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The Benefits That Keep On Giving

Hey Rodney, can you get me a copy of Office?

Sure. Standard or Professional?

What’s the difference in price? 

Standard is $50 and Pro is $60.

Yes, they are real copies. No, I’m not pirating Microsoft software. I’m simply enjoying one of the company benefits that are so good they keep giving even after you are no longer an employee. 

After leaving I Microsoft I went to work for a large non-profit in Utah. After I had been working there for a few years I, along with 8% of the IT department was laid off. They offered a very generous severance package. I was somewhat disappointed at the timing of the layoff. I’d worked there for 4 and a half years when the layoffs were announced. Naturally, I was disappointed to be out of work, but this employer offered a pension. One and a half percent of your salary for every year you had worked. The problem was that the vesting didn’t kick in until you’d been there five years. I was going to miss the pension by six months. I brought that up during the exit interview.

I understand you don’t have any obligation to help me, but if there was anyway we arrange things so that I qualified for the pension, obviously that would be great.

Well, I can’t promise anything, but let me see what I can do.

What she could do was furlough me for six months. 

We can’t give you the severance package until you are officially laid off, but if you can survive for the next six months without it, we can leave you on the books at no pay until you hit the five year mark.

I’m still a few years away from retirement, but it’s nice to know that when I hit that age, I’ll have a few extra bucks each month because an HR rep “saw what she could do.” If I ever get a chance to go back to work for that company, I wouldn’t hesitate. There was one other benefit associated with that layoff that I didn’t recognize at first. 

They offered up to $4000 for “job search” expenses. The employee found some training or resume help services or something and filled out the paper with the service and how much it cost. 

Rodney, I noticed you didn’t fill out the Job Search Resources sheet.

Yeah, I’m not going to go to some job training class. 

Well, it’s available for other things too.

Like what?

Do you need a laptop to do your job hunt?

Oh. . .

I didn’t buy a laptop, but I did buy the nicest iPad that Apple sold. I also found some peripherals to go along with that iPad. It’s the same iPad that I’ve used to write all 680 blog entries. It’s the technology tool I use the most, even more than my phone. 

First, the company didn’t have to offer $4K as a nice parting gift and second, the HR rep didn’t have to prod me to use it. 

Some benefits are so good, they keep on giving. 

And the copies of Microsoft office? 

There’s a Microsoft Alumni association. If you’ve worked for Microsot as a W2 employee, you are eligable to join the Alumni Association. There are many benefits to membership, but the most popular one is the ability to buy $600 per year worth of Microsoft Software for employee prices. I haven’t worked for Microsoft for more than a decade. And yet, there are some benefits that just keep on giving. 

I don’t remember how much I earned at those two companies, but I remember the benefits. Your benefits package leaves a more lasting impression than your salary. 

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

Follow him on
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or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

(c) 2015 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

Primum Non Nocere

“Primum Non Nocere” is a latin phrase. It means “First, do no harm.” 

If nothing else, your company benefits should not make people’s lives worse. 

Generally, people are going to join your company for the benefits. Sure, salary is a big part of that. But, benefits include a lot more than just the money you hand your employees at the end of the month. Some of the types of things that can be included in your benefits are:

  • Vacation Days
  • Sick Leave
  • Bereavement Leave
  • Free Soda
  • Free Food
  • Free Sports Tickets
  • Free Company Stuff
  • Company Parties
  • Friday Afternoon Beer Parties (Microsoft was famous for these)
  • Game Rooms
  • Work From Home Days
  • Cell Phone Reimbursement
  • Company Car (Does anyone still give this?)
  • Preferred Parking Spot
  • Awards
  • Trophies
  • Bonuses (More Money)

and of course, 

  • Health Insurance

Make no mistake, benefits are a part of why your employees work for you. So, when you are deciding on a benefits package it’s really important to “primum non nocere.” If a benefit costs your employees money, it’s not really a benefit. It’s a cost.

I once hurt my hand while working for a computer company. What do they always tell you to do if you get injured on the job? You are supposed to fill out some sort of injury report and report it as a Workman’s Comp issue. So, I did that. 

My injury was to my wrist. Computer workers are susceptible to Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. It can be pretty devastating. I’ve seen it ruin people’s careers. So, when I started getting excruiating shooting pains in my right wrist, I was a little worried. In addition to reporting it, I also went to the doctor. Not the emergency room, but just to my regular doctor. 

Here’s where my benefits bit me in the . . .ah. . .wrist. 

How would you like to pay for this Mr. Bliss?

Well, it was a work related injury, so I think we need to classify it as a workman’s comp issue. 

No problem. We’ll fill out that paperwork and bill your insurance. 

There is a big difference between “billing your insurance” and “getting your insurance to pay for it.” Eventually, I started getting notices from my doctor’s office. Insurance was balking at paying for my office visit. 

That’s not a worry. I worked for a BIG company; literally hundreds of thousands of employees. Our HR department should have a lot of pull with the insurance company. I reported it to my local HR rep. I gave him copies of the bill, and the injury report that I filled out when it happened. No worries. They’ll take care of it. 

What I didn’t realize was that my company was so large that HR was fragmented. My HR rep had no idea who in the vast HR department handled workman’s comp disputes. Every time I got a (now overdue) notice, I’d send him email. He would then send another email into the void. Meanwhile my wrist was improving

Eventually, my doctor’s office got tired of waiting for their money. You know that you are ultimately responsible even if your insurance won’t pay, right? So, I paid the bill of $235.70 (including $1.57 of past finance charges.) My HR rep sent me an an email with the name of a person at the insurance company that I could petition directly.

We can’t get the insurance company to pay this, but feel free to try it yourself.

Here’s the crazy part. If I’d treated that original doctor visit as a normal office visit, I’d have had to pay a $25 copay and that would have been it. Even if I’d have gone to the emergency room, it would have only been a $75 copay. But, by calling it a workman’s comp issue, I got stuck with a $235 bill. 
Primum non nocere

Is workman’s comp a benefit that my company offers? 

Apparently not. 

My wrist is fully recovered. I’m still waiting on that workman’s comp claim. The next time I get hurt at work, I’m gonna lie and tell them I fell off a ladder. . . at home. . . while juggling a cat. Anything except an injury at work. 

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

Follow him on
Twitter (@rodneymbliss
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or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

(c) 2015 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

But We Did Everything Right! Doesn’t That Count?

It was not my fault. I did everything right. And now, because I followed the right steps I was out $8,000. And worse, it was my church that was taking my money. Not my fault!

In 2003 I left Microsoft and tried to decide what was next. Did I want to stay in the software field? Did I want to try something new? Did I want to stay in Washington? Move back to Utah? Somewhere else? 

My uncle lives in Northern Idaho. I remember sitting on his deck watching the sun come up over Lake Coeur d’Alene. I was on a “brothers trip.” My two brothers and I had loaded up my minivan, hooked up my tent trailer and I drove us from Olympia, WA through eastern Washington and Northern Idaho; places we had known growing up. (Yeah, I’m not sure why it was all my gear either.) 

We’d come to visit my uncle and his house on the lake. It was peaceful here. He is a very easy guy to be around. We fished. We water skied. And we sat around talking. But, this morning I was up before anyone else. Just watching the sun chase the shadows off the lake. 


I love to teach. Maybe I could teach at college? I’d need more education. Okay. That’s the plan. I’ll go back to BYU and try to get enough education to become a college professor. (I never made it to the tweed jacket, but that’s another story.) 

I had some money from Microsoft and selling our house. My wife and I figured it was enough to get me through a couple years of school. Enough to get started down the road. There was just one problem: health coverage. 

How many decisions do we make based on our health care options? Too many. Anyway, one of my kids had a surgery scheduled. It was one of those schedule months in advance. We were able to find a surgeon  in Utah that wouldn’t affect our schedule too much. But, how to pay for it. The surgery was covered by our current insurance. We were paying COBRA. We had to decide if we wanted to stay on COBRA until the surgery was done, or switch to BYU student health insurance immediately. 

What would YOU do? Well, we called the BYU healthcare provider and asked them about the surgery. 

Yeah, my child has this surgery scheduled and we don’t want to mess that up. We can wait to switch insurance until after it’s done if we need to.

Is it covered by your current insurance?

Yes, it’s covered 100%.

Then, there is no problem. If it’s covered by your current insurance, we will also cover it. 

I’m not sure how else we could have asked that question. It was absolutely clear. Well, we moved, we switched insurance and soon the day of the surgery arrived. I got a very scary phone call right before the surgery was scheduled to start.

Mr. Bliss, this is the surgery office. We generally make a final check of the insurance right before the surgery. And your provider tells us that this surgery is deemed elective and therefore not covered.

Ah. . .

If you will pay for the surgery up front we can proceed.

Ah. . .

Eight thousand dollars later my child was on their way into surgery and I was starting on a quest through the amazing world of insurance. 

Did I mention that we called and checked if the surgery was covered before switching insurance companies? I’m pretty sure I mentioned that. 

Nope. Didn’t make a bit of difference. The company even acknowledged that MAYBE their representative MIGHT have said it was approved. Unfortunately that employee was no longer with the company. We appealed to the higest levels of the insurance company. And here’s where the curch tie-in happened. BYU, of course is owned by the Mormon church. Well their health insurance is also owned by the church. 

So, the final appeal was a quasi-religious group of senior managers. Our advocate went in and made our pitch:

  • Students
  • Adoptive family
  • Made switch in good faith
  • Other insurance didn’t think surgery was elective

The advocate said that she thought she had convinced the board to grant us an exception.  . .until. . .the attorney started talking about precedents, contracts, liability, etc.

Short story version? We were out $8K that we could have saved if we had simly waited to switch insurance until after the surgery. 

The lesson from this? Don’t let the attorney talk. 

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

Follow him on
Twitter (@rodneymbliss
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or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

(c) 2015 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

Do Company Benefits Reflect Company Values?


I love babies. Not surprising for a man with 13 children. Although, building our family through adoption, many of those children came to us as little people, not necessarily as babies. I have to admit I’m happy that my lovely wife and I have moved past the “having babies” to “having grandbabies” stage. However, while we were still building our family I had the opportunity to work for two different companies. We had a baby with company #1 and then a couple of years later had a baby with company #2. These two companies were rivals. Very intense rivals, often competing for the same employees. Do benefits make a difference? 

You decide

Company #1 was a company started by a couple of guys at Brigham Young University. One was a professor, the other one of his students. The company was based not just in Utah, but in Utah county; the heart of “Mormon country.” Most of us were newly married with young families.

Company #2 was a multi-national company headquartered in Washington. It was started by a guy who was single and had dropped out of school. It was headquartered near Seattle. While a wonderful city, not considered nearly as “family oriented” as Utah with it’s strong family culture. In fact, this company was often described as “evil” by its detractors. 

While at one of these companies, my lovely wife had a baby. She, of course took time off. Having a baby is hard work. But, about three weeks after the baby was born, her supervisor called. 

Hey, I know you just had a baby, but we are getting killed by the support queue. Is there any chance you can come back a week early? We could really use you on the phones.

While working for the second company we also had a baby. This company had a different policy, though. 

Rodney, we know your wife just had a baby. Feel free to use your vacation time, but in addition we are going to give you 4 weeks of paid leave. Go be with your son. Oh, and don’t even think about coming back early. We are turning off your login and card key access for the next month.

In addition the second company sent us a baby blanket, company branded baby toys, and a solid silver picture frame inscribed with my son’s name, birthdate and birth weight. 

Which company do you think supported families and family values better? 

What if I told you the two company’s were Microsoft and WordPerfect? 

And despite the founding, the location and the culture of the surrounding community, WordPerfect was much less family-friendly than the evil empire in Redmond. I’ve reflected on this contrast a lot over the years. There are many practical reasons for their different policies. For one, WordPerfect employees had a lot more babies than Microsoft employees. A new baby was an event at Microsoft. It was fairly routine at WordPerfect. We tend to celebrate events. 

Also, Microsoft was a much stronger company than WordPerfect. They had a more diversified product line. And while WordPerfect owned the word processor market at the time, Microsoft owned Windows, and programmaning languages and DOS and a bunch more. 

But, more than the economics I was struck by the values that each company supported. A WordPerfect supervisor called my wife three weeks after having a baby and asked her to come back to work. My Microsoft supervisor basically kicked me out of the building for at least a month and said, “Don’t come back for the next four weeks.” 

Now, twenty years later, I couldn’t tell you what version of WordPerfect Office my wife was taking calls on in support. I couldn’t tell you what team I was on at Microsoft when we had a baby. The details of the jobs have been lost to my own personal history. But, even now, after WordPerfect has ceased to be a company and I haven’t worked for Microsoft for over a decade, I still remember how the two companies treated me. And while I enjoyed working for both, that memory clouds my opinion probably more than any other event. 

You have the opportunity to showcase your company values through your benefits program. It’s less about the features and more about what you show your employees is important to you as an employer. 

Make sure you are sending the right message. 

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

Follow him on
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or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

(c) 2015 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

Voluntary Servitude

Eric, I thought you were moving to Arizona?

I was going to, but when it came down to it, my family didn’t want to leave Utah. So now I’m looking for a job back up here. That’s rough, being out of work.

Oh, I’m still working down there. I just fly back and forth on the weekends. I’ll tell you, maintaining two households is killing me.

Well, why. . .?

Can’t give up the health insurance.

My friend Eric is not unique. I know several people who are in jobs they don’t like. They could forgo the salary, but health benefits are keeping them tied to their current employer. 

I worked for Microsoft during the glory years. The stock price was climbing 20-40% per year. We all had unvested stock options. That means we had tens of thousands of dollars that we could only collect if we stayed long enough for the stock options to vest. However, we got new options every year with a new vesting schedule. So, while the old grants would vest, there were always new ones with their untapped value. Within the company they were called “golden handcuffs.” Many people who might have otherwise retired or left for other companies could bear to walk away from their options. 

The heady days of Microsoft’s soaring stock price are gone. Sure, Google or Apple have taken Microsoft’s place as the high flying tech stock darlings. But, stock options are no longer the handcuffs they once were. Gone are the days where we made decisions based on what we would get. Today our choices are based on what we would lose.

As the major breadwinner for a large family, I have a responsibility to not only feed and clothe my brood, but to make sure they can go to the doctor when needed. Two years ago my health care choices were pretty simple. I chose from three or four options that my employer offered. They took the money out of my paycheck and that was it. Last year that all changed. Because of new health care requirements, my employer options were no longer simple. In fact, during the open enrollment period, my wife and I spent weeks evaluating the different options. All of them were more expensive than previous years with less coverage. Finally, we ended up on three separate plans; one for me, one for my lovely wife and a separate one for our kids. 

We now have three times the paperwork to keep track of. We get three times the mail from our insurance providers. We’ve had at least one long term health care provider inform us that he will no longer be working with one of our insurance providers. Managing our health care paperwork has become a second job for my lovely wife. Didn’t they tell us this was going to get easier?

Like many people, I’ve considered other employment options. I’ve asked myself, is this the right company for me? Should I look at a different company? But, now, rather than salary the major consideration is “What are their health benefits like?” 

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

Follow him on
Twitter (@rodneymbliss
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or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

(c) 2015 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

The Microsoft Manager And The Vacation Request


He was a on the fast track at Microsoft. On track to be promoted to a Unit Manager. There was just one problem. The amount of PTO his team took was way off and he needed to fix it if he wanted to move up in the company. 

Microsoft used to be the place to work. All the cool kids worked there. Even getting an interview was a big deal. They year they hired me, I was one of about 500 new hires. . .at a company that employed 50,000. Like many compnaies, Microsoft liked to promote from within. There were many criteria that Microsoft used to gause who should move up; programs shipped, team morale, projects completed, and team vacation time. 

Vacation time, or PTO (Personal Time Off) as any three-letter-acronym loving person calls it, it pretty simple. You get a certain number of days each month or each year. Typically unused vacation days will accrue until you reach a certain point. (At Microsoft it was 1.5 times your annual allotment.) At that point you do not accrue any additional vacation days. 

It’s a sad fact of project management that you cannot ship your product whil you are away from the office on PTO. The same goes for your teams. You need the people actually there working. It’s tempting to attempt to maximize your team’s time in the office. After all, if your team is off on vacation, they aren’t putting out product, or delivering new programs. 

Of course, the downside is the ris that you’ll burn out your team. How do you balance the two? At Microsoft they balanced them by tying the manager’s review to how much PTO their employees took. In other words if your team didn’t take ENOUGH time off, you got a bad reveiw. 

And it work. Managers would send people off on vacation and insist that they not log into email. Not only was it good for the employees, but it made the project team stronger as well. Team members learned to stretch beyond their own area of expertise to sometimes cover for team members who were out. 

There is a business maxim that says, “What gets measured, improves.” In this case, they wanted to improve employee work/life blance. The key is finding the right measurement. 

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

Follow him on
Twitter (@rodneymbliss
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LinkedIn (
or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

(c) 2015 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

A Tale Of Two Commutes…(A Photo Essay)

Trying something a little different today. 

I commute 40 miles each direction to work. One option has four stoplights. The other options has 33 stoplights. Whenever possible, I take the 33 stoplight route. I’ll leave it to you to identify which is which. 

Going TO Work



Going Home


Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

Follow him on
Twitter (@rodneymbliss
Facebook (
LinkedIn (
or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

(c) 2015 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 


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