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February is shaping up to be a carb-heavy month what with pancakes, fasnachts, and nián gāo.  Originally a way of using up all the fatty foods left in the house before Lent began -hence the French term, Mardi Gras– this year’s Pancake Day a.k.a. Shrove Tuesday comes the day before Valentine’s and three days before the Chinese New Year.  And if our poll this week were any indication, the impending avalanche of sugar and starch is welcomed by many.  Our hearty thanks to all fifty of you for participating!  (Click here for CCNY’s tips on sustainable healthy eating and some of our favorite pancake recipes.)

Like the rest of America, the vast majority, i.e., four-fifths of our survey respondents reported having a sweet tooth.  Given the sheer variety of favorite pancakes submitted, it is clear they are overwhelmingly popular amongst our readership.  One person however, expressed their disdain for the apparent pancake agenda by submitting the same negative response ten times in a row.  On the whole, our readers have fairly traditional –bordering on austere- tastes with chocolate chip (18%), plain (12%), buttermilk (10%), and blueberry (10%) as the most popular submissions.  A sizable contingent (10%) also declared their love of all pancakes while syrup was a top priority for 16% of our participants.  Unfortunately, there was no mathematically sound way to weight those responses with exclamation points more heavily.

Please click the images above to enlarge.


Slightly more than half of our respondents do not subscribe to the fat/ carb abstention myth, which is heartening as many comprise healthcare industry professionals.  Those who did think more exercise and dietary restrictions were the answer to weight loss were also more likely to find holiday binging more acceptable.  Males were significantly more confident than females in the assumed power of exercise in the battle of the bulge.  This may be due to the advantages that men tend to have where metabolism and total lean muscle mass is concerned.  Women’s bodies evolved to store fat more efficiently and therefore lose less of it than men (despite paradoxically burning off more of it) as this provides gestational benefits.  It would be interesting to see whether this trend remained constant in a larger pool of male respondents.

Please click on the image above to enlarge.


We must note that due to our survey being rather informal, “binging” was not strictly defined, which left a lot of room for what “fine” could mean.  Of our respondents with resolutions, 59.3% were unconcerned with weight loss and 48.1% were not concerned with eating healthier.  Nevertheless, people were somewhat (1.3x) more likely to prioritize healthy eating over weight loss.  In a twist of fate that would do Douglas Adams proud, the proportion of our respondents who celebrate Mardi Gras/ Lent was the same as that of those who do not believe in New Year’s Resolutions: 42%.

Please click the image above to enlarge.


We hope you enjoyed reading as much as we did analyzing the data and bon appétit!


The Devil’s Food Cake Wears Prada


To help you avoid derailing your resolutions, CCNY has some tips on how to get your gluttony on without the guilt!  Scroll to the end for our favorite healthy Pancake Day and Lunar New Year recipes.

We begin by dispelling a few myths about healthy eating.  It’s no secret that the US has an obesity problem and that our sugar consumption is far too high.  However, sugar and fat consumption are not consistent indicators of obesity among nations that take in the most fat and sugar.  Germany, for example, ranks second globally in both sugar and fat consumption per capita, but their population is among the thinnest as well.  Other chart-toppers such as Belgium, the Netherlands, Finland, and Sweden also exhibit this negative correlation in consumption and waistline.

How can this be?  For one thing, not all fat is created equal.  There are healthy fats and there are unhealthy fats.  Saturated fat is not the enemy.  You also need fat to absorb nutrients.  A huge part of the problem is empty calories.  Much of popular American food has limited flavor balance and contains still fewer nutrients.  The end result of soil depletion is that we consume more calories because our food is not nutritionally adequate and the average person, unable to afford expensive organic supplementation, gains more weight.

Don’t think that extra exercise will burn it off either.  The calorie deficit matters but consistent physical activity, while good for a whole host of reasons, is actually not ideal for weight loss if that’s your ultimate goal.  Even moderate exercise won’t burn more than 200-500 calories per session— hardly enough to undo a stack of pancakes, even without syrup and ice/ whipped cream.  Instead, eat smart and get plenty of sleep.  Try food pairing to maximize nutrient absorption and avoid post-carb indulgence slump.  Cut back on sugar (which lurks in so many American products) and increase your intake of whole grains and green leafy veggies.  And before you reach for that glass of pulp-free juice, remember that fiber helps regulate blood sugar.

You’ve heard it before but let it sink in: the negative impact of sugar cannot be overestimated.  A longitudinal study just published this January found a strong correlation between a high-sugar diet and cognitive decline.  In fact, Alzheimer’s is increasingly referred to as Type 3 Diabetes.  All is not lost though.  Just three half-cup servings a week of blueberries and strawberries help combat the risk of cardiac failure and Alzheimer’s.

If a healthier lifestyle is truly important to you, as with most things in life, your best bet is to plan ahead.  Make grocery lists and prep meals in advance.  Research restaurants before you go and if you can’t find an online menu or reviews, call or e-mail ahead with your questions.  It never hurts to ask (politely) about replacement options whether you’re at a food pantry or at a restaurant.  The more people make their desire for real food known, the more incentive businesses have to comply.

You don’t have to be Pantagruel to take pleasure in eating.  Indeed, taking the time to appreciate your food is a component of mindfulness practice, which can also be helpful for controlling your weight.  Connecting with the food process, that is, meaningfully considering where your food came from –soil to plate- can also help you make each bite count.  There is enormous food waste in the Western world with Americans in the lead.  In recent years, we’ve had some positive movement on that front.  France banned throwing out and intentionally spoiling good unsold produce while in Ireland, the start-up FoodCloud connects food producers and retailers to local charities to redistribute surplus food.  The slow progress seen in this arena underscores the importance of policy, infrastructure, and community working in tandem.  Take the time to be grateful for what you have and you might just start consuming less.

A note about the following recipes: these have been selected for nutritional value and originality by the author.  Please bear in mind that nominally gluten-free and/ or vegan dishes aren’t always the healthiest choice.  Review ingredient labels and know your daily nutrient requirements.  Don’t give into diet fads.  Listen to your body and understand its unique individual needs.


Guide To Abbreviations:

GF = Gluten-Free

P = Paleo

V = Vegetarian

VG = Vegan

  1. Vegan Appam       GF       VG
  2. Flourless Banana Nut Pancakes       GF       V
  3. Four-Ingredient Paleo Pancakes       P       GF       V
  4. Five-Minute Vegan Pancakes       GF      VG
  5. Carrot Cake Pancakes With “Cream Cheese” Frosting       P       GF       V
  6. Pumpkin Pancakes With Bacon And Pecans       P          GF
  7. Grain-Free Japanese Pancakes With Sticky Mushrooms       V         GF
  8. Paleo Cinnamon Roll Pancakes       P       GF       V
  9. Baked Coconut Nián Gāo       GF       VG
  10. Autoimmune Protocol Nián Gāo       P         GF       VG
  11. Quinoa Pancakes       GF       VG
  12. Lemon Banana “Ricotta” Pancakes With Blueberry Compote       GF       VG
  13. Savory Pancakes With Pine Nut Cream       GF       VG
  14. Chai Oatcakes       GF       VG
  15. Paleo Mocha Chip Pancakes with Espresso Syrup       P       GF       V
  16. Sprouted Spelt Crêpes      V
  17. Coconut Cassava Æbleskiver     P     GF     V
  18. Buckwheat Flaxseed Crêpes     GF     VG
  19. Luó Bo Gāo     GF 
  20. Mashed Potato Pancakes With Spinach, Gruyère, and Bacon    GF


In the spirit of inclusivity, if pancakes aren’t your thing, check this and that out instead.


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Working For The Weekend


Between the pressures and costs to bear from the holidays and growing 24-hour on-call work expectations that come with increasing digitization, it can sometimes feel like we need a break from our de facto vacation.  A 2010 study by the Institute of Leadership and Management found that many workers were more stressed upon returning from vacation due to fears of a mountain of responsibilities awaiting them.  Worse still, 61% of those 2500 managers surveyed said they felt obligated to work during their vacations.  The US is the only post-industrial nation that does not mandate paid vacation time, an oversight which makes even the hardest working employees more vulnerable.

The two-day weekend -short though it may seem- used to be even shorter.  In fact, while the concept that a working week has a defined terminus has existed at least since the mid-17th century, the weekend that we now (sometimes) enjoy only began to take shape in the last century.  The seven-day week itself has its origins in ancient Babylon from whence it spread to Egypt, Greece, and Rome.

Fragments of ancient Babylonian calendar.  Source: British Museum, London, Tablet Sm. 162.


Historically, many cultures have had each working week end on a religious day of rest.  Of course, only having one official day off did not stop people from simply not turning up the next, whether to sleep off hangovers, catch up on domestic chores, or just enjoy leisure activities.  In late eighteenth to mid-nineteenth century England and America, the practice of “keeping Saint Monday” was so widespread, employers felt that this mass absenteeism was hurting business.  To counteract this effect, some began to offer half-days off, specifically Saturday afternoons.  This gave rise to the Victorian definition of “week-end”, whose first known print usage in English dates to 1879.

As the Industrial Revolution swept through the Western world, a combination of labor strikes, increasingly consumerist/ leisure-driven values, and the support of prominent factory owners eventually ushered in a new era of two-day weekends.  It wouldn’t be until 1908 that a full Saturday would be provided as a day off when a New England cotton mill made the decision to accommodate Jewish employees.  Observing the sabbath on Saturday previously forced them to make up their work on Sundays, which offended some in the local Christian community.

That same year, the Model T came on the market.  By 1926, after doubling his workers’ wages to attract and retain the best talent —effectively raising wages throughout Detroit— Henry Ford introduced the five-day work week.  He didn’t do so out of sheer goodwill to his fellow man.

 He had the foresight to understand that people needed both disposable income and time off to purchase and use the goods they helped to produce.  By allowing his employees to have a break from their daily slog, they had the resources to not only buy but also drive the very cars they were making, thereby boosting morale, productivity, and profits.  In short, days of rest improved people’s lives and by extension, the economy.  It wasn’t long before other companies followed suit, furthered by the Great Depression when shorter hours were believed to remedy mass un(der)employment.

The famed economist Keynes once predicted that continuous technological innovation would eventually shorten our work week to just fifteen hours.  Unfortunately, the very opposite has come to pass due to ever-growing income inequality, the Joneses, and the Diderot effect.

We live in an age where obnoxiously conspicuous consumption permeates media and is celebrated in spite of widespread job and healthcare insecurity.  As a result, many people are –even those who may be said to have “good” jobs- are desperate to validate their status and work more and more in order to spend in the way they think they should, adding further pressure to those who can barely make ends meet.

A 2014 Gallup poll showed that only 42% of Americans working full-time adhere to 40 hours per week.  In reality, the average is closer to 47 hours.  Salaried employees work an average of 49 hours a week, compared with 44 hours for people paid by the hour. A quarter of salaried workers said they spend 60 or more hours a week on the job.  By contrast, France has had 35-hour work weeks since 2000 and still suffers from high unemployment rates.  Interestingly, French white-collar employees often work well beyond thirty-five hours a week but are properly compensated for it, whereas their blue-collar counterparts are restricted to that amount.  Many actually wish to work more hours but cannot.  Indeed, controversy rages on over the obligatory closure of shops on Sundays despite France now being a secular nation.

Village of Varzy, France.  Photo credit: Thierry Zoccolan/AFP/Getty Images.


What’s to be done then, you ask?  Well, there are a few things on the table.  Some countries have experimented with shorter work days while others have piloted universal basic income.  Finland is the only one to have tried both.  The New Economics Foundation made a compelling case for the 21-hour work week nearly a decade ago and their arguments have not been lost on labor activists.  In Germany, a country notorious for its billion hours of unpaid overtime in 2016 alone, a union representing 3.9 million workers is campaigning for a 28-hour work week.  Those opting for the reduced hours would be guaranteed the right to return to full-time work as well as a cash bonus to compensate for the reduced hours.

Sweden’s two-year trial of six-hour days ended when they ran out of funding and made headlines when government officials were quoted as citing the unworkability of sky-high costs.  However, the benefits to participating employees were undeniable and Gothenburg’s councillor, Daniel Bernmar, confirmed its many successes.  Perhaps more tellingly, multiple municipalities are continuing the experiment in labor sectors suffering from high rates of illness and burnout such as nursing and social work.

From Kenya to Canada, the results from UBI have been overwhelmingly positive.  It is worth noting that in addition to obvious income and food security, participants reported higher levels of independence, lower levels of discord in their personal relationships, and broadened definitions of “productive work”.  The idea is nothing new.  Martin Luther King, Jr., for instance, advocated basic income in 1967 during a speech at Stanford.

Around the world, its appeal is growing.  According to an Ipsos MORI poll, the policy is finding favor across all age groups with 49% of 18-75 year olds in the UK supporting basic income.  Five Scottish cities are preparing to trial UBI this year.  In California, the mayor of Stockton (located just east of San Francisco with nearly a 25% poverty rate) is gearing up the city’s UBI experiment while Oakland’s project is funded by Y Combinator Research.  India’s chief economic adviser, Arvind Subramanian, has also floated the idea that universal basic income could be tested within the next two years.

Here at home, we’re starting a bit smaller with incremental minimum wage increases.  Although it is not without its flaws and continues to be met with resistance, it is ultimately the humane thing to do when one considers that most wages have not kept pace with cost-of-living.

2014 May Day March.  Photo credit: Alex Milan Tracy/Sipa USA.


Moreover, full-time employment rates never quite recovered from the 2008 recession and many workers are forced to do more in less time and for less pay for fear of losing their jobs.  This uncertainty also has a ripple effect with serious consequences for public health as well as the economy since feelings of powerlessness and chronic stress inhibit creativity and productivity.

It is estimated that workplace stress costs the US economy up to $190 billion a year in healthcare costs.  A recent Australian study also found that working beyond thirty-nine hours a week caused a decline in mental health.  People are also afraid to spend their money because they fear (and not without good reason) that new technologies will render their jobs obsolete.  The current state of the so-called US Fear Index, a.k.a. the Vix Index, which monitors stock market volatility, has been likened to the “calm before the storm”.  In May 2017, it fell to its lowest level since 1993, just as it had before the 2008 recession hit.

In the 21st century, even the most skilled and dedicated of workers may suffer the perils of the gig economy.  And in spite of the purported flexibility of contract and remote work, about one-tenth of American employees who tried to implement a flexible schedule said they faced negative consequences such as being denied promotions.  “Millennials”, in particular, are least likely to take vacation in an attempt to defy stereotypes about their entitlement and lackadaisical nature.

Regardless of what policymakers decide, these tangled issues must be addressed at the root and that begins with healthier work cultures.  We as a society need to take a long hard look at how well we’re prioritizing our health and treatment of each other.  There likely isn’t any single solution to these dilemmas but we won’t find any without first having the conversation.


If you enjoyed this article, you may also be interested in learning more about our unlimited PTO policy and our paid paid vacation drawings.

Continuous Quality Improvement Certificate Program


Are you a service provider seeking to raise your organization’s A-game in an ever-evolving community?  Beginning this spring, CCNY’s very own Christa Foschio-Bebak and Heidi Milch will be leading multiple quality improvement training sessions designed with real-world application in mind.   The four-day course will equip you with the tools you need to implement and sustain continuous QI.

This is a unique opportunity with limited seating, so register early to avoid disappointment!  Register by 28th March and you will also receive an additional $100 discount on top of the usual early-bird price.

Read the complete brochure here and register through UB’s School of Social Work here.

Paid Paid Vacation 2018


Last year, in order to support wellness within our agency, CCNY launched a new Paid Paid Vacation perk.  On a bi-monthly basis, a random name is drawn from a pool of full-time staff.  Once a name is pulled, that person must take two days off with an added bonus of $300 to use during that time. These days are in addition to their normal paid time off. The staff person must use the money towards something fun, i.e., not pay off existing bills, etc.

Caitlin was the lucky winner of December’s drawing for a Paid Paid Vacation! She went skiing for the first time during her getaway down in Ellicottville, NY and was also able to try some new restaurants.  Overall, it was a nice relaxing break spent with family following a busy holiday season.

Caitlin said, “This getaway was perfect! I got to try out a new winter sport, which was a lot of fun. Plus my husband and I love trying new restaurants, so we tried Elm Street Bakery in East Aurora and Forty Thieves on Elmwood.  To top it off, we were able to take my nephew swimming.  He loved it!  Sorry, we ate all the food at Forty Thieves before we remembered to take pictures (but we have a shot of the pizza at Elm Street), as the food was fantastic – definitely try the beef tenderloin sandwich!”

Check back here in two months for the continuing travel adventures of our staff!

Mo’ PTO, Mo’ Problems?


This quarter, CCNY’s new unlimited PTO policy officially takes effect.  You may have heard the term before.  It is essentially a flexible paid-time-off agreement between employer and employee to manage his/ her/ their own schedule responsibly.  This means that employees can take as much time off as they need so long as they get their work done.

Household names such as Virgin and Netflix have implemented similar policies but does it work for everyone?  With only 1% of US employers making use of unlimited PTO, we sat down with HR Director, Martha Harlukiewicz, to discuss how it has taken shape at CCNY, why it was the right decision for us, and whether it could be for other companies.  Read on for highlights from our interview [edited for clarity] below:

JT: Is it strictly unlimited vacation?

MH: So it’s actually unlimited vacation and sick time- all grouped into one.  You can use anything you want.  There’s no distinction between sick and vacation.  The only thing we say is that if you’re out longer than five days for sick purposes, we do require a doctor’s note.  Because then it could turn into medical leave or disability, depending on the condition you’re in.

JT: What made you decide to implement unlimited PTO, just hearing about other companies out west doing it with success?

MH: That and also we’d already given a ton of time off as it was, so this was really no different than what we did before because people already received a lot of time before.  It’s just a nicer benefit for employees.  They don’t have to feel tied to their desks, 9 to 5 every day.  If they get their work done and their projects and deliverables are done on time – if everything’s good and it’s a Friday afternoon and they want to leave a few hours early, absolutely.  You don’t have to worry “Hey, I only have ten hours left, if I take two on Friday, I’m only going to have eight…”  There’s no thinking anymore.  It’s just “Do I have my stuff done?  Am I missing any meetings or deadlines?  Let me run it by my supervisor… Awesome.”

JT: That’s all it is, you just run it past your supervisor and you’re done?

MH: Exactly.

JT: There’s no time entering online?

MH: So you do still have to put either Vacation or Sick on your timesheet.  If you are truly sick, you still have to put it in as Sick.  If you want to take an afternoon off, have a vacation planned, or are taking a significant amount of time off, you know, ten days or whatever it is, we still want you to track it.  That just helps us internally to see trends, especially for sick purposes, if it ends up being something we have to look at medically-wise with our disability carrier and so forth.  But vacation-wise, to make sure people are actually taking time off –mental health reasons, that’s another reason we went to that too- we want people to take time off.  We want people to feel that if they come here and do what they need to do, get their job done…

JT: That there’s a sense of reciprocity?

MH: Yeah, and that they’re rewarded by being able to have flexible schedule as well, you know for the most part.

JT: You mentioned that you were already giving a lot of time off before, so was this new policy partly meant to cut down on the number of people constantly bugging their supervisors to see if they could take time off?

MH: No, the request off is still the same process.  We let each supervisor handle it the way they want to with their department but they still need to provide -we prefer- 48 hours’ notice.  Obviously, if it’s an emergency situation, we tell the employee to go take care of what you need to.  Once you’re in a safe spot or you’re able to let us know then that you had to run out, etc., just so we know you’re okay.  Whatever you work out with your supervisor, whatever they’re comfortable with –text, e-mail, IM, etc.- that’s not a problem.  Previously, after a year of employment, you would have had four weeks’ vacation, two weeks of sick, and a week of personal time.

JT: That is really generous, especially for this area.

MH: So that was for full-time employees.  The time off was always there.  The likelihood of someone taking more is probably slim-to-none.  So do I foresee people taking more time than they currently do?  Probably not but it’s still new.

JT: So it’s easier in terms of the admin side?

MH: Definitely.  There’s no looking at the bank of hours, wondering “Oh, do they have enough time to take off?”  That was an issue before –we’d switched payroll applications- and that information with our previous software was limited for supervisors, so they constantly asked me, “Hey, how much time does so-and-so have?  They asked for this day, I’m not even sure they have the time anymore…” but before they had to put how much time they had in the Notes section and the supervisors were just going off of people being honest or having to follow up with me.  Now it doesn’t matter.

JT: And that’s a good thing because as the company expands, you have less to worry about.

MH: Exactly, and also, the kind of company we are, we’re not a 24-hour facility or somewhere you need someone at the front door or someone checking people in or in charge of children or something where you constantly have to monitor people.  We’re more like consultants, so that’s a flexible schedule for that type of work and we want people to feel that when they come work here.  That they can take time… especially as new employees.  Under our prior policy, if you just started or you were only four or five months, you wouldn’t have that time yet.  You did have to wait that six months whereas now, the policy is sixty days.  After that, it’s unlimited.  Now prior to sixty days, when there’s an emergency or if you’re sick, clearly you can but you really shouldn’t be taking time off within that period.  It also helps to attract people as a nice benefit that other organizations can’t provide.

JT: For top-performing employees, that’s a definite draw knowing that that’s one less thing to worry about.  And it’s very rare in this region as opposed to major tech hub areas.  It helps to advertise CCNY as a more progressive environment to work in.

MH: Yeah, the old model was very corporate and with technology these days, given how companies run, we’re going on that route.

JT: Do you foresee a model in which a physical office eventually rendered unnecessary or would it still be preferable to have a base of operations.

MH: I think we’d prefer to have a home base.  I mean, we do allow employees to work remotely and that’s something you have to work out with your supervisor, but for collaborative reasons, we still like to have a base of operations.  You can teleconference but I think that having one spot for everyone to get together is good.  It’s for employee morale and just getting to know your cohorts.

JT: There are conflicting stances on this.  Yahoo! had banned working from home a few years ago while others fully embrace it because in their minds, it helps to reduce overhead costs as well as attract and retain the best talent.  I personally prefer a kind of middle-ground.  Flexibility is important but there are also some things you really need to discuss face-to-face.

MH: And if someone’s based solely out of their house, it could even potentially be a liability.  Here, the building and all the equipment is insured.  So yeah, definitely, middle-ground?

JT: Who is responsible for implementing this policy?  Is there a board meeting or just the directors?

MH: For something like this, just Heidi and myself.  A lot of things, if they go to the board, they’re really more as a courtesy.  The policy technically went into effect fourth quarter, 10/1, but starting in 2018, an employee has to take off five days during the first half of the year, so from January 1st to July 1st and then another five days from July 2nd to the end of the year.  Really, it’s forty hours, you don’t have to take it all in a row, and you can break it down by hour.  So that’s our way of saying, “You HAVE to take off forty hours at some point.”  You can take more than that, of course, it’s unlimited.  But the mandate is that you have to take at least that amount.

JT: While I don’t see this as being a common scenario in the first six months, what would happen if hypothetically, someone did want to take off several weeks at once?

MH: If an employee wanted to take this time off and it was not feasible, their supervisor would inform them and deny it.  There is a separate form that the supervisor has to fill out that goes to the employees and explains why it was denied.  And there is also an appeals process that they can go through if they don’t think that’s fair.  It then goes to HR, myself and Heidi and we discuss it further.

JT: Has anyone ever submitted an appeal before?

MH: [laughs] No, not yet but this just started.  That was as of 10/1 as well. But no one in the last two months.  We hope it never gets to that point but we wanted to have a process in place just in case it ever does happen.

JT: Of course, you have to cover all your bases.  So what other concrete reasons did you and Heidi have for pushing unlimited PTO forward?

MH: I think a lot of it has to do with greater employee freedom.  It’s an added benefit for non-profits.  A lot of times, non-profits -due to our funding restrictions- we can’t pay the high salaries that major corporations can.  It’s a great recruiting tool because for-profit companies often don’t allow this level of flexibility, especially if you’re an individual with children or other obligations outside of work that they have to take care of.

JT: In terms of recruitment, have you noticed this as something people frequently ask for off-the-bat?

MH: Not off-the-bat.  Sometimes they tell about situations they’re involved in and ask about the hours but when I do say there is unlimited PTO, their eyes light up.  Or if it’s on the phone, they go, “WOW, that’s great”.  It’s definitely something that surprises people in a positive way.

JT: How do you think it would benefit other non-profits?  Would you recommend that it be pushed across the board?  Or is this something unique to CCNY given the kind of structure/ hierarchy that exists here?

MH: I’d say both.  Definitely, unique to CCNY because we’re not watching children and most of our employees are salaried.

JT: But why is it easier to give salaried individuals unlimited PTO?  Because hourly employees have to prove they were in the office for a certain number of hours?

MH: Exactly, because hourly employees have to punch in and out.

JT: With unlimited vacation though, if someone were to say, “I want to go and to spend the next month in Sardinia”, realistically, how likely is a supervisor to approve something like that?  I feel like that “unlimited” could be a tricky term for some people.

MH: [laughs] Sure, it is.  I think the likelihood of it being approved is probably slim-to-none but I think with enough time –we do have a few employees here whose native land is not the US- so if they went back home to visit, with enough notice, they could work something out with their supervisor.  If you were in December and knew you needed to be wherever you were going for all of July and you’re talking about it now with your supervisor, that gives you six months to prepare.  Once again, it’s up to your supervisor and I can’t say it would be approved but we wouldn’t rule out the possibility.  Maybe if they look ahead of the projects, “Who’s going to take over for you while you’re not here?  As projects come in, let’s keep in mind that so-and-so will not be here for all of July.”  The likelihood of someone even asking is slim-to-none but we’re definitely open to it.

JT: I like to play devil’s advocate and test boundaries. [laughs]

MH: Oh, yeah, sure.  I mean, if you’re a hardworking, honest individual and you come to your supervisor, “Hey, listen, I have this opportunity, I’d really like to explore this and work with you to come up with solutions.”  And if you have backups, I think you could work something out.  Personally, I, right now, wouldn’t be comfortable taking a whole month off because I’d drive myself crazy but definitely, I think everyone should take at least a couple of weeks off.

JT: Two weeks at a time?

MH: Yeah, with enough notice and you work it out with your supervisor, it should be fine.

JT: As an HR specialist, how did you come to the realization that vacation is so important?  Is it from personal experience or something you studied when you were getting your degree?  Why do you feel so strongly about its necessity?

MH: I think if employees are happy outside of work, they’re much more productive and happy inside of work.  And if work allows them that added happiness, it just makes them that much more excited to come to work.  It can be stressful here at times, just like with any job.  Knowing that you have the opportunity for that extra couple of days or cash to spend on a vacation, just makes you appreciate your job that much more and that in return, probably makes you a better employee who will show up to work and perform.

JT: A better person, really.

MH: All around, exactly.

JT: I completely agree with you and the general ethos here, but what you’re saying is not a common refrain in the HR world, so how did you arrive at this conclusion?  Was it a personal belief you’ve always held or something you learned the hard way?

MH:  It’s definitely personal.  If I’m happier outside of work, I’m happy at work and vice versa.  I also think with CCNY’s culture here, it’s a lot easier to implement, especially with the shift we’ve been taking and the type of work that we do.  I do personally feel passionate about it. Just having something fun to do, take your mind off things, I just think it’s a great program but I also think that it works well here.  I don’t know that I could say that if I worked somewhere else.

JT: From a labor rights perspective, how would you respond to someone –regardless of industry- who says, “Hey, that sounds really awesome.  It’s so unfair that I don’t get to do that where I am.”  Do you tell them they need to switch jobs, you should try to find a company like CCNY?  It’s like when people discuss healthcare in this country sometimes, it ultimately devolves into “Well, move to Sweden then!” and of course, it’s not that simple.  How do you advise people who are eager to experience the positives of a CCNY-like environment but doesn’t necessarily want to work for a non-profit?

MH: Right… yeah, that’s a hard question.  It’s one thing to like what another company does and feel a bit of jealousy, “Oh, that’s cool, your friend gets to do that and you don’t.”  But are you truly happy in your line of work?  Because if you truly love what you’re doing with another organization, then you shouldn’t want to leave over a couple benefits.  Or maybe if you’re not that happy, look for another company in the same industry that does offer those benefits.  It may not be exactly the same as CCNY’s but maybe one of the reasons you’re unhappy, is  that you have really long hours or your company is abusing employee rights that you should have access to legally but you’re just not receiving because of the culture there.

JT: Do you believe that a minimum of two weeks’ paid vacation should be offered at all companies?

MH: Oh, yeah, definitely.  If you’re over-worked and stressed out, it comes out in all areas.  Even just the working relationship, if everyone had a more flexible schedule –and I hate to say that, because it can be difficult in certain industries, like at hospitals…

JT: A lot of that, in my opinion, comes down to technology and proper planning.  Because if you make full use of available technology and also have the logical, rational sense of mind to plan, you can make it work.  I feel the problem often revolves around persistent understaffing in every industry.

MH:  Yeah, definitely.  A lot of it also comes down to efficiencies and processes.

JT: And money.

MH: Yeah, money, by all means.

JT:  What are your thoughts on the potential for employees abusing an unlimited PTO policy?

MH: I think it helps that we’re a smaller organization.  When you get above 100 employees, especially with different locations, it gets very hard to manage something like this.  The rule used to be at least one person per 75-100 people but maybe the rule’s changed.  You would definitely need more people and even here, like anywhere, the policy can get abused and then you just deal with it, or with that employee.  A lot of times, I don’t even think the ownership should go on the individual.  Sometimes, it’s just the interpretation of things.  Maybe if it were better explained or they sat down with their supervisor or HR and discussed what they were dealing with, it probably could be eliminated.

JT: Do you think it’s necessary to put any countermeasures in place?  Is it worth it or even possible to try and manage it or do you just need to be extra-careful from the get-go hiring people who you know you can really trust?

MH: I think it’s just the gamble you take.  From the beginning, even during the hiring/ interview process, someone can really put on a show.  You really don’t know until they’re actually in the position.  And vice versa, you might think “Oh, this person won’t fit in at all” and it turns out they were just nervous or an introvert and they’re stellar at their job.  Yes, you can read a person ahead of time but you still won’t know for sure until they’re actually in that environment and in that culture.  I definitely think that working here isn’t for everyone.

JT: Really?

MH: Yeah, if you love a lot of structure in your life and you need someone constantly over your shoulder telling you what to do –a micromanagement type- or you need to be somewhere for a certain amount of time, then you won’t fit in here.  We’re looking for more innovative people who can take initiative and who can take things and run.  Once you’re trained and comfortable, as supervisors, we love being able to trust our employees to do what they need to do.

JT: I think much of that has to do with our educational system.  For all of the Bennington Colleges out there, how many more institutions –private or public- are super-restrictive where every single minute of every day is blocked out for you?  I love those liberated models where you’re told “Yeah, you go and learn whatever you want to learn and come back and write a paper in six months” but what most American students experience is quite oppressive sometimes.

MH: Yeah, and that probably has a lot to do with why some people are so comfortable with that system, because it’s what they know.  And you could still have that system here, but you’d have to create that structure for yourself and work that out with your supervisor.  And that’s fine too but as an individual, you need to take that on.

According to a recent study, 54% of Americans working full-time forfeited vacation days.  662 million unused days in 2016 amounted to $66.4 billion in lost income, or a donation of $604 in work hours per capita to employers.  This in turn cost our economy about $236 billion.  Even more worryingly, use of vacation in the US is at a four-decade low.

Much of this has to do with long-held American values vis-à-vis work martyrdom.  38% of employees reported wanting to be viewed by their bosses as work martyrs,  not realizing that this behavior does not help them get ahead and may in fact be hindering them. They were less likely to receive a raise or bonus and no more likely than their non-work martyr cohorts to have received a promotion.  The only discernible difference was that of stress; work martyrs consistently report experiencing significantly higher levels of stress.

More broadly speaking, many Americans don’t actually receive PTO to begin with and when they do, they often feel uncomfortable making use of it.Furthermore, a poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that 43% of Americans simply cannot afford to take a vacation, adding further stress to the equation.

Unlimited PTO packages, while perhaps not ideal for every organization out there, are a great way to streamline administration while encouraging employees to take care of themselves as needed.  The increased transparency and simplicity reduce stress and build trust.  It also helps companies avoid potentially hot-button issues such as re-naming recognized days of religious observance or re-allocating block holiday time to suit a more diverse population.  When people are treated respectfully as decent, responsible adults, they are more likely to behave that way.

Bottomline is, vacations matter.  Burnout is an all-too-common feature of the American workplace and if you’re fortunate to receive paid time off, regardless of its structuring, you should capitalize on it.  For your next vacation, remember the following: know the rules, plan ahead, and skip the guilt.  Your mind and body will thank you.

New Year, New Arounja!


Have you ever noticed that when you’re sick, tired, and upset, even the most trivial tasks and interactions can seem overwhelming?  Being poor causes and exacerbates stress, which in turn damages your physical and emotional health.  Many Americans are only a missed paycheck or unexpected medical bill away from hunger and homelessness.  CCNY and Americorps want to help because life shouldn’t and doesn’t have to be this fraught with uncertainty and instability.

If you don’t have to constantly worry where the next meal is coming from or whether you can afford a babysitter, that’s more energy you have for finding a job, finishing your homework, starting your own business— you know, actually living your life.

We understand that it can be frustrating and time-consuming for the average person struggling to get by to seek out aid.  To that end, CCNY are pleased to unveil (a new and improved) Arounja whose purpose is to put that power directly in your hands.  You just type in what you need help with, whether it’s food, domestic violence, education, legal advice, etc., and Arounja will search for what’s available within a given area that you specify.

Operating on the premise that you cannot teach someone to fish without first showing them what kinds of fish exist and where they are, our aim is to make Arounja an indispensable tool that even your elderly grandmother loves to use.   So give our latest version a whirl and let us know what you think!