole Bob*

        I was really confused in my first job where we went by the New York Stock Exchange schedule and were closed for Good Friday. It had just never occurred to me that we wouldn’t be open.

        And then I was equally confused that we didn’t get Columbus Day or Veterans’ Day off. They were federal holidays! Why would the NYSE be open?

        1. DCGirl*

          After leaving the fund raising world, one of my jobs was at a company that provided retirement plan services. It followed the NYSE schedule as well. The worst was that it only closed if the NYSE closed. There could be a howling blizzard in Washington, DC, but if the storm missed New York City and the NYSE stayed home we risked life and limb to get to work.

        2. Bluesboy*

          Although not in America, I work in a job where holidays are regulated by the Stock Exchange too. The basic idea seems to be that they close for international holidays (where foreign investors will also be closed) like Christmas, Easter and New Year, but they stay open for national or regional holidays (so where I am Republic Day, Liberation Day, and my city’s Patron Saint’s day) because foreign investors will be in the office.

          Looking at your list it looks like the same idea – Good Friday is pretty international, but obviously foreign investors will be in the office and buying/selling on Columbus Day or Veterans’ Day.

    4. ContentWrangler*

      Yeah I only get 6 – New Year’s Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas

      1. Cruciatus*

        1)We get NYD
        Faculty and students get MLK Day while we staff are still expected to schlep to work
        2)Memorial Day (yup, a looooong stretch to this point)
        3)Independence Day
        4)Labor Day
        5-6)Thanksgiving & Black Friday
        7-??)And Christmas until NYD again. How many days we get depends on how the holidays fall.

        People won’t complain because they love that break at Christmas but I’m here wondering why they couldn’t offer staff MLK Day, and maybe a few other holidays to boot (especially since, again, faculty and students will get spring break, not to mention summer!)

        1. Kaboobie*

          That matches my holiday schedule. Some years we get 2 days at Christmas depending on where the weekend falls. If not, we get 3 floating holidays instead of 2.

          This is by far the biggest company I’ve ever worked for, yet it’s the stingiest with holidays and PTO.

          1. ContentWrangler*

            I’m at a big company too but it’s healthcare related and there are parts of the company that literally can’t be closed any more than those holidays, so to keep things equal, all employees just get those 6. Though at least in my experience, managers have the discretion to let people leave early the Friday before a 3-day weekend or to work from home the day before thanksgiving.

      2. Quickbeam*

        I get 7. However, what really matters to me is being able to take PTO when I want. All the hospitals I worked at had blackout periods around Thanksgiving to New Years where no PTO was allowed. You literally had to have a baby (which many did) or a medical emergency to get a day off in that period. It was one of my main drivers to a desk job from hospital nursing. Try working every Christmas for 25 years.

        1. Clisby Williams*

          I worked for about 11 years and as you can imagine, plenty of people had to work on holidays. That’s how come your newspaper is delivered the day after Christmas. We didn’t have blackouts, though – management tried to give as many people as possible the day off – so, for example, you could take either Christmas Eve or Christmas off.

        2. Goldfish Memories*

          I feel this so hard. I’ve had jobs in three different industries now where there’s been a vacation blackout between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. Luckily I’ve gotten Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day off, but man, the idea of taking the week between Christmas and New Year’s off is a dream.

    5. Emi.*

      OPM lists the following:

      New Year’s Day (January 1).
      Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. (Third Monday in January).
      Washington’s Birthday (Third Monday in February).
      Memorial Day (Last Monday in May).
      Independence Day (July 4).
      Labor Day (First Monday in September).
      Columbus Day (Second Monday in October).
      Veterans Day (November 11).
      Thanksgiving Day (Fourth Thursday in November).
      Christmas Day (December 25).

      1. Ali G*

        I’ve always had some variation of this, but with the day after Thanksgiving as well. The “minor holidays” like MLK, Presidents, Colombus, Veterans, were a toss-up. Seems like I either got them all, or none.
        But does the government really expect employees to work the day after Thanksgiving?? I had no idea.

        1. Detective Amy Santiago*

          Why wouldn’t they? A lot of people work the day after Thanksgiving (including all of the low paid retail workers who serve all the bargain shoppers).

          1. Typist Calligraphy*

            It’s less about equity in labor than it is about working in an office having to do things that require interactions with other offices that aren’t in. It’s pointless for companies where 80% of their employees require working with external partners.

            I felt this keenly at the end of December, between Christmas and New Year’s, and was stuck literally wasting time in the office with my coworkers because everyone else took vacation, including the people outside the office we had to contract with.

        2. Cacwgrl*

          Yep, we work unless we take it off, unless it falls on your regular day off for the alternating work schedule.

        3. The Person from the Resume*

          Not really – It is expected that the office will be very empty because people taking the Friday after off as a day of leave. The federal government provides a pretty generous leave policy especially for those who have maxxed their leave.

          It is not unknown for the President to declare the day after Thanksgiving as a family and federal employees (or possibly only the military) not have to work, but it is not guaranteed. I don’t recall it happening in the last 5 years, but that’s when I became a civilian federal employee instead of a service member.

          1. nonymous*

            Before the current administration it was pretty common to excuse staff for the last couple hours before a major holiday.

      2. Bostonian*

        I don’t get off some federal holidays (Veterans or MLK), BUT we do get off a super awesome state holiday, Patriot’s Day (aka Marathon Monday), which actually commemorates battle of Lexington and Concord, but also comes as a relief for people who commute into Boston to/from anywhere near the marathon route.

        As for what the bare minimum should be… really, even when I worked for a chain food service company that was owned by misers, we had Christmas off and a half day for Thanksgiving (only vacation time was 1 week unpaid for people who had worked there full time 1 year or more). For most professional jobs, 2 weeks paid would be minimum.

    6. Justme, The OG*

      I get the following holidays off:
      Independence Day
      Labor Day
      Christmas Eve
      Christmas Day
      New Year’s Day
      Memorial Day

      That’s eight. We observe 14 holiday days total.

    7. Amber Rose*

      I also get either 7 or 8 depending on whether Remembrance Day falls on the weekend or not. We have three optional days off as well, but literally nowhere I’ve ever worked has offered them except government.

    8. Not A Morning Person*

      I only get 6. But there are 10 federal holidays in the U.S.
      January 1 – New Years
      February – Presidents Day (A Monday close to the Birthdays of Washington and Lincoln)
      May – Memorial Day – last Monday
      July 4 – Independence Day
      September – Labor Day – first Monday
      October – Columbus Day Monday closest to 10/12
      November 11 – Veteran’s Day
      November – Thanksgiving Day 4th thursday
      December 25 – Christmas Day

    9. Violaine*

      At a previous job, the employer only recognized 6 federal holidays. Three of them I had to work, the other three, I had to use PTO for if I wanted the day off. I work in healthcare. I thought that policy was truly awful.

    10. ThatGirl*

      We have eight scheduled and 2 floating –
      New Year’s Day, President’s Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving & Day After Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve & Christmas.

    11. KarenK*

      We just added MLK to the list at my hospital, but since it all comes out of PTO, it doesn’t really matter.

      In Maine and Massachusetts, we also get Patriot’s Day, which is the third Monday in April, best known as the day they run the Boston Marathon.

    12. Cacwgrl*

      NY Day, MLK, Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Coumbus Day, Veteran’s Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas

    13. LurkieLoo*

      We have the big 6 . . . NYD, Memorial, 4th of July, Labor, Thanksgiving, Christmas written into our handbook. However, we typically have 1-2 days extra for NYD and the 4th, plus almost always a half day on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving as well as the Friday after. Christmas is usually 2-3 days off (for example, this year with it being on a Tuesday, we will probably work Th/Fr that week). They just aren’t “guaranteed” in the written handbook.

    14. The Dog's Auntie*

      My cousin’s factory has started making the Monday after the Super Bowl a paid scheduled holiday, since so many people called in “sick” there were never enough workers available to run production anyway. I forget which holiday they gave up do do this though.

  9. Matilda Jefferies*

    In addition to everything Alison said, it’s always in the employer’s best interest to have a healthy workforce – so that they can continue working, if for no other reason.

    Vacation time (presumably) allows an employee to rest, which prevents them from burning out, which makes them a better worker.

    Paid sick time allows an employee to take time off when they’re not feeling well. This means they’ll get better faster, and get back to work faster – as opposed to coming in sick, which will decrease their productivity for a longer period of time. Also, if an employee comes to work sick, they risk getting other people sick, which leads to more people either taking time off or working at a reduced rate.

    Health insurance means people can go to the doctor, and either get better faster or prevent themselves from getting sick in the first place. Which leads – again! – to increased time in the office and increased productivity.

    You could also help your clients calculate the cost of employee turnover. How much does it cost, in terms of money, time, and productivity, to replace an employee when they leave? Is that more or less than the cost of two weeks vacation time? Chances are it’s going to be more – a lot more.

    So from a purely financial perspective, it’s almost certainly going to be cheaper to offer the benefits than to not offer them. Healthy, rested employees are better workers, and better able to contribute to the bottom line.

    1. Matilda Jefferies*

      Also, because it made me feel gross just to write all that, I feel like I need to write a disclaimer. I want to be clear that I’m very firmly on the side of treating people decently just because they’re people. I hate to think that there are people in the world who need to have this *explained* to them!

      But since these people do exist in the world, then we do need to show them the math. Help them see that it’s actually less expensive – and therefore better for their bottom line – to offer benefits, in order to keep their workforce healthy and in the office so they can keep generating more dollars.

    2. Indigo a la mode*

      And these startups are in the medical field–you’d think they’d understand those needs/benefits even more!

      And frankly, if I was interviewing at a medical-field company, I would be dumbfounded if they didn’t offer decent access to healthcare.

    3. Not a Dr*

      They are in HEALTH CARE. Not offering sick days at least is crazy to me. People get sick, and you don’t want them to spread it to patiently or each other.

      1. Jake*

        believe it or not the healthcare industry is notorious for expecting employees to work, even when they are sick.

        My wife’s boss has worked 17 years without taking a sick day. She isn’t exceptionally healthy, she just comes to work in spite of vomiting and having strep throat for 2 weeks last winter.

        This odds on a clinic that offers 6 sick days a year. The average employee takes less than 1 a year.

        1. J.*

          My father is a nurse and contracted MRSA at his hospital. He got told that he’d be written up after calling out of work for more than 3 days in a row, so he went in anyway and then got written up for coming in with such a highly contagious disease! Sometimes you can’t win in health care.

    4. LilySparrow*

      This is an excellent point. Do they want their staff being vectors of contagion to patients?

      A couple reviews on Healthgrades or ZocDoc that say, “The receptionist gave me pinkeye” and good luck to building up your practice.

    5. CM*

      Another pragmatic argument: Unhappy workers are not only more likely to leave, they’re more likely to sue you if they have a problem. People who feel respected and valued at work are much less likely to sue their employer.

  10. Bea*

    I’ve been in start ups and micro companies my entire career. If you don’t offer paid holidays but close those days, good luck keeping any reliable staff for the long run. I’ve never not had New Year’s, Memorial Day, 4th, Labor Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas paid.

    Health benefits are critical in the time we live in. So I won’t look at a job without it unless I’m paid an outrageous amount. To buy a decent plan myself is upwards of $600 a month last time I had to deal with that nonsense.

    Start ups are hard to attract workers in general. Not being generous is how your business fails miserably given the average failure rate to begin with.

    1. Frankie*

      Yeah, it’s taken my husband’s employer (a startup) so long to realize this. They didn’t have ANY benefits for forever and employees had to lobby for it for a couple of years. What they offer is not robust, just two weeks PTO, no sick leave, no retirement, medical with a high deductible, etc. It’s annoying when the founder of the company tells my husband he should take a nice long parental leave when they don’t OFFER any parental leave and he’d have to take it unpaid. Sigh.

      A lot of the employees at the company are great workers who stay due to the appeal of the industry they’re in, and I think because maybe they haven’t ever had a richer benefits package, or they have spouses with something better.

  11. ItsAllFunAndGames...*

    I am going to guess the Venn diagram that consists of “Companies who don’t see the merrit in offering more then just pay” and “Companies that are constantly having to replace employees” looks very much like just one circle.

    1. irene adler*

      On top of that is the circle of “managers genuinely perplexed as to how to reduce the turnover”

      1. hayling*

        My husband is having this problem at his company. The pay scale for his team is way below market rate, and the company has terrible benefits, and they can’t figure out why they have a retention problem. He’s told them until he’s blue in the face that they need to pay more and have more attractive benefits, but it’s falling on deaf ears. And this is in a city where many comparable jobs offer unlimited vacation, free lunches, etc.

        1. Typist Calligraphy*

          I have worked (briefly) at those companies. Their logic is it can’t possibly have anything to do with pay or benefits because they always have dozens of applicants for each opening. Must be that we don’t throw enough parties!

          1. As Close As Breakfast*

            Or even worse – Must be that the people leaving are not loyal and don’t want to work hard and we didn’t really want them here anyway!

            1. hayling*

              You hit it on the nose. They are big on “loyalty” but they don’t give employees any reason to be “loyal.”

        2. blackcat*

          My husband’s company has a retention problem. And they’re moving to a “one pot” PTO system, which means that everyone will lose at least a week of sick time, and more senior employees will lose up to 4 weeks total PTO/sick time. Everyone will lose all banked time on January 1.

          Upper management seems genuinely perplexed as to why everyone is taking massive vacations (4-6 weeks) now. My husband is using some PTO to build a portfolio for job searching.

          It’s genuinely mind boggling that they’d institute such a policy while having a retention problem. They pitched it as a “better” system, but it’s really much worse.

          This is the type of job where entry level folks make 80-100k+ and it takes 3-6 months to really learn to do the job. It’s not like they can hire and expect increased output any time soon.

        3. Jadelyn*

          I use the “additional comments” section on the employee survey every year to scream about shitty medical plans and low pay, and in particular the way those things do not track with management’s stated values of being “pro-employee” – if you’re “pro-employee”, why is your primary health plan an HDHP with a mediocre HSA match that still leaves people $500-2000 short of their deductible even if they contribute the maximum matched amount? Why do you brush off people leaving for higher salaries as meaning they’re “not dedicated to the mission” (oh, nonprofits…)?

          I hate that companies will ask “why do we have a retention problem?” and then COMPLETELY IGNORE the people who answer the damn question. Why ask if you don’t want to hear the answer?

          1. irene adler*

            The question is asked so that managers can honestly tell their superiors that they are actively working on the problem. And they will keep “working on the problem” until someone finds the solution that costs them nothing in time or money.

      2. MassMatt*

        And on top of THAT circle is another one where the managers claim they only hire the best people, and have HIGH STANDARDS! Uh, not for this salary and no PTO or benefits, you’re not!

    2. It's Pronounced Bruce*

      On top of that circle is yet a third circle of “companies whose management likes to lament about the labor shortage.” Heavy air quotes around that last bit.

  12. Loopy*

    I’m so much more invested in working hard when I know I have the PTO to take when I need it. It’s hard to push yourself with no end in sight. Right now I’m at a new job that accrues a basic amount from day 1 and it’s already hard knowing it’ll be a while before I have enough time to really get a week in.

    1. Dolorous Bread*

      Typically jobs allow you to borrow against time before it technically accrues, otherwise no one would be able to take PTO until the end of the year. Accrual over time is mostly for the company to not have to pay out all the unused PTO if someone quits, they can just pay out what’s accrued minus any time already taken off.

  13. Bubbeleh*

    There’s also the cost of having less-than-stellar people working F2F with clients. You want good people doing reception/billing/other support in medical (OK, all, really!) offices…or you might very well lose your clients over that. (I left a dental practice even though I liked the dentist himself — but his office team was a disaster! Rude, sloppy, billing errors every.single.time.)

    Just another bit of ammunition for the OP….

    1. Bea*

      Absolutely. Especially in medical. If your staff is even the slightest off it can lead to insurances not working with you as well. You have to get people in there to do all the tasks very specifically along with the people skills necessary!

  14. Justin PBG*

    Reminds me of a friend who was telling me, when I was single, if I couldn’t ever afford to treat someone to something (not everything, not all the time, but I was broke enough I could barely pay for two drinks for myself), I probably shouldn’t be out there dating and expecting anything to come of it.

    I bought brunch the next time I went out and now we’re married. Heh.

    But on-topic, yeah, they need to Not Start Businesses if they can’t actually hire people and treat them well, or, as mentioned above, use people they only expect to work part-time or temporarily and accept the downfalls thereof. It’s honestly a big reason I’m wary of ever starting something that would have employees: I only want employees if I can support them fully.

    1. Bea*

      That’s old fashioned and made me bristle a bit. There’s a ton of free dates and I can pay for my own drinks. “Buying” a date dinner often leads to expectations. I started dating my partner when he was dirt broke. If a person doesn’t want you at the bottom, it’s a disaster if you lose your job one day and their expectations and “lifestyle” are in jeopardy. So no. This is one of the few times dating isn’t the same as business.

      1. Justin PBG*

        You’re not wrong. I am… less old fashioned than this (woman) friend and my wife, actually, which is why i laughed (uncomfortably).

        So, I kind of agree with you. Apologies.

        1. Typist Calligraphy*

          I read it more metaphorically. It’s about investment, right? Whether that’s money or time, putting in enough to show that you believe it’s worthwhile goes a long way toward convincing the other party you believe in them. In relationships, maybe that sometimes means picking up the tab. Maybe it means playing hooky to go to their favorite movie one day. Whatever.

          In business, it’s benefits.

  15. TCO*

    I work for a startup nonprofit and even we have an excellent benefits package. If a business wants to hire the best talent (like we do), they need to offer benefits that will keep those folks from looking elsewhere. I personally wouldn’t ever consider a job without basic benefits like PTO, paid holidays, retirement, and decent health insurance; benefits are hugely important to me. This is especially true for a startup where I would feel more instability overall. Why would I take a job that doesn’t have as much assurance about my long-term future there if I don’t even get any benefits in the short term? Why wait for a year to get any PTO if it’s not even guaranteed that I’d have that job in a year? Unless they’re hiring employees who are specifically attracted to start-ups, I can’t imagine this is a competitive approach.

  16. Dan*


    The answer to this kind of question is “whatever the market says you need to offer.” The reality is, if you’re able to get quality employees with a crappy comp package, then really, that’s all you need to offer.

    However, your clients should be aware that the labor market is very tight, and people have choices. A crappy comp package isn’t going to attract anybody in this day and age.

    BTW, is it common to use the term “start up” in your field? I expected this to be a discussion about the tech industry, where that term is very commonly used — I was surprised to hear you talk about the medical field. It seems to me that the best way to approach the comp package is to figure out what is “competitive” for small businesses in the medical field.

    1. TCO*

      It depends on the location and industry, of course, but a lot of labor markets are indeed tight. A lot of companies with great benefits and good cultures still can’t hire enough employees. In a market like that, who would take the job with no benefits?

    2. Manders*

      I’ve worked in a small doctor’s office (and he would have loved the term “startup” even though that wasn’t the right description) and also in a real honest to goodness startup. In my experience, doctors are often very reluctant to offer good benefits, especially enough sick and vacation time, to their staff. They really can get stuck in the mindset that if they had to go through a hellish residency, everyone should be able to handle it. What a lot of them don’t grasp is that their staff aren’t in training to be highly paid doctors, and they can’t go into debt or live close to the bone with the confidence that they’ll have a higher salary later. OP may have to take a somewhat different, maybe even blunter approach than a normal business consultant if they’re working with doctors.

      In my current startup job, I’ve never been nickel and dimed over PTO, and benefits (pretty good ones!) started on day one. The one benefit I don’t have is a 401k, but that was made clear when I took the job and the salary increase was still worth it to me.

      1. bb-great*

        This is such a good point–enduring a temporary hardship because you *know* it will pay off is substantially different than taking on those hardships indefinitely as part of a regular job.

        1. AMPG*

          Also, the doctor gets benefits by the sheer fact of being the business OWNER. It’s a huge asset that his employees aren’t sharing in!

          1. bb-great*

            Exactly. Even if the business owner is also scrimping on giving themselves salary, etc. they’ll benefit in the long run when the business becomes profitable. In the meanwhile, unless there’s some kind of profit sharing going on, they’re basically asking their employees to invest in the business by shouldering some of the cost of doing business, but with no return on that investment.

    3. Bea*

      Startup has become the go to name for new businesses. It’s not specifically tech based, I’ve seen it used in countless industries.

    1. No one you know*

      This is the real question. My husband has worked for several nonprofits that offered basically nothing on benefits and pay but expected people to work 24/7 in multiple roles. Those jobs were always filled by young professionals who used the company to fill out an impressive resume entry and then jump to something better.

    2. Chaordic One*

      Supposedly a lot of low-wage big box retail stores and fast food places expect high rates of turnover and they’ve automated as much as they can and then dumbed-down the jobs as much as they can so they can be fairly easily done without investing very much time in training.

  17. WrensRemarks*

    Oh man. My thoughts might be jaded since I’ve been a contractor for the past few years and my “benefits” are laughable, but Allison is spot on in how it feels to an employee with crap benefits. I don’t get paid holidays or vacation, they only just started offering sick days because state laws changed, and the only health insurance available to me is too expensive to use.

    And if I were to open up a business like OP’s clients? The first thing I’d do is offer the best benefits I could afford! Because I know how crappy it is to not have them! And from a practical standpoint, if you’re starting a business you NEED people on your team who care about the success of that business. I usually end up feeling pretty disposable to most of the businesses I’ve contracted for, it’d be a huge mistake to make your permanent employees feel the same way.

    1. ThursdaysGeek*

      This is such a good point: “if you’re starting a business you NEED people on your team who care about the success of that business”

  18. Bee's Knees*

    As I often talk about in the Friday open thread, I work at a newspaper in a small town. Since I started here almost a year ago, we’ve had almost a 100% turnover. There’s only one person that’s been at this job for over two years. Other departments have similar turnovers.
    I understand that newspapers aren’t thriving businesses, but the benefits here are terrible. There is a health insurance plan, but I’m on a separate one, so I can’t speak to that. There’s a 401K that’s 25% matching, but you have to be here three years before you can keep the money. (And no one new is here that long.) We get a week’s vacation after a year. Three sick days. Days off during the year (Like Memorial Day and 4th of July) are not paid. Also, I get paid just above minimum wage. Did I mention I have a degree in this, and could go down the road to the meat processing plant where they start at $12 an hour?
    I understand that not everyone can provide good benefits. But you can do other things, like making sure the vending machine works, and warning people before you take away the coffee pots in the breakroom.

      1. Indigo a la mode*

        I can understand vesting being a retention incentive. My ex worked at a leading GPS-making company that I thought had a great matching plan: They’d match 75% up to 10% of your salary, and every year 20% of that match vested (so once you hit five years, all the money is yours). We moved after two years, and he still got 40% of that super generous match.

        Meanwhile, this year, my company took away the 3-5% match they’d been offering. -_-

      2. Bee's Knees*

        No, it’s not that bad, but when you look at the fact that they other benefits, and the pay, aren’t enough to keep most people here three years, it’s really like they’re not matching anything. If they paid a living wage, it wouldn’t matter so much.

      3. BRR*

        That seems within the realm of normal to me (and better than my first job where you vested after 5 years and they only matched 2.5%). But if the salary is low then it doesn’t really matter what percentage you match since it will be low and it might also mean employees can’t contribute that amount since their pay is so low.

        1. Detective Amy Santiago*

          I remember having it ‘stepped’ at one previous job.

          Like, after 1 year, you are 20% vested, after 2 years it’s 40%, etc. So unless you stick around 5 years or more, you’re not fully vested.

          Of course, that only includes the contribution from your employer. You have control of 100% of your own contributions. Some employers contribute very little (or not at all if they are experiencing financial difficulties).

          1. JHunz*

            I feel like step vesting is a better incentive that a minimum number for 100%. With the minimum number, the only person who’s going to consider it a factor at all is the person at 2.75 years already

      1. Rectilinear Propagation*

        By itself it’s not bad but if the job can’t keep anyone long enough for it to vest then the benefit might as well not exist. The company technically offers matching but in effect they never actually do so.

    1. Victoria, Please*

      Yay for the union over here! Our part-time faculty get the full benefits package when they teach for one semester at 40% time — because the union negotiated that.

      Of course faculty salaries in general are much too low, which makes it hard to *find* those part time faculty especially in fields like engineering, but our benefits are banana splits with extra cherries.

    2. WellRed*

      My match is only up to $200 a year. I think it’s bull that you don’t get paid for federal holidays, and three sick days a year, etc.

  19. Dolphin*

    I don’t think a separate pool
    of paid sick days is necessarily a requirement – many companies lump sick time and vacation time into one PTO category these days, and it’s up to employees to use it as needed.

    1. Hallowflame*

      I agree, as long as the employer increases the amount of PTO provided and makes it available fairly soon after an employee’s start date. Two weeks of PTO per year isn’t a lot when you factor in travel, holidays, family emergencies, household responsibilities, etc. If an employee gets the flu in February, they will probably use most of that up in one go and have almost nothing available for the rest of the year.
      My current employer provides four weeks (20 days) of PTO for new employees to be used however needed and it’s available (with manager approval) from day one. My sick days, doctors appointments, vacations, etc. all come out of this same bucket. This allows me to plan for time off while leaving enough PTO available for the unexpected.

      1. Typist Calligraphy*

        I’m afraid that’s not typical.

        Things are changing here, but I work in the SF Bay Area, and benefits are all over the place. Being in California means PTO is earned income that must be paid out once accrued, if for any reason the employee-employer relationship is severed, so companies are careful about the amount of PTO they offer. As a result, vacation packages I’ve seen range from 10 days to 15 days to unlimited.

        Unlimited, of course, means there’s no accrual and no pay out. (It also has the downside of never feeling like you -can- take time off because you have to justify it rather than saying “I’ve got PTO, gonna take some of it.” Honestly a pretty good deal for companies if they’re willing to put in the work to manage employees and not let it get abused.)

        1. Jadelyn*

          Also in CA – in the Bay Area, even – and I think our perspective is somewhat skewed by the unique specifics of CA labor law. Most states don’t require PTO payout at termination like we do, so employers elsewhere don’t have as much reason to be careful of PTO (or to separate it into sick/vacation, since only vacation has to be paid out at termination). Those that are, probably are doing it more out of stinginess than anything else.

          Personally, I’m a fan of split buckets rather than single-bucket PTO. Having split buckets means people are more willing to use their sick time, since they know they’re not cutting into their potential vacation time by doing so. With single-bucket PTO, people will come to work sick because if they use up their PTO by taking time off when they’re sick, they get no vacation time.

          1. Typist Calligraphy*

            I meant it’s not typical to have 20 PTO days even when sick time and paid leave are combined. You are right about the effects of having those items put together.

            I’m personally in favor of properly managed unlimited PTO plans. The idea of quantifying an employee’s mental health, wellness, family obligation, and productivity into discrete, inflexible units is so baffling. It definitely feels like corporate shortcut for having to manage workload and employee performance.

            My husband’s company is really flexible with a generous PTO pool to boot, but they’ve under-hired so much that if the employees feel like keeping a job or feeling good about the work they produce, they don’t get much chance to use it.

            1. Jadelyn*

              My company gives 22 days combined (10 vacation, 12 sick) from the start of employment, and it goes up from there based on tenure. So perhaps I’m biased.

              But you’ve definitely hit the nail on the head re the pitfalls of unlimited PTO – it’s great in theory, but it really requires that the company be truly fully staffed and have a strong culture of respecting people’s need to take time off, or else it doesn’t work.

      2. Anon Today Anon Tomorrow*

        I worked in a hospital that provided 23 days of PTO. Sounded great. Until you realized that you had to use 8 of those PTO days for federal holidays. So if I wanted Thanksgiving Day off I had to use a day of PTO.

        That left 15 days of PTO for everything else. I managed because I was young and healthy at the time, but I left that job in under a year. And I’d never be able to manage with that level of PTO now.

        1. Jadelyn*

          Wait, you had to use your PTO for holidays??? I’ve never heard of that kind of arrangement before. That’s really crappy.

          1. Ciara Amberlie*

            I’ve seen it before in environments which require coverage even on holidays (hospitals, call-centres which are open 24/7/365) because someone HAS to work it. But I don’t know how many total days they were giving to include these holidays.

            1. It's Pronounced Bruce*

              PBI: The grand majority of a hospital’s staff is required to be gone on holidays, but the policy applies to everyone. You usually get 5-10 days of PTO that won’t be sunk into holidays, depending on your level, but usually your sick leave also comes out of this pool.

            2. Anon Today Anon Tomorrow*

              I think it’s pretty common in hospitals. The biggest issue I had is that I didn’t find out the policy until after I was hired. And considering I had 4 different interviews for the job, it’s not like there wasn’t plenty of time to share that information with me.

          2. Indigo a la mode*

            My sister works in nutrition research at a medical center and her deal is even more obnoxious–they actually close the office on holidays, so her team couldn’t work if they wanted to, but the time gets taken out of their PTO.

            Again, this is in nutrition research, so it’s not like coverage is required…and their study patients sure aren’t coming in on Thanksgiving Day.

            1. Rectilinear Propagation*

              Good lord, they should use this as an example in the dictionary for obnoxious.

            2. Anon Today Anon Tomorrow*

              I was “lucky” I was in a department that provided the choice. Other departments weren’t so generous and operated like your sister’s.

          3. It's Pronounced Bruce*

            I’ve had to do this in all the hospitals I’ve worked for. It’s SUPER common– they’ll boast that they give two weeks of vacation to new employees, then after you start and they show you how to do your time cards they just casually drop in that you bill to your PTO for holidays when the clinics and admin offices are all closed and you can’t work anyway. And you accrue your PTO as you work, so every time you accrue a day there’s a holiday and it’s sunk again. Meaning you basically don’t get PTO.

        2. lnelson1218*

          That does stink. A have worked a few places that offer PTO but holidays when the office was closed were in a different bucket. Granted this was an office environment and not a hospital which is basically open 24/7

    2. Denise*

      In my experience, I prefer the combined PTO. This has typically meant that you have more days off available than if sick and vacation were split. If you don’t get sick a lot, having a general PTO pot is a better deal. It also circumvents what I consider an annoying need to go through the whole “am I really unwell enough for a sick day” reasoning process.

      I also think it’s better to not have PTO accrued. I get why companies do it, but there’s no need to pay out accrued vacation when employees leave if PTO is not considered compensation but rather internal policy.

      1. J.*

        I find that with the combined pot, too many more people do the “am I so unwell I need to waste a PTO day on this?” and unless they’re literally passing out, they’ll come in to the office and infect everyone else (who may or may not have a good immune system) with whatever they have. It’s fine if you’re healthy, but it’s a terrible system for anyone who’s not healthy.

        1. Gatomon*

          I am generally healthy but I prefer them separate too. Why should I be able to turn my sick days into extra vacation when a coworker who isn’t so lucky (or has an ill relative who they can take sick time for at my company) can’t? They often end up eating into their vacation, which everyone deserves regardless of their health.

          I do like in some workplaces where you can donate sick leave to people in need. To me that makes more sense.

    3. Hannah*

      I don’t agree at all. I’m very grateful that I have separate sick and vacation time, because it is treated in two different ways.

      Sick time, I accrue a certain # of days per year (for me it is 9) and they never expire. This is fantastic, because I never feel like “hmmm I’m going to not have this sick day available to me, maybe I should take it even though I’m not sick….” I can accrue it to infinity, BUT it does not get paid out if I leave, so I’m never tempted to come to work sick when I really should stay home, knowing that I could maybe get money for it in the future.

      Vacation time is totally different. I accrue a certain number of days per month, and after I’ve accrued a certain amount, it caps out. This incentivizes me to not NEVER take a vacation, to avoid burnout, but also, I get to keep the vacation days I’ve earned if I leave (in the form of money).

      If your PTO is all in one pot, you might be tempted to come to work sick when you really should stay home, because you know you want to go on that beach vacation later on in the year. That doesn’t really benefit anyone.

      The key is to give enough of both kinds of PTO so that people can take off when they are sick and also take a vacation and have a life.

  20. misery loves sick time*

    Be aware that benefits can also serve to keep people there, even when the bosses and management were terrible. I had a conversation recently with a coworker to the effect of:

    Me: My boss is an actual nightmare and I’m looking to leave.
    Coworker: Same.
    Me: But nowhere else has this much vacation time.
    Coworker: Yep.

    We’ve both been here nearly 10 years and have been looking for 3. But… well, no one really can beat our vacation and sick time, and sometimes that balances out having a boss who is from the pits of hell.

    1. Dee*

      I had a hellacious meeting this morning, but I work from home, am paid well, and have unlimited PTO. So it’s worth it for me to power through those meetings, knowing I can take time off when I need it.

  21. This Daydreamer*

    Can you talk to the people in charge of the grant that pays my wages? I seriously love my job but I can barely afford it.

  22. Sam Pull*

    The company I work at has 4 weeks of vacation that starts accruing from day one, 6% 401K match with instant vesting starting after 1 year, really good medical, very casual dress code, and telework as needed.

    The staff is occasionally overworked, but there is very, very little turnover.

    I’ve been here almost 5 years, and this is the longest that I’ve stayed at a company in a long time.

  23. insert pun here*

    What people are willing to accept when they’re new to the workforce (and possibly still on their parents’ health insurance) may also be waaaaay less than what someone with even 3-5 years of experience will accept. You probably don’t want an entire office full of people with little-to-no experience in the working world.

    1. BlueWolf*

      Exactly. I started my former job right out of college, was still on my parent’s health plan, and it was a tight job market, so I took what I could get (in a small medical office). I was an hourly employee with zero benefits (other than having some schedule flexibility). I could take time off, but I would sometimes work overtime before or after to make up for the time I would be off (with my employer’s permission). Eventually, I turned 26 and they said they would offer a stipend to partially cover buying my own health insurance, but I ended up finding a job at a larger company with excellent benefits about a month later. The first job gave me good experience, and I was able to essentially develop a new position for myself there and get some increased flexibility over time. And they did give me raises too. In the 3 years I was there, most of our staff (and doctors) probably turned over at least 3 times. We often had part-time employees who were students or otherwise had the flexibility to work our odd hours. I think they have now slowly tried to add some benefits as the job market has gotten more competitive.

    2. Bea*

      Or when they’re young enough to not value health insurance. I still deal with “I don’t need that, I’m never sick.” and I’m like “me either. Until my gallbladder sht the bed. Now I’m almost $10,000 in debt.”

      1. Rectilinear Propagation*

        Gallbladder/Debt solidarity fist bump.

        Who knew that the birth control I was on increases your risk of needing gallbladder surgery? Certainly not my doctor! But there’s several things that, if they’re going to happen to you, will likely happen when you’re young but society treats a sick young person as an anomaly even though it happens a lot.

  24. SRC*

    I once worked for a very large auto group that owns dealerships around the country(over 100 dealerships) and their benefits were TERRIBLE!! PTO was 1 week AFTER your 1st year, 2 weeks after your 2nd year, 3 weeks after your TENTH year. And the only holidays you actually got off were Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day. All others you were only off if they fell on a Sunday. Literally got an e-mail from a VP one year that stated how glad they were Christmas fell on a Sunday so we didn’t miss a business day. It was disgusting. ALSO, they had the worst health insurance options. It was such a shame this company that employed hundreds of thousands of employees and offered complete crap.
    I now work for a well-known tech company and the benefits are fantastic. New employees get benefits starting Day 1 INCLUDING 40 hours of PTO.
    I now associate bad benefits with employers who don’t actually care about employees

    1. Hallowflame*

      I have a strong feeling I used to work for this same auto group in the business services office. If so, congratulations on getting out of there! The PTO was terrible, the health insurance options were laughable, and the pay was exploitative.

      1. SRC*

        ha probably! because yeah- everything was awful. I remember one year, the cost to the business went up in regards to health insurance, so they sent out a memo telling everyone their individual costs would go up but because it was mid year, employees were not able to opt for the cheaper option and just had to deal with the added cost.
        I lucked out with an amazing GM who was flexible on the PTO/Sick Days rules but he would flat out tell me that all of his bosses kept insisting I was over paid and denied me a raise for 4 years straight.

    2. Jadelyn*

      …my jaw literally dropped. How awful! I think you’re right on, though, about bad benefits coming from employers who don’t care about their employees.

    3. Chaordic One*

      I’ve been reading about how auto dealers are complaining about how difficult it is to attract and retain employees, especially salespeople and various kinds of mechanics and technicians. The average tenure for sales positions is usually about 9 months. As an industry they are really out-of-touch and they really don’t get it.

      I interviewed for an hourly clerical job at an auto dealer and they didn’t have any sort of health insurance at all, although they did contribute towards an insurance policy if you could find one. After asking for time to think about it, I checked to make sure that I could qualify for an Affordable Care Act (ACA) policy. I did and, being desperate at the time, called them back to accept the job a day later and they reneged on the offer. I probably dodged a bullet.

      1. Chaordic One*

        The other thing was that the dealership was part of a large statewide chain, so they should have been large enough to get a decent healthcare plan given their size. And they were always making large donations to different charities. I feel like if you can’t afford to provide a health care plan for your employees you shouldn’t be donating tens of thousands of dollars to the United Way and all the other charities you support.

      2. SRC*

        dealerships are SO out of touch! A GM would be making over 350k/yr, offering sales guys 10k bonuses and would have to get extra approval to pay a receptionist $12/hr. My dealership had 5 others in the area from the same company and there was ONE person in HR. One.

  25. lnelson1218*

    There are benefits that are of minimal cost to an employer, but many employees still want.
    A company might not be able to afford a 401k match, but still have a 401k plan so everyone can take advantage of the pre-tax benefit.
    One place was never going to pay for the subway/commuter rail passes (Boston area), but I was still able to convince the powers that be that we should have the corporate pass program, it is of no cost to the employer (except for the hour or so per month for me to check the invoice and pass out the passes). Again this is a pre-tax benefit.
    Currently I am contracting and have no paid time off. (and have to wait 90 days before I can consider using the mandated paid sick time in MA).
    Many employers will say that new employees can’t take any time off (unless a scheduled federal holiday) in the first 60/90 days.
    And health care is always a big deal in the US.

    1. Bea*

      My employer allowing in the supplemental benefits consultants was a huge burden off my shoulders.

      You can’t buy short term disability insurance without an employer portal. The only cost is the administration costs of collecting from a paycheck and processing the billings. Now even if I leave, my coverage follows me (only then will they bill me direct, sigh.) Best $40 a month ever to know I’ll be able to pay rent if I’m laid up for a few weeks.

    2. M. Albertine*

      Exactly! At my startup, we have been working on adding benefits that are minimal cost to the company, but give the employee access at pre-tax or group rates. We added dental and vision insurance that way and implementing the 401k plan cost us some some money, but not as much as a match would (but is in the cards when we start making money).

    3. KRM*

      When my company started they stated up front that they couldn’t do a 401(K) match. As we’ve grown and gotten more money in, they do a 3% match (as long as you’re putting in at least 6%), and they also pay the deductible for you on our high deductible health insurance. It’s cheaper overall for them (since not everyone uses the deductible every year) and still a good benefit for us.

  26. Cordelia Vorkosigan*

    I understand my clients’ perspectives to a point — most are in the medical field, and associated at practices prior to opening their own where they were classified as contractors and didn’t receive benefits. So their logic is often, “Well, I’ve never had paid time off. Why should I give my employees any unless they’re working 38 hours a week and have been here more than a year?”

    The fact that this is health care makes this attitude just so much worse. Like, you’re a doctor! (Or, at least, you work in health care!) Why in the world wouldn’t you want your sick employees to stay home and take care of themselves instead of coming into work and spreading their germs around? I literally do not understand this.

    1. Manders*

      This is very common in the medical field, sadly. I have a few theories for why it’s the case, but I think one of the biggest ones is that medical residents often get punished (not always formally, but there are ways to give someone a hard time at a hospital without a formal disciplinary process) for taking time off when they’re sick. That attitude is hard to shake once it develops.

      1. Quickbeam*

        As a nurse I was told by a manager that if I called in sick “they’d want to see where the ventilator was taped”. I had a perfect attendance records so it was a reflection of the staffing attitude. Show up, no matter what.

        1. Ennigaldi*

          Yeah, the staffing is often so tight that one person being out sick means falling behind (if you come in sick, you’re not gonna be that productive anyway, which should be obvious to management but often isn’t). When I was a medical admin I sometimes temped at a hospital a week at a time to cover someone’s vacation.

        2. Goldfish Memories*

          I had a college professor like this once. He told us they only way he’d allow us to miss a class and not fail was if we were dead or a parent/spouse/child was dead. He tried to say that’s how it worked in the real world.

          1. Jadelyn*

            By the time I finished school, I had learned never to trust professors’ notions of “how the real world works”. Academia is a whole other world, and unless the professor had a non-academia background, their idea of “the real world” bore no resemblance to the actual non-academia working world I know.

        3. Jadelyn*

          That is horrifying. Especially because, ffs, you’re working with people who are already sick or injured, potentially including those who are immunocompromised, of ALL the populations you DON’T want sick staff interacting with, good lord.

          Also, I always wonder if people with attitude really think they’re getting quality work from sick employees who show up. If I have to come in to work sick, I’ll be moving slower, won’t be thinking as clearly, won’t have my problem-solving faculties operating at capacity, mostly I’ll just be sitting at my desk replying to emails and pushing paperwork while I wait to go home, because I can’t think enough to do anything more than that. I’m too busy being miserable because I’m sick. My employer can either have my butt in seat but be paying me to not do very much, or they can give me a couple days to recover and when I come back I’ll actually be ready and willing to work at full capacity.

      2. Anon Today Anon Tomorrow*

        I think it’s compounded by the fact that for many they believe that others are disposable around them because they haven’t been to medical school. I do think that attitude is changing, but I think it’s still an issue. Because if you believe everyone else should suffer what you went through during residency and you believe people are disposable, then of course you won’t want to give any benefits.

        Afterall, if someone quits you can just find someone else.

    2. Bea*

      The medical world is a dark one. They assume you’ve pledged your life to the cause and you show up no matter what.

      I refuse to have anything to do with the industry professionally. Despite having doctors and nurses for friends.

    3. Collarbone High*

      Coming here to say this. I’m immunocompromised, and if I went into a medical office and the staff were sick, I would leave and never go back. That would tell me the people running the practice not only didn’t respect their staff enough to give adequate PTO, but didn’t respect the patients enough to ensure their well-being.

      Generous PTO — enough that people can stay home when they’re sick — should be a minimum benefit for a medical practice.

      1. Manders*

        If you’re concerned about this, I strongly urge you to talk to your doctors about their office policies. It’s extremely common in medical offices, and doctors may be more open to hearing this kind of feedback from patients than from their own staff.

        It’s not fair, it shouldn’t be this way, but it’s so common to come to work sick in the medical field that your doctors may not be thinking of it as a health risk for you.

    4. SemiRetired*

      Here to say the same. “Medical professionals” who don’t understand the importance of sick leave, health insurance, PTO in general… should not be operating a business much less practicing medicine. Why oh why do doctors (who are often expected to be independent contractors even if not business owners) not get some basic training in running a business, managing people, etc.? It is one of the (many) disgraces of medical care in the US. They seem to get excellent “medical” training but little to none about how the rest of the world functions.

      1. KayEss*

        True fact: my mom (a doctor) used to volunteer her time doing training sessions for medical students on how to properly interact with people like real human beings. She stopped because not Only were the students resistant enough for it to be demoralizing, but the administration undermined the training at every turn. Medical school is basically brainwashing that makes doctors forget what the real world is like while convincing them that their bizarro dimension is superior. Like a cult.

    5. twig*

      My cousin is a nuc med tech at a local hospital — has worked there for 25 years. has months worth of vacation and sick leave saved up.

      Two years ago she was out for 3 days (two separate occasions — a total of 3 days) for:
      — Her husband’s death
      — Her parents were in a severe car accident

      This was within about a 2 month span.

      Her supervisor wrote her up for not getting approval ahead of time.

      1. twig*

        Oh, and her supervisor threatened her with another write up if she called in sick.
        So she worked with the flu.

        She works with cancer patients with low immune systems.


        1. It's Pronounced Bruce*

          Super standard. I have seen some absolutely wild stuff, including being pressured to go into the NICU with the flu.

          Fact is that your health care workers, even if they get sick leave (which they very well may not!), are still pressured by the higher up medical and administrative staff to see patients when sick. Even if you’re VERY sick. Even if you’re contagious and it’s extremely against policy. Even if there’s someone there who could easily cover for you. It’s Frowned Upon. Big cultural thing. Big part of the reason I don’t work in the industry anymore.

    6. misery loves sick time*

      I just want to compliment you on the combination of your screen name + comment. Works very well for the original Cordelia Vorkosigan! :D

  27. BRR*

    Maybe you can present it as a “cost” if they don’t provide what Alison covers. There is a cost for employee turnover, unhappy employees (from a job without benefits), tired employees (from lack of vacation), and what will likely be lower quality employees (because they can’t get a job elsewhere).

    It sounds like the clients are primarily starting private medical practices. I don’t care how much I like my doctor, I will eventually go to someone else if the other staff is terrible.

    1. BRR*

      Adding on that if it is medical practices and they won’t give PTO for a year, you will likely have employees coming in sick.

      1. It's Pronounced Bruce*

        Yeah, that’s not gonna convince the folks that run the practice to not do it though. Pressuring your staff to work when patients when sick is the norm in health care.

        You have to actually scare them with direct consequences to them, especially monetary ones.

    2. Michaela Westen*

      I spent 5 years looking for a gynecologist because I couldn’t find one with both these things:
      1. A doctor who is competent and nice
      2. A staff that was not frighteningly incompetent.

  28. Jay*

    I’d argue that employee benefits (not your typically insurance, 401k) but things like vacation/sick days, free lunch, growth and development, etc make for happier employees who are more loyal. Companies offering these benefits often have higher retention and employees staying at the company longer than average. If a company treats an employee well, often the mindset is that you will work harder and better. If a company offers limited/no perks – it’s harder to stay motivated and ultimately stay at the job. Every time an employee quits – it costs the company time and money to hire and train someone to fill the role. Additionally companies that offer more perks/benefits have an easier time filling the role and getting higher quality candidates. Would you want to work for a company that has the bare minimum as far as benefits or a company that has better benefits and employee perks? If everything else was equal (position/company size/etc) – I’d take the job that offered catered lunches, onsite gym, better vacation.

    A friend and I were discussing sick day policy. I work for a company that offers a fairly generous PTO (I have 17 days after three years), though I have no sick days – when I (or my children) are sick, I have the option to either work from home or take a PTO day. My friend’s company offers unlimited sick days (within reason and at manager’s discretion). My husband’s company offers unlimited sick and vacation days (again within reason and manager approval). Studies have found that companies that offer unlimited options find that less employees take advantage of it.

    I know if I don’t use all 17 days of vacation – they just go away. Come December I take two weeks off just to use them up. During the year I’m a bit stingy though. If I was with a company where it was unlimited – I’d take off time as needed (vacation, school event), but I’d be less likely to take a day or two off “just because” – I use my vacation/PTO now just so I don’t lose/waste it.

    1. Quickbeam*

      My company offered unlimited sick days for over 100 years. Full pay, first day coverage. When a few people abused it 5 years ago they scrapped it for PTO only. It made a huge difference in attendance, I can tell you that. But people now drag into work sick as dogs.

    2. J.*

      Unlimited vacation days are tricky – depending on the culture of the organization it can be a bit of a scam because you can never cash out paid time off that you’ve earned. It’s great if your org is one where vacations are normalized and managers/colleagues are cool about people being out of the office. But if you’re in a culture where people don’t take vacations, the payoff when you leave can be the only thing making it worthwhile.

      For example, when I was laid off one job after not taking more than a couple of sick days in three years, I got a check for $3000 – after taxes! – for my unused vacation. If that place had “unlimited vacation time” I wouldn’t have gotten a dime for the same situation.

  29. Anonforthis*

    Yeah, this is crap. I was a contractor for a few years and the company only offered 2 weeks vacation and no paid sick leave. And if the feds closed early for weather, you had to burn through PTO.

    Everyone who left cited the lack of sick leave as a problem. The company didn’t start offering it until way after I left. And these were positions that were fairly entry level but required clearances, so hiring was very slow – so every time someone turned over, the company had to scramble because they had to fill the position within a certain amount of time under the terms of their contract and had to find someone who could get through the security clearance process, which also cost money.

    Just offering 3 days of sick leave a year would have helped.

  30. Niki*

    All the stuff around PTO is so alien to me as someone who’s spent her whole working life in the UK. Legal minimum annual leave is 8 paid holidays plus 20 days’ leave – I’ve worked two jobs that offered that minimum and found it horribly restrictive. Normal amount professionals would expect is 25 days plus the 8 holidays. Sick pay varies from company to company but in the sector I work in (large non-profit organisation) it tends to be pretty generous.

    I think it only takes working in one job with crappy benefits to educate somebody on how important they are – it would take a hell of a pay rise to get me to drop back to 20 days of leave!

    1. MissDisplaced*

      In the US, you may only get 5 or 10 vacation days per year. Even if you work for a large multinational corporation. It sucks, especially when you know your “coworkers” in Europe are getting 20-30 days vacation because it’s required by law. AND worse, it may be expected that us US workers have to cover the workload when the EMEA ‘folks were on holiday (it was that way at my last job).
      So. Not. Fair.
      But what can you do? A lot of places now refuse to negotiate PTO packages as part of the job offer negotiations. You get what they give you and that’s that.

  31. Lin*

    I work in one of these places that offer absolutely no benefits (no PTO, no health insurance, no paid holidays) and also pays the bare minimum (think barely above minimum wage). My current situation allows for me to work here and I have stayed because the hours work for me and I enjoy the job. I’ve been here almost 2 years, and most people stay at the job a few weeks or months, but ultimately leave. Also, the quality of employees that we attract is not good. It’s definitely people who are out of options and the morale is often low. It hurts the company because people often just don’t show up for shifts. I think if they were to raise the pay and give just a few benefits, they’d find that the company would run far smoother.

  32. Betty*

    I’m curious which parts of this would extend to part-time staff? (My husband and I are starting a business, but he’s a freelancer and I’m an academic, so our work experiences are not particularly helpful in calibrating what people in “normal jobs” might expect!)

    1. Bea*

      Prorated usually for paid time off. If they’re not scheduled to work Thursdays, they wouldn’t get holiday pay for Thanksgiving usually for holidays.

      For health coverage we have an hourly requirement. So anyone working 21 hrs is eligible. Many places don’t do that and require full time for health coverage but if you’re depending on your part timers, be generous. Part time work is hard to fill with capable reliable individuals.

      1. Michaela Westen*

        “If they’re not scheduled to work Thursdays, they wouldn’t get holiday pay for Thanksgiving”
        We were doing this with our part-timers (almost full-time) until two of the less mature ones began complaining about it.
        One of them went over my boss’ head to corporate, and corporate directed they should get the same PTO as full-time. This is not fair to our full-time staff, but there’s nothing we can do.
        At least they’re generous!

    2. Weyrwoman*

      As some one who worked part-time retail, where they purposely kept my hours under 35/week so that they didn’t have to give me benefits or proper sick time or anything….
      If you want part-timers who are happy to be there, happy to work, and willing to do a little extra, please PLEASE consider giving them a PTO bank at minimum. It would have made a huge difference to me (and maybe I wouldn’t have had to fight them for FMLA when I got shingles…)

      1. lnelson1218*

        I worked at Office Depot several years ago and there was a sick and vacation balance on my pay check even though I was part time (roughly 12hr/week). I was surprised when I got the vacation time paid out when I left.
        Then I got a job that paid better and had better benefits and was able to give up the 2nd OD part-time job.

    3. Krissy_ann*

      I work part-time for a state government agency. PTO is pro-rated. Holidays are prorated too. I work a .8 FTE schedule (4 8 hour days/week). If a holiday falls on a work day for me, I get 6.4 hours of holiday pay, but have to use PTO to get to 8 hours for that day (or make up the time in the week). If a holiday falls on my day off, I get 6.4 hours to take on a different day, but there’s a pretty short period of time to use it. For insurance, my state has a plan for part time employees. It’s higher deductible/co pays than the full time plan, and you have to have a certain amount of hours to qualify.

    4. Chinookwind*

      Alberta has employment standards/laws around holiday pay that just were implemented this year and it made it easier to figure out how to pay part-time employees vacation pay.

      First rule is that, if you work on a stat. holiday, you get:
      “pay average daily wage plus 1.5 times employee’s wage rate for all hours worked, or
      pay regular wages (and overtime, if applicable) plus provide a future day off with payment of average daily wage”

      For part-timers or those who aren’t regularly scheduled to work that day of the week, they get an “Average daily wage”:
      “Average daily wage is calculated as 5% of the employee’s wages, general holiday pay and vacation pay earned in the 4 weeks immediately preceding the general holiday.”

      It actually makes for an easy calculation and is fair across the board.

    5. Elspeth McGillicuddy*

      I am no expert, so take this with a grain of salt, but I’m pretty sure that I’ve heard that part time jobs with benefits are kind of rare.

      I’ve also heard that part time jobs with benefits are highly valued, so you might be able to hire and retain amazing people if you offered them.

  33. LKW*

    Agree on all points mentioned – but I would also advise clients very explicitly that if they expect to provide shitty packages the business justification should not be that they need 3x the salary of their highest paid employee or a similar situation. We’ve all seen examples here where a boss says “We can’t afford to give you a raise” then shows up driving a Maserati to work.

    1. Manders*

      Yes, this is a great point! I said this a little further up the thread, but I think doctors starting their own practices need some really explicit instructions on how to handle these tricky issues. They’re often coming out of very bad work environments themselves, then they’re suddenly managing staff and making a ton of money they feel like they personally earned, and things can get out of control very fast.

  34. Rey*

    I agree with everything Allison said (PTO, health insurance, etc.) I wouldn’t expect any job to provide catered lunches, or other perks that are usually associated with cool tech companies (nap pods, massage therapists). In the last year, I have been thinking wistfully about a more flexible work schedule (work from home, 4-day work week, alternate hours), but I don’t know if that’s really a “benefit” and I know that it depends a lot on how the business is set up if they can offer those options or not.

    1. Antilles*

      In the last year, I have been thinking wistfully about a more flexible work schedule (work from home, 4-day work week, alternate hours), but I don’t know if that’s really a “benefit”
      This is a side issue that might be more appropriate for an open thread, but…it can really, really vary as to whether it’s actually a true ‘benefit’ to the employees. As far as I can tell, all of these perks really depend on whether the company management is willing to commit wholeheartedly, think through the consequences and plan out how to address them, and really keep them as a perk rather than letting them morph into a negative*.
      *For example, the “4 day work week” where you work 8 to 6 M-Th, then get Fridays off ends up failing because all your clients schedule meetings for Friday afternoon so it’s actually just working more hours than normal.

    2. raktajino*

      We were just talking about this on my team today. The consensus was definitely that while we don’t make as much as the market says we could, and the benefits could be better, the company culture IS very flexible with regard to life/work balance, wfh and flex hours, etc.

      Of course, since we only got parental leave recently, I’m certain we’re still underselling ourselves.

  35. Cucumberzucchini*

    Ultimately you offer what you can afford and you find the staff that is willing to accept those benefits and you as the business work with the staff you’re able to attract with those benefits.

    My business just hit the three years mark. I do not offer my staff great traditional benefits and we’re very upfront to potential employees about this and the fact we’re aware our benefits aren’t great but we’re working to improve them. I’m fully aware it limits my hiring pool but there’s not much I can do about it right now. We are improving our benefits as we can afford to. To attempt to compensate for that we offer flexible hours, do bonuses regularly when we have good months, offer a lot of on the job training for new skills, and work really hard to provide excellent management so it’s a pleasant work environment. We’re also extremely transparent to the staff about new business, what’s going on with the clients and make sure they feel invested and informed.

    I’d love to offer more time off, and other great benefits, but ultimately I have to pay myself otherwise there is no point to any of this. We’re growing out clients and billable rates so it should improve over time and we’ll retroactively reward our longterm staff whenever it’s possible. Attracting better talent with better benefits would not improve out situation so for us this is what’s feasible and is working.

    1. Bea*

      You’re doing it all right.

      Transparency and working towards expanding as you’re able to. That will gain you many loyal workers who will give you a chance.

      Flexibility and training is a godsend and are benefits to many job seekers. You give them a chance to grow, that keeps people energized.

  36. Victoria, Please*

    Yay for the union over here! Our part-time faculty get the full benefits package when they teach for one semester at 40% time — because the union negotiated that.

    Of course faculty salaries in general are much too low, which makes it hard to *find* those part time faculty especially in fields like engineering, but our benefits are banana splits with extra cherries.

  37. Arya Parya*

    I’m from Europe and I assume the LW is in the US. In my country cetrain benefits are mandatory, like 4 weeks of PTO, national holidays, paid sick leave. Most companies offer more, at least in my industry. Apparently our government finds these benefits important and I think they are right. People need PTO to rest, unwind and not burn out.
    i understand the US government has their reasons to not make this mandatory. Not trying to make this a political discussion. Merely pointing out that these benefits are expected in some other countries and I therefore don’t think the LW is off-base

    1. Bea*

      We’re very divided here in the US. States are starting to make mandatory sick leave a thing. We also are enacting paid family leave in my state. So whereas it’s not federally mandated, there’s increases in employment laws every day it seems. Which these startups should also keep in mind. It doesn’t matter your size here, sick leave is the law.

    2. Typist Calligraphy*

      I worked with a US company that had a German office which later became the headquarters. When I was on a business trip there to hand over the North America operations, it was just after Easter (which the US office didn’t account for – I got there Easter Sunday and realized nothing was open). At lunch they spent a long time talking about their plans for May Day and lamenting that they were already half out of their vacation time.

      I made a comment about how mine would be out by the time I got back since I was extending my one week business trip into an extra one and a half week vacation, and had been sick earlier in the year, and they incredulously told me they got 26 days plus unlimited sick time plus a lot of holidays, and that was insultingly bare minimum.

      So my company managed to do the bare minimum in both countries, but what those minimums were represented a stark difference!

      1. MCsAngel2*

        OT: It’s not because it was Easter, it’s because it was Sunday. German stores don’t open on Sundays, period.

        1. Typist Calligraphy*

          Yes, definitely part of it! However it meant the office was closed that Monday and no one knew to meet me Monday morning. Planning was not part of this trip!

    3. No one you know*

      Americans as a whole have a weird approach to time off. I’ve seen articles in newspapers before praising employees who retired after long careers having never taken a PTO day. There are awards in school for perfect attendance that you cannot receive if you ever stayed home sick (even with a doctor’s note).

      I’m American and, though my company has a generous PTO policy, I rarely use it. I took my first vacation in five years easier this summer and I wasn’t sure what to do with myself.

    4. Gatomon*

      The federal government in the US doesn’t guarantee much. Even what protections there are are often not applied to very small employers. FMLA, which allows you to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave a year for certain medical or family situations, generally only applies to companies with at least 75 employees.

      States are doing what they can, but then it becomes a hodgepodge of laws that multistate corporations dislike because they now have to comply with different rules in different places. Recently the supreme court ruled states that don’t have a sales tax (like mine) must collect and remit sales tax for residents of other states who purchase goods online here. Our small businesses are up in arms over having to suddenly figure out the sales tax laws for 40-something odd states when they’ve never had to deal with any of it before.

      There are strengths to our form of government, and then there are weaknesses that create unnecessary chaos and burden, in my opinion.

      1. nonymous*

        The other part of that sales tax change is that municipalities that gave incentives in order to attract a sales tax base (think warehouses that start with an A) are now losing a huge source of revenue. My city is projecting a shortfall of $5M.

    5. Tau*

      Yeah, I know Alison doesn’t like us Europeans to go all “well in my country these benefits would be considered actively ridiculous” when this topic comes up, but the difference is stark to the point where it’s really hard to leave a useful comment on this post. :/

      I will say I’m really, really glad my government mandates effectively-unlimited paid sick leave. This has been a really shit year for my health, I’ve been off sick from work a lot and still need to schedule surgery for the end of the year. I have no idea how I’d have coped if I had limited sick days. It also affects the culture around it, I think – I was really worried when I kept having to go to my boss going “uh, so I’m off sick *again*” but everyone at my company from CEO on down has been completely fantastic about it, and my coworker told me he’s surprised that *I’m* surprised they’re being great about it because they’re legally obliged to accommodate me.

    1. Matilda Jefferies*

      Something else that you wouldn’t think should have to be explained to most people…sigh.

      1. Cary E Thomson*

        Totally. I just interviewed for a job where they offered no benefits beyond the minimum two weeks of vacation required by the BC Employment Act combined with a low wage. I was so relieved when they call to tell me they had hired someone else.

  38. KR*

    I feel this so hard. I have seen more and more people who offer just under 49 hr/week jobs. So you’re working 38 hrs and don’t have time to have another job too but since you’re not “full time” you don’t get any benefits. I get two weeks vacation time and sick time in a separate bank. I like my job but two weeks definitely doesn’t feel like a lot especially since our family is across the country and a day long plane ride away. My husband has about 2 months of vacation time (a month a year) saved up and gets federal holidays off and frequent long weekends for the heck of it. He makes sacrifices elsewhere for his job but it definitely makes me bitter and seem like the negative Nelly when he’s like “Let’s go do this thing! Let’s take a big trip!” And I have to tell him that we can do one big trip a year and that’s all the vacation I have for the year. -_-

    1. Typist Calligraphy*

      Mismatched benefits at home are rough.

      My husband has this because his PTO and schedule flexibility is much greater than mine. He’s always the one that gets tapped to stay home with the kid when she’s sick, take weekday appointments, handle the appliance service folks, etc., etc. He’s resentful of it even while acknowledging that it makes the most sense for him to cover it.

      We also can’t take a vacation because not only do I not have the time, my job isn’t flexible enough to allow me to take multiple days off in a row.

    1. Chaordic One*

      Without benefits you can probably find people who are qualified and who can do the job, but they usually aren’t going to be the kind of people who would be your first choice. You might have to hire someone who is (horrors!) over 40, overweight, has visible tattoos, who is a person of color, or LGBT.

  39. What's with today, today?*

    Two weeks absolute minimum paid vacation? Could you talk to my boss, please? I’ve been here 10 years and we get one week of paid vacation (after a year) and 6 sick days.

    1. Lil Fidget*

      That is actually really crappy. You could do better almost anywhere, if you are in a standard white collar profession. I have always gotten two weeks even as an entry level employee in my first year, and I’m not in some amazing field where benefits rain from the sky. One week is really insufficient for life.

      1. What's with today, today?*

        I’m a radio personality/News Director in a very small market. I could absolutely do better in a larger market(and did so for years), but this is the only station in our area, and I love all other aspects of my job. It’s really a pretty perfect fit for me. My husband is a very successful local criminal/family law attorney, and I will stay in this job until the day I retire or they close up shop, but if not for my husband’s business, I would have been forced to leave a long time ago. We have less than 10 full-time employees and most are retired from other jobs. I technically end up with two weeks a year, because air people have to work on holidays and I hoard my comp days to add another week (Illegal not to use them in the same week, I know, but I like it this way).

        1. Lil Fidget*

          Ah, well if you get two weeks de facto, (and are paid for them, I mean) that makes sense then. Otherwise I’d use my entire allotment of vacation just travelling home to see my family at Christmas. Two weeks with other workplace flexibility would be acceptable, if still not generous.

    2. Typist Calligraphy*

      To give you a framework, California’s minimum SICK TIME requirement is 3 days. You are getting 2 more and all of that is supposed to cover the cumulative time off for the year?

      Having been somewhere for 10 years should also put you in the top tier of PTO accruals. At my current company, where we start at 12, we hit 20 at year 5.

      Find comps from the area. Especially if your company has high turnover.

  40. Bones*

    I’m currently suffering because of my company’s lousy benefits. I had a miscarriage almost a year ago and have *gasp!* had the audacity to schedule doctor’s appointments during working hours (I live in a different state than where I work, and the Planned Parenthood near me is far more affordable than OBG’s in NYC). They’ve told me they may have to fire me if I continue to do so (despite having ample receptionists to cover me, and the fact that we’re currently in the slowest part of the business year).

    All this is to say– give your employees *everything* you can manage to give them. It’s the right thing to do.

    1. Bones*

      (I’m also the second receptionist in under a year to have their job threatened because they made medical appointments in the follow up period after their miscarriage during working hours… you’d think they’d learn after the first girl whistleblew and lead directly to the firing of like, 7 people…. go figure).

        1. Bones*

          Haven’t been with the company long enough to qualify, and I don’t know enough about FMLA to know if they could make an exception for me (if they can and are choosing not to… what dicks!)

          1. Katie the Fed*

            They can always make an exception – they don’t have to require anyone be in FMLA status. FMLA is to protect the employees – the employer can offer leave if they want.

              1. Observer*

                Yes, it’s good to know. Because that’s information you can use to make decisions going forward.

    2. Manders*

      Ugh, I’m so sorry you’re having to deal with this, it’s awful. Some companies act like their employees don’t have lives outside of work, but this is extreme even for that attitude.

    3. Bea*

      Do you work in NYC…because y’all have paid sick leave and they can’t just fire you for needing to use it. Or were you out?! Maybe I’m reading it wrong.n

      1. Bones*

        I’ve already ran out of sick leave (had the bad manners to nearly bleed to death out of my uterus twice in 10 days, I’m a real problem employee!)

          1. Bones*

            Ok but— I’m just a receptionist, why would I need benefits or flexibility???? My company is so GD stupid. I’m assuming there’s a rule here to not specifically name awful companies but…. it’s a staffing firm that shares a name with an overused worth that means “awesome”

            1. Kat in VA*

              I’m so sorry your company falls into the trap of thinking that “just admin” aren’t necessary to the running of their org. We are. And I’m so sorry that you had the audacity to nearly bleed to death from your uterus. Us women are so inconvenient, aren’t we? (Not to mention HALF THE FREAKING POPULATION FFS)

              Not to mention the upset that comes from a miscarriage, whether planned and wanted or no. It’s still stressful, the hormones wreak havoc with your system, and it’s all around just a shit show. I’ve had one myself, and was fortunate to not be working at the time. I’m very sorry you had to endure this and your asshole work made it even worse. {{{hugs}}} if you want them.

    4. Contrarian*

      Your employers suck and are mean people.

      That said, it is disappointing that so many medical offices (and other businesses, too) won’t schedule visits during evening hours or on weekends. (Yeah, I get that they need and want time off, too.) But still, on a certain level it is like they aren’t really serious about providing needed healthcare to those of us who have difficulty getting time off from our jobs for our medical needs. (I’m worrying about getting time off for mammograms and colonoscopies.)

  41. JosiePcat*

    Sometimes start-ups do offer less to begin with. However there has to be some sort of trade off like stock ownership in the company. Then people can decide if the vision of the company is something they can sacrifice other things in the beginning to get behind the vision of the company. Just saying hey the company is new so you get nothing like it or lump it won’t attract quality employees.

  42. Ellen*

    I work for a hospital. the pay us quite low compared to what i could get elsewhere, but the benefit package makes up for it.

  43. Four Lights*

    My grandpa used to say not to worry to much about the salary; it’s all about the benefits.

    1. Kat in VA*

      My response to that is, “Benefits don’t pay the monthly electric bill, Grampa.”

      I had a recent debacle with a lowball offer that I whined about – a lot – on AAM. After they proudly offered me a 10% pay cut from the minimum salary they offered, they tried to say a bonus and benefits would make up for it.

      First, your benefits cost $40 more a month than my husband’s would, and a bonus and benefits don’t address me having to feed seven people at my house. Sorry, nope.

      1. Michaela Westen*

        Also the line “we’ll pay you low and give you a raise/bonus later” can be a ruse. I saw this more than once when I was young. The raise never happened, and at least one pretended they had never said that.

  44. Katie the Fed*

    Especially in the medical field, you REALLY should offer PTO. You don’t want employees dragging themselves in sick when you’re possible working with immuno-compromised patients, children, elderly people, etc. I’d be really mad to go to a doctor’s office when someone working there had the flu.

    1. Observer*

      Don’t you know? People are supposed to bring themselves in and magically manage not to infect anyone, even the immuno-compromised patient.

  45. Ali G*

    I want to add a few things:
    I’ve worked at non-profits most of my career (10 years out of 15) and if they can offer good benefits than I think most places can too. It doesn’t have to be the Cadillac of all packages, but in my first job out of grad school, at a newly formed NP, I had 10 vacation days (which was only so low because they were assessed based on years of experience – not years of service to the org – big difference! and I had 0), full medical at low premiums, 401k with match, sick time that accrued and rolled over unlimited until you hit 90 days,5 personal days, and like 8 Holidays.
    Also at the one for profit place I worked one of the ways they saved money on PTO was to offer all paid regular Holidays and then…just didn’t track it. If you were sick, you stayed home, if you needed PTO for a vacation, you asked your supervisor and if they approved it, you took it (there were parameters in place to prevent abuse, but I won’t go into all the details). I side-eye them because they could afford to actually track PTO, let sick time and PTO accrue, pay it out upon leaving, etc. but they chose not too. I don’t necessarily endorse this method because it’s rife with abuse from all sides, but it can be a starting point if the cost of formal PTO plans is prohibitive for a small, just getting started company.

    1. Typist Calligraphy*

      In tech parlance that’s unlimited PTO, and it seems like a pretty sweet deal from the company POV if they can manage the management of it. People can abuse it, but it shouldn’t be an issue if the managers handle it and you hire reliable people. (It’s less of a liability because then they don’t have to have paid banks which may need to be paid out upon employee termination, etc.) It can also have a chilling effect on even taking PTO, unfortunately (for you, fortunately for the company line), because you tend to have to do more justification about why here and why now when taking time off.

      But it looks GREAT on job adverts! And it’s a terrific perk when used well.

      1. Ali G*

        I was definitely hot and cold on it. On the one hand I left a non-profit for this for-profit job and got paid out vacation that was the equivalent of almost 2 weeks of pay (basically paid for my 2 weeks off between jobs). But my department was very functional and was mostly good people who didn’t abuse the system. We were also very hard workers, traveled a lot and our bosses recognized the need for time off and almost always granted it, no questions asked.
        But other teams were to dysfunctional that people basically never got time off, unless someone was sick, near dead or dead. It was implemented very poorly across the company. This is why I like the formal system better because it’s less open to abuse, even if it means overall less time off (although I’ve been lucky to work for places with generous leave already).

      2. Tau*

        Personally (coming from Europe) I prefer the comparatively very generous but specific holiday allotment we have here to “unlimited PTO”. I am very sure I would take less vacation time if it was just “oh, take a holiday if you think you need one”.

  46. Lilandy*

    I live in Ireland where I get 25 days paid vacation. Can purchase an extra 4 if I want. 10 weeks paid sick days and half our health insurance is paid by my company and it only a factory job. It’s crazy how little time off people in the US get.

  47. Indie*

    I’d rather pay 100 dubloons for a service that delivers, than 50 dubloons for an expensive lesson.

    It’s the very definition of false economy. Give contractor-style conditions to people you want to behave as full time employees? It’s like directing someone to make you a new dining table out of paper. You will spend a lot of money on paper, and then more money on replacement paper the whole time remaining absolutely baffled as to why your dining table can’t support you like you need it to.

    OP, is it worth telling people to try it their way if they want to but give them an overview of the likely rehiring and replacement costs that will be incurred when someone gets sick or burned out? If they want contractors, give them a breakdown of how much work they can expect from a contractor compared to an employee.

    As to treating people the way they treat themselves; not unless they’re giving out equal shares of the business profits!

    1. Chaordic One*

      Employers wonder why they aren’t getting “buy-in” to their ideas and why the contractors aren’t “taking ownership” of their company’s problems.

      It’s a mystery.

  48. Jack Russell Terrier*

    One job I had we got 21 days combined vacation and sick leave BUT that included the standard Federal Holidays. Yup we had to accrue Thanksgiving etc. One Jewish college said he wanted to work Christmas as he didn’t want to use his accrued leave for a religious holiday in a religion he didn’t practice – and he was allowed to do just that. It was bad in other respects too … .

    1. Jane*

      I don’t know if counting “Holidays” as days off is all bad, as some people might like the flexibility of being able to work a holiday that isn’t important to them and have other time off instead. But you should give a higher amount of PTO in that case.

      1. Typist Calligraphy*

        To be honest, when the bare minimum but standard PTO pool is 10 days, 21 days PTO *is* more.

        1. It's Pronounced Bruce*

          After using it on your 10 or 11 days the office is closed, though, you’re right back at 10.

      2. It's Pronounced Bruce*

        Everywhere I’ve worked that’s done this doesn’t allow people to work on the holidays, though. You can’t work and you can’t take it unpaid. It’s a pretty clever way to attract people in with a “good” PTO allotment, then drain it all out with sneaky garbage and keep people from taking their own scheduled time off.

    2. misery loves sick time*

      I’d be really happy if I could swap out the federal holidays and not have to spend my PTO on the holidays I actually celebrate. I don’t need a bunch of random Mondays and Thanksgiving and Christmas and New Year’s. I do nothing for them, and meanwhile, I can’t take any job that doesn’t have 10 days PTO because then I’ll have to do without pay for my holidays. Which my boss will doubt are actually holidays because, hey, she’s never heard of other religions having holidays before. *bitter*

  49. DCGirl*

    My current company, which has good benefits otherwise, only offers three days of sick leave per year and you can’t roll them over if you don’t use them all. During orientation, I asked what would happen if you needed more than three sick days. I mean, a few years ago, I got the flu despite having a flu shot, and was flat on my back for a week. The response was that we all have flexible hours and can work from home in that case. My next question was, “But what if you’re too sick to work from home?” I never really got an answer to that.

    1. AMPG*

      That’s INSANE. One of the best things about my old company was that sick benefits rolled over indefinitely (but didn’t get paid out upon departure, unlike our use-it-or-lose-it vacation time). I was able to take two 16-week maternity leaves fully paid because of it (the company offered 4 weeks paid).

      1. DCGirl*

        It’s frustrating, because everything else about this company is great. Even if the days rolled over, it would be a help. Otherwise, I’m coming down with a bad cold right after Christmas, LOL.

  50. Dust Bunny*

    Employers everywhere: If you treat your employees as though you don’t care about them, they will treat you and your business in kind.

    I used to work for a place where we technically had sick days . . . but we either had to come in, demonstrate how sick we were, and be sent home (assuming they would agree to send us home and not ask us to tough it out), or get a doctor’s note for something trivial. And we also had to find our own shift replacement, even though they ran on a minimal staff and didn’t actually have any spare employees so there was no flexibility.

    I got out of there ASAP. It was dehumanizing and made my life much harder than it needed to be.

  51. M. Albertine*

    I work for a start up where the Number One benefit is unlimited PTO. We hover around 10 employees, so right now it’s really obvious if it is abused, but we have the right employees that get the work done and appreciate the flexibility. It was a huge factor in deciding to take the job (along with the career development opportunity). Health insurance was second…I pay a lot out of pocket, but the work/life balance went a LONG way toward taking on the uncertainty of working for a startup and the lack of traditional benefits. (We’re working on adding more, pending the next equity raise…)

  52. Jane*

    I think you can turn this around and say, “Well, what is the bare minimum productivity you want out of each employee?”

    I mean, really. I’d ask them, well, would you hire an employee who asked in the interview, “What is the bare minimum of times I need to be at work on time in order not to get fired? What about the bare minimum percentage of work that needs to be mistake-free?” I suspect they wouldn’t like that all too much. The attitude of “bare minimum” cuts both ways.

    1. Sacred Ground*

      Yes, thank you!

      “You get what you pay for.” Everyone gets this idea if talking about cars, food, restaurants, clothes, tools, equipment, housing/real estate, electronics, anything really. But when purchasing labor people think they’re entitled to hire rock stars for minimum wage.

  53. Benefits Broad*

    In my professional option as a Benefits Broad for many years, I wholeheartedly concur! On a personal level, I had a PCP who was a fantastic clinician, but an awful boss. His front office staff was a constant revolving door of unprofessional, incompetent, rude and frustrating people who lost lab orders, cursed at patients, left the answering service on all day instead of answering the office phones, walked around barefoot, etc. When I mentioned these problems, he stated that he didn’t see any point to benefits or higher pay for “the help” because their work is “just simple paperwork that anybody can do”. I decided to find a new PCP. I later heard that he closed his office and left the area.

    At the end of the day, you can be the next Dr. Jonas Salk, but if you aren’t compensating people enough to actually give a rat’s hairy heiney about their jobs and how your patients are treated, your practice will suffer.

  54. LilySparrow*

    When I was pursuing a creative career, I used to work without PTO or benefits for a variety of sole practitioners or small firms. I worked hard and did a good job for them, but here’s what I expected (and got) as a trade-off:

    I had a base expectation of normal working hours and total time per week, but I could and did flex my time within the working day (coming in late, leaving early, long lunch) on-demand. I would give as much notice as I could of any of these changes, but sometimes that was only an hour or so.

    Any request from the employer for off-hours or extra hours was at my discretion. I would try to help them meet deadlines if I didn’t have an outside conflict, and set them up with what they’d need before I left for the day, but ultimately deadlines were their problem, not mine.

    I did of course give advance notice of planned vacations/multi-day absences, but this was me informing the employer, not requesting permission.

    If the employer wanted me on-site to answer the phone or greet visitors when there was no other work for me to do, I could work on personal projects as long as they didn’t create a nuisance for others.

    I could use the office’s conference rooms for meetings or lunches with my creative colleagues, as long as they were not otherwise booked and didn’t create a nuisance. I could use them for after-hours meetings anytime as long as I cleaned up and locked up after myself.

    I stayed at these jobs about 2-3 years on average, and would quit when my outside projects were more demanding. I gave notice and would usually help train my replacement if we found one. I never had a problem finding a new position when I wanted one, sometimes through a temp agency.

    For me, it was a good trade. Of course, that was before the ACA, I was young, single, and healthy, and high-deductable personal “catastrophic” health insurance policies were pretty cheap. I know this wouldn’t work for me now, even if I were still young, single and healthy.

    At my most recent FT office job, I got 3 weeks PTO that pro-rated in over the first year. 401K eligibility began after 1 year, but the employer contribution was retroactive to your hire date, so it was like a little retention bonus. Full health, dental, and vision benefits from day one (which I also contributed to), and a flex account for dependent care taken out of payroll pre-tax (I’m not sure if this is still a thing under the current tax code).

    Vision insurance doesn’t seem to be standard anymore, from what friends tell me. So I might not consider that “bare minimum.” And I’m sure a lot of people would work without dental. But it would be a major downside and we’d look for a higher salary to compensate.

    It all comes down to what type of staff they’re looking for. People who are in-demand and highly employable (even in a general admin role) are going to have more skills and be more self-directed. They will be able to anticipate needs and make a bigger contribution to the efficiency and productivity of the organization.

    People with a lower degree of skills and experience, who are willing to work without benefits, are going to require a lot more hands-on management. So how do these founders want to spend their time — Making money, or managing staff?

    Investment in staff is going to leverage their time so the founders can do their best work and make the business more profitable.

  55. Persimmons*

    Regarding holidays: if your business is closed and your employees cannot work, either pay all of them or none of them (preferably the former, of course). It is absolute crap to tell your staff “You can’t come in today, but only some of you will get money for it.” Denying temps/contractors vacation days is one thing–but forcing people to stay home unpaid is a Supreme Wizard level of jackholery.

  56. No real name here*

    LW, Alison is spot on with this. I’ve worked in the medical field for years and am good at what I do (not just tooting my own horn, you’d say the same thing if you saw my annual evaluations). Unless someone is willing to pay WELL above market rate for my professional-level job (somewhere in the neighborhood of double), there is no way I’d take a job with no benefits. I’d have a hard time avoiding laughing in my interviewer’s face, actually. If I was in a situation where I needed the income to eat, I’d take the job and continue hunting. They will not retain top talent, patients will and do go elsewhere when they are dissatisfied with support staff, and that will affect bottom line in a bad way. It is such a bad idea for all the reasons Alison and the previous commenters have outlined.

  57. Krissy_ann*

    Mass transit benefits are very common for professionals (at least in the metro area near me.

    I have a friend how recently left a (professional) job he otherwise would have stayed in because the employer offered no benefits and he found a new job with benefits. Conversely, my husband and I have stayed at jobs long term that have excellent benefits packages, even though we could earn higher salaries elsewhere.

  58. Oxford Comma*

    Well, I am a state employee, but I have been keeping an eye out. Salary requirements aside, I am not leaving unless I’m getting something comparable or better in the way of benefits. Right now I have fairly decent and affordable health insurance; dental & vision, which is less decent but still affords me 2 free cleanings a year and 1 pair of contacts/eye glasses; TIAA-cref, about 10 holidays a year–if I work some of them, I get that time off when I want to take it later, vacation time that amounts to about 4 weeks a year, sick days and I can carry both over if unused during the year. The ability to carry unused days has been a godsend in years when I have been quite ill.

    If you can’t afford to offer benefits, you can’t afford to hire people. As others here are stating, you will attract a pool of people who will not stay and will probably exclude a lot of desirable candidates.

    1. Brownie*

      In my social circle/group there’s a lot of folks who brag about their startup stock options and high salary when they find out I’m a fed. “But you get paid 25% less than me for the same job, why wouldn’t you want to work in the private sector?” they cry, and my response is “I have matching 6% 401k, indefinite carry-over of unused sick and vacation time, dental, vision, and health care so good it means I only pay around $140 out of pocket for a walk-in ER visit.” The silence after that says so much and the quiet private requests for my department’s job page afterwards says even more.

  59. Charity Quitter*

    I once worked for a charity organization that is a nationwide household name, in a salaried, degree-required role. The benefits were ab-so-lute garbage. I had to wait 12 months for two weeks of vacation pay, 6 for sick days, and 6 for insurance – and the pay was through the floor.

    I took the job as a means to make a mutli-state move for my family, and dropped it like a hot potato once I had a respectable tenure under my belt. Later, I remember speaking with somebody who was lamenting that the organization just couldn’t attract and keep talent the way they wanted to – but they attributed it to a declining “brand” loyalty, and didn’t seem to think that people my age would care about the benefits if the mission was good.

  60. martin*

    It’s often helpful for this conversation to pitch it in terms of competitiveness, most employers want to offer what their competitors are – no more, but not a loss less either or people will balk at the offer stage. A group benefits consultant or broker in your area should be able to give you some benchmarking that shows what the competitive range is for the target industry/geography/company size, and likely would be happy to provide you with the info in exchange for referrals for employers who want to set up a new plan.

  61. Amylou*

    First year working I had no PTO, only 2.5 days personal holidays, not much in benefits. It got touted as good benefits but it actually wasn’t really. I think the older management thought – hey this is good, this is standard, not realising there are much better paying jobs out there or other companies being more creative with comp and benefits, in addition to big competition for certain skill sets. It was my first job though after a long search and then getting A job is amazing, so you don’t think much of it and you’re just happy to be employed, having people pay you for your skills, no idea what good or bad benefit packages are… Anyway, couple of years on, I realised some stuff, changed jobs and geographical area, got more than double paid time off (7 weeks!) – it is heaven. And also other good benefits! It is a bit exceptional and I know I will take a cut in any future jobs most likely but now I know the importance of benefits and what a change it makes in your life in general. And I’m going to enjoy the time off!

  62. Leela*

    I had a hard time with this when I worked in hiring for Major Teapot Company you’ve definitely heard of. When I started there, it was long after they were no longer considered the “cool” company but they were still trying to ride that wave by keeping wages ridiculously low, we lost candidate after candidate (and employee after employee) to one of many other Major Teapot Companies in the same city because our compensation was so ridiculously uncompetitive. There were also (and still are) multiple articles coming out about how bad the work/life balance and treatment could be at this company. Add this to the fact that there were all kinds of successful but smaller start-ups in the area that *actually* fit the bill of “cool” company while paying pretty close to what we paid. Not to mention that our hiring process was pretty disrespectful to candidates (making me wait over a month for interviewer feedback that I could pass along to the candidate, long after we’d stopped interviewing, even for a second interview).

    Frustrated managers would tear their hair out wondering why we were having trouble hiring in these circumstances. Thankfully I was on a contract and could just peace out once it was over.

  63. Snark*

    The question they need to ask is not, “what is the bare minimum we can get away with,” but “what are the kinds of candidates we want to hire going to want.”

  64. designbot*

    I just want to point out that when I’m hiring, I specifically try to poach employees from a firm I know of that does great work but hires all their employees as contractors with no benefits. I’ve had a good success rate at getting their people too. If you won’t treat your people well, the moment you get a good employee this is what will happen.

  65. OCD gal*

    If the employer pays for/contributes to the health insurance premium for the employee, but will not do the same, at an equal level, for the spouse, it is often more beneficial to the spouse to not allow spousal coverage at all.

    Under the Affordable Care Act, generally, if an employer offers coverage, the employee and spouse must take it and will not be eligible for financial assistance on the ACA Marketplace if they choose not to enroll in the employer coverage. BUT, in order to not qualify for financial assistance, the employer insurance must meet three tests:
    1) Must be Minimum Essential Coverage (MEC), which more employer plans are.
    2) Must meet Minimum Value Standard, meaning the plan must cover at least 60% of health costs on average. (The most common standard for plans NOT to meet, but MANY people don’t know. If your health plan brochure only says it meets MEC, that doesn’t mean it’s meeting all its responsibilities.)
    3) Affordability – The lowest cost plan available to the EMPLOYEE ONLY must cost the employee no more than 9.56% of their annual salary in annual premium costs. But if the spousal coverage would be incredibly expensive, you’re still not eligible for financial assistance because the standard only considers the cost for employee-only coverage. (Who was going to fix this? Hillary F-cking Clinton.)

    So. A lot of employers think they’re helping by allowing their employees to add their spouse to the plan, with no employer contribution. But they’re not! They’re actually making it impossible for the spouse to get insurance unless their own job offers affordable coverage, which isn’t helpful if the spouse works part-time, doesn’t work, etc.

  66. Jill*

    I don’t understand the logic of these employers. If all you’re going to pay me is the bare minimum, what do you think you’re going to get out me? Answer: The bare mimium.

    If you want employees that go above and beyond, strive to exceed expectations, make a vested interest in your organizatons mission, look for ways to create efficiciences in your process or innovate your product – you’ve got to give them an incentive. LIke really excellent benefits, the possiblity of a bonus or a promotion, recognition events, and flexible working conditions. How is that not common sense?

  67. Unprofessional*

    This thread is making me realize just how much I have been giving myself a hard time. I am 1099 and I have been berating myself for being lazy and unwilling to work because I take off holidays (when I have no business anyway) and schedule 2-3 long weekends a year. In my head, I have not worked for it and don’t deserve it. It is amazing how quickly I acculturated to the idea that being anywhere but work was unacceptable and a complete personal failing. I hope you are able to help your clients understand what they are doing when they don’t offer benefits.

  68. Argh!*

    They need to look at what equivalent employees are being offered in the area. First rule of business: know your market!

  69. Anon for this One*

    I’m an attorney at a small business focused immigration law firm (the only other attorney is my boss). I get paid $25 an hour (which is the same rate I started at two years ago and have gotten a flat no whenever I’ve brought up a raise despite doing more and better work than I did when I started) and typically work 40 hours a week. I get $100 a month towards health insurance (which covers about 40% of my premium), 7 paid holidays, and transit to and from work reimbursed. After a year and a half of discussions, I was able to get 5 personal days and 6 sick days. I was laid off from my first job out of law school, so I was feeling pretty desperate when this opportunity came around. For comparison, the immigration law nonprofit nearby pays its attorneys with no experience about $10k more than me, has significantly more paid time off (sick and personal) and holidays, fully pays health insurance premiums, and offers employer contributions into a retirement account.

    Next month, I will be starting a new job with a state agency. I will be getting a $20k raise, 10 more personal days, 6 more sick days, 4 more holidays, fully paid health insurance premiums for myself and my spouse, and employer contributions to a retirement plan. Compensation and benefits were a huge part of why I wanted to leave. I don’t think my boss realizes at all how much of a difference it makes and how costly training new staff is. Our legal assistants would be better compensated working at Starbucks, so turnover in those positions becomes inevitable too.

    I understand that what employers can afford is a real limiting factor and should not be understated. I also think they can get more creative in the benefits they offer. I doubt I would have started job searching if I was making $55k a year (the average salary for an early career private sector attorney (not in big law) in our city is around $75k a year) but getting significantly more paid time off than I would have gotten anywhere else (and, when you’re an attorney, paid time off is more about rearranging when you work than not working). I would have also been fine with a billable requirement of up to 1400 hours annually if my boss wanted a time accountability measure.

    1. Lil Fidget*

      I always notice this with nonprofits, which is my field. Okay, you legitimately can’t afford to offer a good salary – you’re grant funded or whatever, fine, I get that. But then you offer really generous leave time, right? From home opportunities abound, the job is 35/hrs a week, generous sick and vacation? Oh no, you don’t? You want butts in seats for 45 hours a week but you’re too poor to pay a decent wage and benefits … mmhmm.

    2. Surprised*

      You must live in a small city? If you had to do it all over again, would you go to law school again? I have worked in the legal field as a non-attorney for 25+ years, and your low comp surprises me, but I have always worked in big cities. 20 years ago, my paralegal salary was $75,000.

      1. Anon for this One*

        I’m in a fairly sizeable city. The $75,000 number I’d say is reflective of entry-level salaries in private firms with fewer than 5 attorneys (maybe even 3 or fewer). Bigger firms, I’d say starting salary is $110,000-$120,00 on average and government/nonprofit jobs tend to start in the $55,ooo-$70,000 range. I find what I make to be ridiculous for a private firm, but I was laid off from first post law school job after about 8 months and was desperate when I took this.

        I probably wouldn’t go to law school again, more because of long term career interests than anything else. I’d rather be working in policy and new job will let me do more of that. Law isn’t bad training for policy work, but I don’t think it’s the degree that serves my specific interests best.

  70. Purplemeg*

    I worked for an organization like this right out of college. The pay was barely above minimum wage and there were 0 benefits. They didn’t even offer maternity leave because the company was smaller than 50 people. The owner would always be praising us and telling us that the company was doing so well, and making lots of profit, but nothing changed. Turn over was so high, and the managers seemed baffled every time someone left. At my exit interview I explicitly said that the lack of health insurance, retirement benefits, time off, etc was a big factor in my decision to leave. At almost every company-wide meeting someone would ask when we would get health insurance, and management would just shrug and say, “we are waiting to see if Obamacare gets repealed.” Ugh.

  71. doingmyjob*

    I have been a small business development consultant doing similar work to the LW. There was some business that I finally decided I was going to turn down, and that was business from employers like these. I would be very upfront and tell them that my efforts to help them find good employees, develop a good business plan, market their business etc would not help them be successful because they were unwilling to invest the $ it takes to attract and retain good help. My reputation was important to me and I did not want my name associated with employers like these.

    One group, after churning through dozens of good employees and almost going bankrupt, finally came to me and said they would do what I suggested. They are now successful and a valued member of the business community. I like to think my advice and standing up for the right thing helped in some way to make that happen.

  72. JKP*

    As a business owner with only a few employees (2-3 at most), I want to retain good employees, but there are some benefits that are really expensive to provide when you only have a few employees. Health insurance is usually priced on the size of the risk pool, so in the past, it would have been prohibitively expensive to provide health insurance through the business. And yet, I did pay 100% of my receptionist’s maternity leave, even though I didn’t have to.

    Are there ways to compensate for the benefits you can’t offer? Like more money and more PTO if you can’t offer health insurance? Pay extra so they can buy their own insurance?

    Also, how much extra PTO should a business offer for sick/personal time if the business already has paid PTO built in to the schedule by virtue of the business being closed certain days/weeks? For example, my office is closed approximately 4-5 weeks per year, usually the times that would be in demand to take time off (like during Christmas and in the middle of the summer). Plus, always a 33 hour week with full time pay (every Fri off). How much extra PTO would be competitive to cover time off needed outside that built-in time off?

    1. Anon for this One*

      How much do you currently offer beyond when you are closed? Assuming you offer around 10 days, that almost feels like enough to me, maybe with the caveat that if your employees want to take more, they should ask and you should be open to working something out.

      For health insurance, my stipend used to cover 50% of my premium instead of 40% and my boss refused to increase my stipend when my premium increased (I get one of the cheapest bronze plans on the ACA marketplace in my state). You could ask your employees how much they are currently paying and offer a stipend up to a certain amount or percentage. However, especially as someone young and healthy, I am willing trade PTO/time flexibility for health insurance.

      In really small business settings, I think being able to have open conversations about comp/benefits and your employer listening to you and taking your feedback seriously is incredibility valuable.

    2. Rectilinear Propagation*

      Pay extra so they can buy their own insurance?

      This is what I would expect. Contractors get paid more because they get no benefits and this would be a similar thing.

      And honestly, if I’m already getting every Friday off in addition to a bunch of time around Christmas and during the summer, I wouldn’t expect PTO on top of that. Sick leave, sure, and the ability to take some unpaid time off but 4 – 5 weeks off is more than most companies give and that’s before getting every Friday off.

      1. Lil Fidget*

        Yes, I once worked briefly for a small firm that didn’t want to take on the administrative burden of running their own insurance. But the outcome was that they compensated extra money on top of the wage we discussed to cover my need to be self-insured. I was satisfied with that.

  73. hiptobesquared*

    My employer offers no vacation to anyone for the first year (full time, part time, etc) and you only get one week after that. My boss pre-negotiated for me so I’m not in SUCH a predicament but let’s just say I am asking for more vacation in lieu of a raise this year at my review because I’m loosing. my. mind.

  74. Michaela Westen*

    This reminds me of a post a few months ago by someone who was running a medical office and didn’t want to offer PTO. IRRC it was a comment to an article, not an article.
    This person had hired someone in a patient-facing role who had tried and failed to quit smoking. She was a heavy smoker who would come reeking of smoke and also came to work sick – with a cough, IIRC. Blech. I could smell the smoke!
    The employee was coming to work sick and coughing because she didn’t have paid sick days. I did the same thing in my waitressing days. Coming to work sick is what an employer can expect if there are no paid sick days.

  75. Jam Today*

    Not offering PTO is one of the most mean-spirited things an employer can (not) do. It astounds me that anyone would think this is acceptable.

  76. ArtK*

    I’m at a stage in my life where benefits are probably more important than salary (within reason, of course.) Late career, over 60. Good health insurance and PTO are essential when things start breaking down. There’s also the fact that I’d like to be able to travel and spend time with my wife, rather than dedicate all of my waking hours to a company. When recruiters ask what salary I’m looking for, I give them a range but make it clear that I evaluate on the whole package, not just the salary.

  77. brushandfloss*

    What the OP is discussing is exactly what going on with Dentistry/dental hygienists. With the glut of hygienists all over the country dentists have no incentive to offer anything beyond our wages. Corporate dental offices usually offer basic benefits but the trade-off is that in these offices there is a lot of pressure to produce/sell.

  78. Alexander*

    I’m always amazed by reading these american centric stories (German here):
    “Unlimited” Sick leave due to mandatory health insurance (the first 6 weeks of sickness your employer HAS to pay, everything after that is paid as a fraction of your income (something like 60%) by your insurance)
    All public holidays (9-14) are mandatory PTO
    Minimum of 4 Weeks (20 Days on a 5-day Week, 24 Days on a 6-day Week) PTO Vacation time
    Health Insurance is not optional, but mandatory (will automatically be deducted from your salary, 50% paid by you, 50% paid by your employer)
    Retirement insurance mandatory (deducted from your salary)
    Unemployment insurance mandatory (deducted from your salary, you get a percentage of your median income of the last 12 months in case you get unemployed without fault)

    Also, your income tax etc. will automatically be deducted from your salary as well, so what you get paid by your employer is “yours”, no tax season at the end of the year, and almost all basics like insurance and retirement (at least a basic level) covered by that point…you can (and some have to) do a tax declaration, but most people actually get money back from the state at that point due to deductibles, and only a small minority actually has to pay something to the state at that point…

    1. Hannah*

      Is the health insurance, retirement insurance, and unemployment insurance run by the govt? Meaning, retirement insurance is maybe the equivalent of our social security? Because we also have that taken out of our paychecks and most people consider them taxes (even though it is a separate line). We also have medicare taxes taken out of our paychecks, which goes to our future healthcare as an old person. Our income tax is also automatically deducted for most people under regular employment, but “tax season” is when that is reconciled to the exact amount that you owe. So some people get some money back and others have to pay more. None of these automatic deductions are controlled by the employer, but they also do not provide for people’s needs as fully as yours does. Meaning, we need private health care for our current needs, and Social Security is not all that much though, and not enough for most people to live on, so it is standard for private employers to set up some additional plans for retirement. In the past these were pensions, but now they are most commonly 401k accounts, which are investment accounts.

      For the most part, though, there are no laws about giving vacation days. My state (Massachusetts) does have a law that most jobs have to provide paid sick time.

      1. Alexander*

        The health insurance system in Germany is a bit complicated, as there are two levels (mandatory “public” health insurance (that is still provided by private companies, but to strict rules set by the govt., and “private” Health Insurance that is much more liberal in what can/cannot be included (but must at least equal the “public” one).

        Retirement Insurance is what we call “Rente”, and currently, you get paid a monthly sum after you reach Age 67 (and leave the workforce, which is more or less mandatory here – most contracts even state explicitly that it ends when you reach that age), which is based on your annual income for the last x years, and also the amount of years / the amount you paid into the system via your previous paychecks. This is run by the government, and cannot be skipped, it is mandatory and the amount is fixed by the government as well.

        We have another “social security” system in place that handles people who are getting unemployed (without their fault), people who get unemployed (with fault), people who get injured in a way that they cannot work anymore (“Invalidenrente”). There’s also edge cases for minors when one or both of the parents die where they get paid a small “rente” to help them along… and this can go on and on.

        I just created a sample payment sheet to visualize how the deductions look:
        (This assumes: not married, no Kids, member of the Church, all insurances the minimum required)

        Result Month Year
        Gross Salary: 4.166,67 € 50.000,00 €

        Solidarity Surcharge: 41,04 € 492,48 €
        Church Tax: 59,70 € 716,40 €
        Salary Tax: 746,33 € 8.955,96 €

        Taxes: 847,07 € 10.164,84 €

        Social Charges
        Pension Insurance: 387,50 € 4.650,00 €
        Unemployment Insurance: 62,50 € 750,00 €
        Health Insurance: 350,00 € 4.200,00 €
        Care Insurance: 63,54 € 762,50 €

        Social Charges: 863,54 € 10.362,50 €

        Net Salary: 2.456,06 € 29.472,66 €

    2. Lucky American*

      After reading all these comments, I’ve realized again that I am #BLESSED that I work for a European company. We get base four weeks PTO (plus you get more with seniority), 401k match, pretty good health insurance that includes vision and dental, and life insurance as well (for the whole family!). Shoutout to Europe for your worker protections spilling over to us American employees.

  79. Fluff*

    Do you have uptodate industry data for your clients that match the type of practice (of course getting them to believe it is the trick)? For example (I apologize if already mentioned), MGMA data on medical practice staffing, benefits, etc. and I believe it is split about by location (southeast is different than midwest). Depending on the practice and location they might get a nibbles of the pay is good and the work is prn (as needed, or part time), but then they have to expect what comes with this model: no show employees, employees choosing not work, employees who have other jobs or options. Medical staff is notoriously hard to train because you need customer service skills like in retail, then all the medical stuff (emergency vs complainer/ coding? scheduling? compliance?) and then the whole idea that people come to see you when they feel awful – and this is often people at their worst.

    The patience needed for patients is huge. And that patience needs PTO, benefits, time to recharge.

    Scenarios these doctors are setting up for their practice:
    * High turn over in staff – costs money, plays havoc with schedules, billing, training, other staff.
    * Patients will leave – patients will pick up on the staff stress level and may leave because that stress bleeds into their care.
    * Staff will talk and if you are in a small community that practice will quickly get the reputation. And fixing that reputation is much harder than starting out better.
    * Your practices become the place where other practices know where to find future employees – if you find a decent staff member that you “poach” from a practice with no PTO, bad benefits, high stress; you have a good shot of this becoming a happy employee in your practice of decent benefits. Most other practices know which hospitals and practices make good hunting grounds.
    * Some doctors (and others too) sometimes think because they sacrifice for the noble” profession, everyone is volunteering. This is the hardest attitude to break – it may only change with business failure. Sorry. People work for $/benefits and so do doctors. If most of us won the mega millions we would be eating bonbons and binging on Star Trek (insert fun here), even the medical folks.
    * Perception – doctors are seen as $$$ (even though dept, delayed $ due to long hours of training and more). The perception is MD/DO = $$. Being cheap on benefits is not what they want to be known for. In the hospital lounges, benefits are some of the most contentious things discussed. Nothing is more annoying that a job in healthcare with crappy healthcare or a job where you are expected to stay late (unpredictable) with crappy PTO.

  80. KayEss*

    I have some sympathy for doctors trying to operate independent private practices, because it’s HARD. Very hard. The only way you’ll be raking in the dough is if you’re some kind of rock star specialist—but a garden-variety PCP internist? Nope, not in this day and age.

    I’ve watched my mother’s private practice dwindle for my entire lifetime—from three partners sharing an office and full nursing and admin staff, to two partners with one nurse and one receptionist with billing done unpaid by their spouses, to just her and her part-time nurse operating out of her house and dad still doing the billing. She would “make” more money if she retired and started collecting social security—the practice, such as it is, barely breaks even. That has been the case for as long as I can remember.

    It’s worth it to my mom because she can set her own hours and policies, and practice the way she wants to without being beholden to any kind of corporate administration about how long she spends with each patient or whatever. But that has always been heavily subsidized by my dad’s job (and later his actual labor as essentially her accountant), and by other options her privilege has afforded her. Her second office partner was in a similar position and had to leave private practice when her husband was killed in an accident—she couldn’t keep her end running, much less profitable enough to support her and her children, without him. My mom has said flat-out that if anything happened to my dad, it wouldn’t be worth it to her to continue.

    Note that these are all people who have been practicing for decades—good doctors who treat their patients (and, as far as I know, their employees) right, not bad or flighty businesspeople. But it’s pretty much the reality of independent private practice at this point. The healthcare industry in the US over the past 20-30 years has been almost as ruinous to many doctors as it has been to patients.

    None of this really changes the fact that if you can’t meet basic market expectations for wages and benefits, you’ll won’t get better than bottom-of-the-barrel work in exchange… and the bitter pill OP’s clients may need to swallow is that they may not be able to afford competent help more than part-time (and any skilled office worker is probably only looking to work part-time from a position of privilege where they find the flexibility desirable) or at all. But I wanted to maybe shed some light on the fact that not all corners of this problem are necessarily motivated by greed and spite. OP is doing good work in encouraging fair and better treatment for employees as being non-negotiable, either way.

    1. raktajino*

      My father in law had a private practice for years and now just works at a hospital. He would agree with your mom about the financial stress. In fact, he’s said that he doesn’t recommend people go to med school because the payoff (financial, emotional, life-balance) isn’t what it used to be.

      Another note: He had a full-time employee who just dealt with insurance. Not billing in general, just dealing with insurance. Yeah, he’s an advocate for universal health care.

      1. KayEss*

        Yeah, when the three-partner practice with full staff disbanded, my mom wound up changing her payment policy to having all non-Medicare patients pay up front and seek insurance reimbursement themselves. Another area where privilege enabled her to practice–she operated in an affluent area and most of her patients were able and willing to comply with that system. I heard her rant about the massive unfairness on both ends of the for-profit insurance industry since before I was able to fully grasp what insurance even was.

        She also ceased practicing as an obstetrician entirely partly because she was obligated to carry something like $7 million in malpractice insurance coverage for it, even with no history of risk. That was the mid-late 90’s, and the payments were crippling–which made the hours extremely not worth it. Meanwhile now our state wonders why there’s been an increasing shortage of OB practitioners over the past 20 years…

  81. AnonIntervieweeToday*

    So question: How do you negotiate/talk about/ask for more PTO than a job offers? Advice? Scripts?

    I just had a 2nd round interview today. They are talking to me about a 3rd one to meet more people. I can tell the hiring manager likes me as it’s only been 2 days in between interviews. Not 100% certain but I’m excited. I make 60K right now at a tiny company with no benefits and 3 weeks PTO (sick or vacation we choose)+ 7 paid holidays. I suspect my boss pays us a bit higher as he only provides paid for medical ins (which is the worst plan and a 5k deductible) and the other dental/family insurance is ridiculously expensive. I’m on my partner’s insurance now.

    New company has said their salary range for my position is a bit lower than what I said (57 – 65k) *but* they offer: -100% paid for medical/dental, life ins,
    -HSA that they contribute to, option for FSA
    -401k and matching to a certain point then 1/2% matching
    -profit sharing after a year
    -free gym in office
    -2 weeks PTO + paid holidays, which they said really ends up being 3 weeks

    In talking with my partner I realize that their benefits package is worth a lot and I’d be willing to take a small hit pay wise since total compensation could actually be higher. But I really don’t want to lose my 3 weeks PTO. I think that’s something to negotiate for as I’ve worked the earn your PTO jobs/no PTO jobs and I’ve now worked 12 years to get 3 weeks PTO.

    1. raktajino*

      You might want to ask about the feasibility of taking that PTO around holidays or other high-demand times. If you have to travel to visit family around the holidays and can’t ever get the surrounding days off, having the holiday itself off is meaningless.

      Asking about the PTO accrual rate might also help you decide.

    2. Dr Wizard, PhD*

      I’d ask for a base 3 weeks considering your current PTO and the fact that their offer is a bit lower. I don’t think that would be an unreasonable ask, and seems like it would make more of a difference to your quality of life than anything else.

  82. Anonymosity*

    Things I look for:

    –A fair salary.
    –Health insurance (paying 60% of it isn’t good enough, not with costs what they are).
    –Dental and vision (I cannot afford these by myself and I need both of them).
    –At LEAST two weeks of PTO, without making me wait a year. Even better: PTO that accrues per pay period like Exjob did. Even better, do like they did and allow employees to go in the hole a set amount of hours (Exjob gave you 40), so if you’re taking a long-ish trip or you get sick and use up your PTO, you can earn it back and then start accruing again.
    –Paid sick time is nice, but if you have a big enough PTO bucket, you don’t really need it so much.
    –I only care about a 401K if I’m making over a certain amount; otherwise, I can’t afford to contribute anything meaningful. Every time I’ve left a job with one, I had to cash it out and lost money, except for Exjob, where my automatic contribution left me with enough to roll it over. (I still lost it all when I had to live on it, ugh.)
    –FLEXIBLE HOURS. Obviously a receptionist job isn’t going to have this.

    Perks like free food, etc. aren’t as important. Gym discounts are nice, but only if I’m not stuck with some horrible gym company.

  83. raktajino*

    I have an “is this normal” question about PTO payouts for those who have been govt contractors. My partner has been a contractor at both private and govt jobs for a few years now, and he usually gets his PTO “paid back” at the end of the year. If he takes a Friday off in August, his paycheck will be minus that Friday. At the end of the year he’ll get an extra bump on his December check to cover that August Friday.

    Is this normal for contracting companies to set up? It’s happened in at least two companies; I don’t know about the third.

    He also doesn’t get separate bereavement leave, at least not in the first year. The state he’s in (WA) doesn’t require it.

  84. Specialist*

    Okay, there are some important things here that you are missing. Disclosure, I am a physician and started my own office a number of years ago. First, office jobs in healthcare are mostly during regular business hours. People taking office jobs are often doing it because they want off the nights and weekends shifts at the hospital. They are often going to be people with family commitments who are looking for a more regular schedule. Many of them are married and on their spouse’s insurance plan. There is also no advancement in an office practice. You’ll never get promoted to doctor. This isn’t the same as other industries.
    I employ one full time manager, a full time receptionist, two part time clinical people, and one very part time bookkeeper. I do not offer health insurance. I would need a group to offer it, and none of my employees want to leave their husbands’ plans, so no group. If I were to offer it, the current spousal plans would want me to also pick up their children. I would be insuring an additional 4-7 people. I offer a 401K plan, although our retirement plans in previous years haven’t been that great. I have PTO. All one pot for sick days and vacation. I have a very low turnover, but my wages are better than the office down the street and I am easier to work for. The office down the street is designed for a higher turnover. They know that and it is an acceptable business model for them. They pay significantly less in wages for their people, but it is also a larger business. If the turnover was a problem they would do it differently. That is how you should address this. Let the physicians know that better wages and benefits reduce turnover. They may need to start relatively low, but they can increase things as the practice grows. There are also many services that will handle billing, office management, receptionist duties as well.

    1. KayEss*

      Yes to all of this. Though I’m guessing that anyone who actively asks how to avoid giving their employees PTO is unlikely to fall into the “easier to work with” camp. (Unrelated side note: I really wish there was some kind of GlassDoor-style review site for doctors so you knew which of them were egotistical jerkoffs toward their staff and/or patients.)

      It’s definitely not the way things OUGHT to be in an ideal world, since it’s a system that shuts a lot of people out of being able to take that kind of job because it won’t support them, but it’s the business reality that OP’s clients are dealing with. Compliance with the law and “better than the shop down the street” may be the best OP can convince them to aim for.

  85. MJLurver*

    Entertainment (talent/literary agencies in particular) are known for offering ridiculously sparse benefits, and the benefits that ARE offered are minimal. Every agency I’ve worked for offers 2 weeks vacation (you get 3 weeks after 5 full years of employment) and never a 401k match. Pretty atrocious health insurance options, and the hours are crazy. And they pay around minimum wage to the assistants. No joke.

    These talent agencies understand that most assistants only plan on working at the companies for 1-2 years maximum, which is why this has been allowed for so long. It’s thought of more as a training experience – once you’ve mastered a busy agent’s desk, you are ready for almost anything.

    At one agency I worked for, employees were given 10 days of PTO in total, only usable after a full year of employment. That was inclusive of sick days, vacation, personal time, everything. So if you were unlucky enough to come down with any illness that lasted 2+ weeks, you used every single day of your time off on being out sick. After I started there and putting up a pretty big stick, I was able to convince the president to add 3 (three!) sick days to the 10 days of PTO. It was like pulling teeth from a Siberian tiger, but I felt so accomplished.

    Basically the mindset is exactly as OP and Alison stated: these places don’t care enough to offer great benefits because they know there’s not a lot of allegiance or dedication from their employees. I suppose not much will change since this is how it’s always been. It’s kind of a dysfunctional mutual understanding.

  86. ZucchiniBikini*

    I know things work differently in Australia, but here, what tends to happen is start-ups or small businesses that can’t (or think they can’t) afford benefits for employees try to use contractors or subcontractors instead.

    Here, there is no discretion about minimum PTO – our National Employment Standards mandate 20 days of paid annual leave and 10 days of paid sick leave with certification by a medical practitioner for fulltime employees, pro-rated for part-time employees (casuals are not covered). Employers are also required to make a 9.5% of salary contribution per employee into a superannuation (retirement) fund each year. Insurance is not often part of packages here and isn’t compulsory, because we do have a mostly-socialised public health system.

    Using contractors or subbies instead of employees is often a dodge (positions that really should be employee positions are subbed instead) but our Taxation Office (like the IRS) is cracking down hard on sham contracting arrangements, so that loophole is closing.

    I myself am a freelancer (contractor), so the only obligations my clients have to me are to pay me and provide workplace health and safety insurance that covers me when I am on their site. I work out my own time off as I need to and budget for it (because it is, of course, unpaid).

    My Mum and Dad ran a small business for 40 years (a vet clinic) and they were always of the view that if you can’t afford to pay people appropriately (including their benefits) and aren’t prepared to treat people well, you shouldn’t be hiring at all. As the business went through slumps, there were times when they would reduce their vet nursing and admin staff and do more of that work themselves, but they never saw it as an option to try to squeeze people. Their primary clinic nurse was with them for 35 years until she retired 5 years before they closed the business.

  87. brightbetween*

    You know, reading all these stories makes me not only grateful for my current employer, but also makes me think about my dad, who spent most of his career as a small business owner in the US. His business was quite seasonal and he employed a lot of college students at minimum wage, working pretty variable schedules based on their school schedules. The business was open 365 days a year, so there were no paid holidays, but anyone who worked a holiday got overtime pay. Also, anyone who worked consistently more than 20 hours a week got medical insurance, two weeks vacation, 5 sick days and a pension (you read that right, a PENSION). I worked for him for a while in the 90s and then went to work in local government, where my benefits were always good so I never thought much about it, but I guess he was actually more generous than many employers.

  88. Jemima Bond*

    The common phrase that springs to mind is, “you pay peanuts, you get monkeys”.
    Also you could warn your clients that if they go ahead like this they’ll probably end up the subject of various letters to AAM which will be answered with, “Ugh, your boss sucks and isn’t going to change, start looking for another job as soon as possible”.

  89. Richard*

    “Will your clients be bothered if their employees do sloppy work, don’t put in a ton of effort, and do the bare minimum?”
    Not to mention jump ship for a better place to work at the first opportunity. I’ve worked in places with terrible compensation where the managers seem totally perplexed at the high turnover rate.

  90. chickaletta*

    Agree with Alison 100%. It never stops to baffle me how many people in the US start businesses who can’t afford to and have little idea how to run one. I bet LW’s clients are making other questionable business decisions than just employee benefits. Where else are they cutting corners or not thinking things through? You know what they say, where there’s smoke, there’s fire.

  91. Seastar*

    This is both helpful and hurtful. Many people who work job’s with few of no benedits, because we don’t know better or don’t have a choice, don’t just do “the bare minimum.” My first job was a temporary full-time position in the US National Park Service, where jobs like mine — which offer some paid annual and sick leave but little else as benefits — are the rule and many people spend their decades-long careers going from one to another. I gave it my all, and excelled. After funding for that position was cut, my next full-time job was a permanent position in the US Forest Service, with benefits. I struggled to live and work in a car-dependent place when I can’t drive, and when I resigned, everyone told me I was letting go of a rare prize. In the three years since then, the only paid work I’ve been able to get is very part-time contract work for a tiny organization, with no benefits or hope of advancement. I give it my all, and do well.

    So I didn’t know that comprehensive benefits are common for full-time jobs in the non-governmental sector, because nobody told me. Knowing it now gives me more hope that I might have a job with them someday without needing to be the best of the best. But my disabilities severely limit the range of work I can do, and while they helped be get my government work through a federal mandate for hiring disabled people, they make me undesirable to most others. I would work a better job if I could get one, but in the meantime I do my best with what I have.

    Ha, holdays are different for people in the tourism business. No way would my national park visitor centers be closed on holidays in the peak season; employees who happen to be scheduled for work on that day just get a holiday bonus. At the visitor center of a little-known national forest that gets waaay too few visitors to satisfy my love of providing information, I got so, so, frustrated that the center was closed on holidays when more people would come to it because serving them isn’t the agency’s top priority. /ramblerant

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