Thursday, December 17, 2015

Benefits: Now and Then

Following up on my previous comments on pay, I figured I should outline some differences in the benefits... Then I realized that I generally don't care about the majority of benefits offered by employers. Not to sound privileged, but I have a young, healthy family and many of the small differences in benefits plans don't actually hold much weight for me. I have private term life insurance so the difference between 2 or 3 times my annual salary in life insurance, or the difference between health plans offered by Aetna or Blue Cross Blue Shield... just doesn't drive my employment search.

So what is important to me? Well, I have a young, healthy family that I want to spend time with. Similarly, I joined the Foreign Service to see the world. Travel and Vacation time (sometimes combined) are the benefits that matter most to me.

My last job had great benefits for a private company. I worked for a well-funded government contracting company, in a high-demand sector, which created a "buyers" market when it came to employers. My family's healthcare coverage was free (both sides paid for by the company), I got a company branded clothing allowance, free coffee, things like that. However, when it came to leave (as is always the case for hourly-paid-contract-positions), all of the companies were fairly standardized: 10 Holidays, 15 Vacation days, and 5 Sick days. Maybe one would mix it up and call it 10 Holidays, 20 "Flex days," but it always totaled up to 30 days.

Thirty days per year is a lot of leave by some standards, but... really isn't that much leave. In addition, if you tried to take any big trips, you'd never hear the end of it. I took 3 weeks off to go to New Zealand over Christmas... and was still hearing about my "exorbitant time away from work" 10 months later (when I eventually left that job.)

The Foreign Service gives me the standard U.S. Government leave plan: 10 American holidays, 13 vacation days, and 13 sick days. However, in addition, I get up to 10 local holidays and an extra 20-30 days of home leave every 2 years. Similarly, when I've traveled for work, I've gotten travel-comp time (similar to vacation time, but Post specific) equal to the time spent travelling (outside of work hours). Finally, I also get inclement weather days. At my last job, if the weather closed the building I worked in, I was invited to take leave or "work extra" to compensate later in the month. During training, I got 2.5 snow days due to bad weather in D.C. On top of all that: upon three years of government employment, I even get a bump up to 20 vacation days per year.

Let's work all that out. At my last job I got an annual 30 days of leave (25 discounting sick leave). Full stop. Now I get an annualized 56-61 days of leave (if I use all of my sick leave) or 43-48 days discounting sick leave. In addition, forget being frowned upon, it is actually required that I take a 4-6 week vacation between posts. On top of that, at my current post I am entitled to an R&R... so one trip's flight is paid for.

All-in-all, it's been a busy year for me. Between travel-comp and regular comp time (pre-worked hours), I've taken 33 days off, in addition to holidays, without using any annual leave. Not too shabby. 

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Flooding in Chennai. Emergencies in the Foreign Service.

I've been out of communication for awhile, due to the extreme flooding in Chennai (pictures below, courtesy/stolen from I have a handful of posts backlogged, and I'll start posting them now, but before that I think I should comment on the recent situation in Chennai.

This is my first major natural disaster. I grew up in Florida, so there was always the threat of hurricanes, but it never manifested (while I lived there). In every sense of the word, this was a disaster. The death toll is currently in the 300s and there are an estimated 1.5 million displaced (at time of original writing... probably changed by the time I actually finished and published). That's as many people as the total population of San Diego or Philadelphia. Many of local staff and some of our American officers were flooded out of their houses.

I (personally) was very fortunate to be largely unaffected. We lost internet for a week and experienced regular power outages, but our house remained high and dry. I live on the corner of some major roads and my car was able to drive through the water on them (even at their highest). I did have a brief scare when a car passed me in the other direction and his wake lifted my car up and put it down a meter (yard) to the side. I guess I can market it for resale as half boat / half car!

Back to my regularly scheduled programming.