Finally! A Plan for Employee Smoke Breaks that Works!

I’ve long been very outspoken about how I hate employee smoke breaks. I don’t smoke and I don’t get a paid hour each day to just stand outside and slowly kill myself! I do love diet Mt. Dew! Can I stand outside, get paid, do zero work, and just drink my diet Mt. Dew? Of course not, I would be fired!

Finally, a company came up with a plan to solve the employee smoke break dilemma. A Japanese company (smoking is huge in Japan) decided to reward non-smokers with paid time off! From the article:

Piala, a marketing firm based out of Tokyo, begun offering its non-smoking employees extra paid days after an employee complained that colleagues who take breaks throughout the day to smoke often end up working less…Piala began offering the days-off incentive in September, at which point the company employed about 120 people, of which more than three dozen were smokers. Since then, four have quit smoking, Matsushima said.

I LOVE this!

This works because it’s not negative to those who smoke. Go ahead and keep smoking, good for you! But, if you don’t smoke, we’ll give you an extra 6 paid days off per year. It encourages some folks to quit, become more healthy, and get a benefit.

Plus, it solves the time away from work issue for those who don’t smoke. Non-smokers, because they don’t take smoke breaks, potentially have the ability to work more time and it’s easy to see how this is unfair to those workers who choose to not smoke.

Smokers cost employers more money, that’s a proven fact. The health insurance increase alone is giant, but also you have the issue of non-productive, paid breaks. Paying the extra six days to non-smoker employees is fair, and the hope is you’ll entice your smokers to give it up to get the extra time off.

This is great HR.

Thinking outside the box, doing something differently, to turn a negative into a positive, and allow your employees to still have a choice. It’s really hard to make that happen, but I love this forward-thinking plan.

So, what do you think? Would your organization be open to doing something similar? What stands in your way?

Career Confessions of GenZ: Flexibility as a Benefit!

Statistically, Generation Z makes up the largest population of any other age grouping in the United States of America. Most companies already realize this, and if not, they probably should be reading this post. Companies are almost obligated to structure their environments so that they are appealing and welcoming to our generation. If they choose not to conform, they will likely deteriorate as Baby Boomers simply cannot work forever. There is often much speculation about what is most important to us when it comes to choosing a company. Based on my peers and experience thus far, the best thing a company can offer a Generation Z individual is flexibility.

When I say flexibility, this can encompass a few things. For some of my peers, flexibility can mean the ability to work from home once or twice every other week. I’ve noticed that this is something that is engrained in most start-up cultures as they fully understand the impact Generation Z is going to have on the workforce. For other people, flexibility could present itself in a lenient dress code. Most of these companies have something written in their policy that tells employees to dress appropriately if you have meetings with clients or other third parties. I advise against wearing your normal t-shirt, jeans, and gym shoes combo if you are scheduled to meet with important stakeholders in the company. But, hey that’s just me!

Another area where a company can be flexible is with a food budget. There is nothing more appealing to people in my generation than free food. Granted, almost all generations would be happy with a free meal. However, people in Generation Z are transitioning from college campuses where Ramen Noodles and peanut butter jelly sandwiches could frequently be dinner for the night. At my workplace Rivian, free lunch is served every Monday and Thursday in addition to free dinner four days out the week. Probably one of the best perks that I’ve encountered so far.

While a couple of the topics that I just discussed are certainly great perks, flexibility for me is a company’s ability to adapt to the changing environment. What I mean is that even if a company has been doing something a certain way for 50 years, how resistant are they when a more efficient way is introduced. A company who is set in their ways can be very frustrating to a person in Generation Z because we often bring new and innovative ways to get things done.

In today’s day and age, businesses have to be dynamic in their ability to change because of how rapid society is changing. Technology is progressing at such a fast pace, companies who do not adapt will be left in the dust. I like to think that companies bring people of my age in for a new and fresh perspective. When a company doesn’t respect or appreciate your opinion, that’s almost a deal breaker in most situations. The business world is changing before our eyes and Generation Z has a lot to do with that. Companies like Google, Facebook, and LinkedIn have created environments that breathe flexibility and creativity. Generation Z is taking over the workforce whether you want to believe it or not, what is your company going to do to in response?

Jonathan Sutherlin is a human resource professional with experience in the engineering and automotive industry. Currently going for his Master’s in Organizational Change Leadership in a hybrid program at Western Michigan University. He is very passionate about reading, philanthropy, basketball, and fitness. You can connect with Jonathan on LinkedIn or through email at When Jonathan is not at work trying to impact lives, you can either catch him in the gym or nose deep in a good book!

Career Confessions of Gen Z – The Holy Grail of Benefits

Welcome to the reboot of Career Confessions of Gen Z! I started this in 2018 with my Gen Z son, Cameron, and the response was off the charts. So, in 2019 I found 8 great Gen Z HR, TA, and Marketing pros to continue the Gen Z content. Enjoy! 

The early members of Generation Z have entered the workforce and the rest of the 61 million Gen Z’s are on their way. A big question that employers have been asking regarding this generation is, “What do we offer to attract them to our company?”.

To attract and retain this generation, many companies have been altering their benefits and internal culture to be more appealing. More and more companies are now offering things like a flexible work-life balance schedule, remote work days, casual dress codes, a 401k match, advancement and rotational opportunities, and etc.

While those benefits are appealing, only 4% of companies are offering the most attractive benefit that will not only attract Gen Z candidates, but will generate major employee loyalty. That benefit is Loan Forgiveness Assistance.

CNBC reported that eight in 10 workers with student loans say they would value in working for a firm that provides extra dollars for student debt repayment.  I find it hard to believe that number isn’t 10 out of 10!

In the U.S, people collectively owe $1.5 trillion in student debt. Most of that student debt belongs to Millennials and early Gen Z’s. An additional $1.27 trillion in new federal student loans is estimated to be added between now and 2028 by Gen Z. This generation is going to find themselves in the same debt situation as Millennials as tuition rates continue to rise.

Student debt is a real, growing problem that employers can help reduce and that we want them to help us reduce.

Not only is contributing toward student loan debt a major perk for employees, but it also ensures employee loyalty and retention. By offering this benefit, employers are giving their employees an awesome reason to never leave their company and to want to work their asses off for them.

I have a few Gen Z friends that are in companies that have some sort of student loan repayment assistance in place and I can tell you that they never plan on leaving those companies. The fact that the companies make contributions towards their student loans was also one of the major reasons they chose to work at their companies. They scored the holy grail of benefits when they accepted their jobs!

There are a few different ways in which employers can offer loan forgiveness assistance. To learn more about what other companies are doing and how student loan repayment assistance programs have been mutually beneficial for employers and employees, consider reading the following links:

A 401(k) Twist on Student-Loan Aid

Student Loan Repayment Is The Hottest Employee Benefit Of 2018

How Student Loan Debt Impacts Your Employees

Student Loan Repayment: The Job Perk Of The Future

Hallie Priest is a digital marketer for HRU Technical Resources, a leading engineering, and IT staffing firm based in Lansing, MI, using her skills to create content to serve all involved in the job seeking/hiring process. When she is not strategizing campaigns, going over analytics, or talking about her dog you can find her at the nearest coffee shop fueling her creativity. Connect with her on LinkedIn:

What’s the most luxurious benefit you can offer an employee in 2019?

I read a bunch of article about what’s the next greatest benefit to offer employees. I read one the other day that tried to make it seem like now offering food at work is normal, like everyone is giving away breakfast and lunches, like you give away health insurance.

It’s the one thing I hate about reading mainstream media HR articles. Apparently, the only employers in America are located in the 50 square miles around Silicon Valley. Do you really think I believe that the majority of companies in America are giving away free food to their employees?

Come on, that’s not happening!

If you are lucky enough to work for a place that feeds you, great you won the job lottery, enjoy it! If they offer you Kombucha as well, then I’m just sorry for you, because that means they hate you.

What’s the #1 luxury benefit to offer in 2019?

It’s Time.

Time is the one thing every single one of us needs more of. For many it doesn’t even have to be paid time off! Just allow me some time to do some of the stuff that impacting my life, so I can better focus on work when I’m at work.

But of course Paid Time is always appreciated.

I know some employers have gone to unlimited paid time off and studies have shown that when organizations go to this their overall use of paid time off actually goes down. This is a sad commentary on our society.

I know a lot of HR friends of mine argue this can’t be the case because it seems so contrarian to what you would think would happen. “If I had unlimited time off I would never come in and just be on vacation every day!” Okay, Betty, and you would be fired!

The reality is unlimited time off is the answer, because psychology it doesn’t work. Some have the self control enough to use it appropriately, but most people fear that taking time off will somehow impact their performance, so even when they do take their unlimited time off, they still are connected, working in some way.

I know of a few organizations that completely shutdown for a week or two completely. Notice out to clients – “hey, it’s our annual refresh the batteries, 100% of us will be off and not connected, we can’t wait to come back fully recharged to rock your world”. I like the idea but get it probably impractical for so many organizations.

I think the best thing we can do as leaders is to ensure our people are actually taking their paid time off and when they do they know that it’s okay to completely disconnect. That we’ll have their back and to enjoy themselves.

I wonder how many of your leaders pull quarterly or annual reports of PTO to see if their team is taking time for themselves?

When Did Causal Friday Die?

I love the fact that at some point almost every industry decided that it was mostly stupid to wear suits and ties and dresses to work. Even more, Business Casual has mostly died out as well.

I can’t tell you how many F500 organizations I go into where the head of HR or head of Talent is wearing jeans. At my company we went casual pretty late, primarily because we are a service organization and we match that dress of our clients we go to visit.

You’ve probably seen some of these sayings going around social media:

  • There was a day when you picked up your child for the last time. You didn’t know it the time, but you’ll never pick them up again.
  • There was a day when you went outside to play with your friends. You didn’t know it at the time, but you never went out again to play.

We do a ton of stuff then one day we stop doing it and we don’t even realize it. I like to think that’s what happened to Casual Fridays.

For the longest time Casual Fridays were the thing! Some companies used them as motivation, some used them as charity vehicles to raise money for great causes, etc. Then one day, every day was casual and we no longer needed Casual Friday.

I’m not 100% sold that being casual at work all the time is the answer and there is some growing research that says the same thing. There are certain times when dressing up puts you in a better psychological state of mind!

In the study, The Cognitive Consequences of Formal Clothing, researchers found that when a person puts on formal clothing (business formal, not wedding formal) our brain gets us to believe we are better than maybe we really are! 

When wearing formal business clothing we tend to do certain things better, like negotiating. If you were going to close a deal with a big client, it’s best you don’t show up in jeans and a hoodie, even if those you’ll be negotiating with will be. In fact, you’ll have an advantage over them if you did show up fully suited up! 

Billionaire, Mark Cuban, owner of the NBA Mavericks recently shared a post he wrote in 2007, doubling down on his belief we should never wear suits and he says he only does, to this day, for weddings and funerals. 

Mark doesn’t believe in the psychological impact of wearing a suit and tie (despite what the research says) and believes letting your employees be casual is the way to go. Since his post in 2007, I would dare to say 100% of tech companies are casual! 

I’ve worked in a business that went from a formal dress code, to a business casual dress code, to a casual dress code. I’m not sure I can tell you one made a difference over another.

I know from a client relationship standpoint when I was in formal clothing, clients felt a little uncomfortable when I was dressed up and they weren’t. But, those same clients when I was meeting them for the first time knew I looked at their business with the utmost importance. Once the relationship was established, I’m sure they felt more at ease when I showed up looking like they did.

From an employment brand standpoint I never understood the large organizations where they executives still wear suit and tie but the rank and file are casual. But I feel the same way about coaches on sidelines wearing suits, or even politicians. There is definitely a psychological power play with all of these.

So, raise one up for Casual Fridays or pour one out or whatever it is you do when something you’ve known for so long dies. Casual Fridays, you’ll be remembered well, or at least remembered as ‘why the hell did we do that?”

The Non-Smoker Smoke Break!

Let’s break down some math on the amount of time smokers take, paid, in smoke breaks daily: 

An average smoker smokes 15 cigarettes per day. I’m going to assume that when awake the smoker smokes about 1 cigarette per hour, so that’s 40 cigarettes per week smoked at work.  It takes about 5 minutes to smoke a cigarette. 

I’m going to assume that it takes probably 5 minutes round trip to get to your designated smoking area, 5 minutes to smoke your cigarette, so 10 minutes per break. I’ll say a good worker only smokes 6 cigarettes on the clock, so 60 minutes per day, one hour, paid to smoke. 5 hours per week paid, to smoke, 255 hours per year to smoke.

Is everyone following me? 

255 hours of paid smoke breaks – or basically taking an in-office vacation for roughly 6 1/2 week per year, on top of their actual away-from-office vacation time. 

So, what I’m trying to get to is how can we/HR build in non-smoker smoke breaks!? We know HR won’t do that! Can you imagine an official policy to take breaks not to smoke!? Does anyone have an official Smoke Break policy in today’s world? 

Here’s my idea: 

  1. If you don’t smoke and you have a co-worker that does smoke, just go out with them every single time they smoke. In fact, get a group of people to go with them and build and strengthen relationships, just don’t try to breath too much! 
  2. Petition to get paid 12.5% more than someone who smokes, because that’s basically how much more your working than the average smoker. 
  3. Take a two-hour lunch break and when HR tells you that you can’t do that, take them into a conference room and run them through the math on a white board! 

I don’t understand smoke breaks. It’s kind of like sexual harassment. For the longest time we thought it was completely normal for a boss to sleep with his secretary and now we know it’s very wrong! 

I’ll be honest. I feel the same way about how it became the norm to offer free coffee at work. No one has every offered me free diet Mt. Dew at work! (I take that back, my friend Jim D’Amico did at Celenese when I went to visit!) 

So, we let people go take smoke breaks, paid, and it’s somehow completely fine. 5 hours per week, paid. Completely fine, to actually for real not do work. Just stand outside and slowly kill yourself and you get paid for it! How great is work!? 

Let’s face it, I’m not actually mad at smokers, I’m super jealous! I can’t tell you how hard it is for me not to start smoking knowing all the great benefits you get! I’ve actually tried hanging outside with smokers, but because I was in HR, and didn’t smoke, I think they thought I was trying to get them in trouble or spying on them. I wasn’t, I just wanted all that free time off! 

I’ve been thinking about starting that meditation, mindfulness crap. That might work. I could just randomly stop working, sit down in the middle of the hall all criss-cross-applesauce and just put on some headphones and close my eyes. Make people walk around me and my mindfulness break! 

I wonder what HR would do? “Hey, Tim, we’re not paying you to relax, get your butt back to work! Now, if you want to get all jacked up on nicotine, that’s fine, get off the floor and go light one up!” 

Snow Days and Employees!

Look I get it.  I have 3 sons and Snow Days are a big deal…if you’re 10!   So, if you’re an HR Pro, right about this time tomorrow, you’re going to feel like you have an entire organization full of 10-year-olds,  as we begin to see the first signs of Snowmageddon!

I understand people freaking out, that is, if you live in someplace south of the Mason-Dixon line, and you’ve never seen snow before. But, I live in Michigan and it snows here. The snow starts around Halloween and ends around Easter.  What I don’t understand is anyone that lives north of, let’s say, Chicago is even blinking an eye at a snow storm coming.  Let it snow, clear your driveway and get your butt to work.

It’s not a difficult concept! No, I don’t want you to drive to a client if the roads are dangerous, and, no, I don’t want you to drive to work if the roads are dangerous, and, no, I don’t want you to run around the office with scissors and your shoes untied!  But I do expect, we’ll all be adults.

If it looks like there’s going to be a lot of snow tomorrow, you need to make a plan. How about packing some work to do from home, or just plan on watching Lifetime all day, because I completely understand you missing the 3 days’ of warning that the snow was coming! (he screamed to himself in a mocking voice…)

Snow Days are the kind of crap that drives HR and Leadership completely insane!

Why is it, the CEO finds his way into the office, driving his Lexus sedan, but Perry in IT just can’t seem to get his 4X4Chevy Tahoe out of the garage?   If you want a day off that damn bad, take a day off,  but don’t insult the intelligence of all those who found a way to come in.

Be sensible, give your local snow plows some time to clear roads, give yourself extra time to get to work, but at the very least give it a shot. Then, when you get stuck, take a picture with your phone and send it to your boss, they’ll appreciate the effort!

Why Did Amazon Decide on Having 3 Corporate Headquarters?

So, the biggest news of the week is Amazon finally made a decision on where they were going to build HQ2 and come to find out instead of just one location, Amazon is splitting the job lottery into two prizes and both Washington D.C. and New York will get an Amazon Headquarters. Okay, it’s probably really about 4 Headquarters since they’re really focusing a ton of the supply chain talent in Nashville, but who’s counting!?

I never really thought Washington D.C. or New York City had a chance because I was thinking about stuff like the ability to actually move around! Turns out Amazon’s real decision point came around brain power. Now, I know what you’re thinking! There are absolutely no brains in Washington D.C.! Hello, is this mic on!? Also, have you been the urine-scented streets of New York!? Joking!

If you look at the U.S. and did a heat map around higher education institutions you would find a gigantic section of the Eastern seaboard is shaded a bright red! From Boston to New York to Philadelphia to Washington D.C. you can’t find a more concentrated area of higher education in the world! Amazon’s newest HQ2 and HQ3 will be strategically located right amongst those areas!

The largest employers in the U.S. look like this:

Walmart is stupid big, but almost all of their employees are onsite at stores.  Accenture is huge, but again their employees work in every medium to large city in the country, not a one big headquarters. FedEx is basically the US mail service. Go down the list and you’ll most of the largest employers are not headquartered centric, but location-centric.

Amazon is the lone giant employer who has most of its employees in office buildings. Knowing they were going to have to hire 50,000+ employees, there was really no one location in the U.S. that could have handled that need for talent in such a short time. Washington D.C. and New York are probably two of the places that can handle 25,000 new jobs, each, without crippling every other employer in the market. And, this will still cause a giant disruption in those cities as people will be moving around like crazy.

An additional 5,000 white collar jobs in Nashville will be an incredible amount for that market, especially in the key skills they’re looking for which are desperately needed everywhere in the U.S. right now. Better dust off your employee engagement strategies and update your compensation models, Nashville employers! 2020 is going to be a tough year!

This decision signals one other potential massive shift for IT. Washington D.C. was already a pretty big IT hub with all the government work, but now moving this many IT related jobs to the East Coast could begin a big shift away from organizations believing you have to be in Silicon Valley to hire IT talent. Amazon will bring and grow IT talent for the entire east coast and strengthen those cities as large IT hubs worldwide.

Amazon definitely didn’t help workers out from a quality of life standpoint. Both D.C. and NYC are awful in terms of cost and commute, at least in California you get sunshine in your closet of an apartment!

The decision for me showed that Amazon truly looked at labor markets and demographics (and some giant tax breaks – which, let’s be honest, everyone was willing to give) as the major decision points in the location of the new headquarters. The U.S. demographics over the next decade should be a major concern for large employers. More workers will leave the workforce than are coming into the workforce, so you better be close to where we tend to grow white collar, educated workers.

This is a win for higher education as much as it is for Washington D.C. and New York City.

Turning in that ‘work related’ strip club expense!

It’s 2018 and Under Armour, this past week wanted to make sure that their staff knew it was no longer okay to turn in receipts for business expense reimbursement from strip clubs! From the Wall Street Journal article:

“on Monday, the Wall Street Journal reported that the sports apparel company Under Armour had ended the “long-standing company practice” of letting employees expense strip club visits to their corporate cards…the story reported that “over the years, executives and employees … went with athletes or co-workers to strip clubs after some corporate and sporting events, and the company often paid for the visits of many attendees.”

So, not at all surprised, this type of thing is going on in corporate America, because at one point in my career I actually approved these types of expenses! Now, this was two decades ago, and I wasn’t in a position to change this policy at the time, but I know firsthand this type of stuff goes down!

It brings up an entire issue around what is appropriate work-related, client entertainment options. So, we are saying in 2018 going to the strip club is not appropriate, I think we can all come to an agreement on this, that is unless your actual profession is running strip clubs!

So, let’s start adding to this list of inappropriate work-related, client entertainment options:

Vegas-style Burlesque Show – basically any show that is showing naked bodies for the sake of showing naked bodies, right?

Any venue that includes prostitutes – So, taking a client to Ruth Chris is fine, taking a client to Ruth Chris with a hooker is not fine. Top Golf is awesome, Top Golf with strippers or prostitutes is not awesome unless it’s a bachelor party, not mine, honey, someone else’s.

Marijuana dispensaries – Sure it’s legal in a lot of states, but let’s not take our clients out and break a federal law.

Crack Houses – No explanation needed – No strip clubs and no crack houses.

Church – Oh, what!? Yeah, look I don’t want you taking a client to Church and you better not try and turn an expense in for the $10 bill you threw into the offering plate!

Skydiving or similar activities – Killing a client is never a good business development strategy. So, let’s just take off activities that might kill someone.

Apple Orchard, Pumpkin Patch, Hayride places – I’m just putting my foot down on the losers that actually think this is entertainment. It’s apple cider and donuts. If that’s your idea of entertainment you should be fired.

Any Running-type races – Marathons, 5Ks, Tough Mudders – Running isn’t entertainment, it’s a punishment for when you don’t play a real sport well, or you screw up a play for the tenth straight time, or to get away from your screaming kids and nagging spouse, but it’s not entertainment.

Massages – I love a great massage, but I’m never taking a client to get a message! That’s super creepy! Just don’t ever turn in that receipt!

A Nickleback concert – Or really any concert that takes place at an Indian Casino. No, I want to support the tribe, I don’t want to support dried up entertainment acts! Let’s treat our clients better than that! Sure I love Hall and Oates to, but I don’t love Hall and Oates when other people are signing their songs and they’re just standing on stage as props. That just makes me and my client sad.

Okay, hit me in the comments on which work-related, client entertainment we should add to the list!


401(K) Program – Retirement Plan or Student Loan Repayment Plan? Both!

If you didn’t see this week the IRS ruled on a request by a private employer to use their 401(K) plan to be utilized as a sort of a student loan repayment program. Here are the details:

“Here’s a quick (but not complete) summary of the plan proposal. According to the PLR, the taxpayer (who is anonymous in publicly released PLRs) proposed to amend its 401(k) plan to offer a student loan benefit program. Under the proposal, the employer would make nonelective contributions on behalf of the employee conditioned on the employee making student loan repayments (“SLR nonelective contribution”). The program would be voluntary and after enrolling the employee could opt-out… 

Under the program, if an employee makes a student loan repayment during a pay period equal to at least 2% of the employee’s eligible compensation for the pay period, then Taxpayer will make an SLR nonelective contribution as soon as practicable after the end of the year equal to 5% of the employee’s eligible compensation for that pay period.”

So, a couple of thoughts on this proposal:

  1. While this isn’t a perfect or complete solution, it’s something and as employers, we have to help out our employees who come in with life-altering amounts of student loan debt.
  2. Holy crap – this is really great, innovative HR work by some private employer who is really trying to figure this stuff out! I want to meet the HR Leader/Pro who even thought of this.
  3. It’s the chicken or the egg scenario. Do you start your retirement savings or do you first pay down debt? Obviously, this employer believes you need to solve the debt issue first, then go back and focus on the retirement.

The HR Nerd in me loves this stuff!

You had an employer who saw a major pain point with employees and hiring of potential employees. They started to brainstorm and somehow came up with an idea, what if we gave the employees money into their 401K which then would be used to pay down student loan debt, and because we are doing it through a qualified plan the IRS will work with us to make it non-taxable?

Um, what!?!?

99.9999999% of HR pros would give up on this as soon they heard IRS! But this employer decided to just ask the IRS the question and it sounds like the IRS was like, “Yeah, this makes total sense, for sure we need a few rules around this, but let’s do it!” The freaking IRS did something that makes sense?!?

So, this is a lesson for me and my HR brothers and sisters. I’m not saying anything is possible, but many things are possible if you keep trying to innovate, try stuff, and just every once in a while be naive or smart enough to just ask the question.

Keep HRing out there!