Guest Guru: Alisa Singer – Employee Benefits

Employee Benefits

By Alisa Singer

So I’m in this required (and dreaded) all-employee, all-day meeting about our new benefits program and this lady is speaking to us about HSA’s, PPO’s, deductibles, co-pays, etc …. She seems to be around my age (baby boomer), moderately attractive, stylish, professional and well-groomed. After a while she pauses to ask if we have any questions and I snap to attention – I realize I do have questions, in fact several: “How old are you,” I want to ask, “and have you had work done? Do you still have career aspirations or are you counting the days? Do you always wear such nice tailored suits, or only on days when you make presentations, and if you have had work done what kind was it?” Though none of this actually makes its way out of my mouth, the questions continue to percolate throughout the painfully protracted session as my brain tries to conjure up ways to stay awake.

For one thing, I wonder about the pants sizes of the other women in the group. I’m not very familiar with plus-sizing, but it seems to me several of them could be candidates, some even “cross-sizers”, a phrase I coin on the spot to describe seriously asymmetrical women required to shop in the plus-size department for one half of the body and in the regular department for the other half. And there, but for the grace of a small frame, go I. Even though my bottom is dramatically larger than my top (classic pear shape), I’m able to wear regular, even petite, sizes because my shoulders are so ridiculously small.

I also wonder why a white woman was chosen to review health benefits, a black man to explain the life and AD& D insurance, and a gentleman of Indian descent to take us through the 401(k) program. Was that all coincidental or did the HR woman (of indeterminate size pants), being highly sensitized to workplace discrimination, design this tapestry of diversity? I half expect a Latino in a wheel chair to roll in to discuss the new dental plan.

I then spend some time thumbing through the written materials. I especially enjoy reading about the conditions for payment of the AD&D benefits which are – and this is taken verbatim from the materials – upon loss of: “life; both hands or both feet or sight of both eyes; one hand and one foot; one hand and the sight of one eye; one foot and the sight of one eye; or speech and hearing”. So if you have an accident resulting in the loss of hearing in one ear and sight in one eye you’re SOL, unless you also happened to have lost a foot. However, you can keep both your eyes and your benefits if you’re lucky enough to lose a hand and a foot. I try to imagine the at once macabre and hysterical meeting of insurance underwriters at which these permutations were developed. It’s not all that surprising, I suppose, when you consider what we’re dealing with here is a policy for death and dismemberment.

Next I play a series of guessing games with myself: Who will be next to doze off or discreetly check his blackberry? What percentage of men are wearing blue shirts and khaki pants? Who has the most erect sitting posture? Which woman has the nicest nails? Which men dye their hair? Which two people would make the best-looking couple? Who’s likely to be the next person to be promoted, laid off?…

I then move on to “I’ve Got a Secret”, which involves inventing highly embarrassing private facts or stories about my colleagues. I decide that the man sitting across from me who never unbuttons even the top button of his shirt suffers from either excessive chestal hair or, possibly, a third nipple. It is easy enough to theorize that Sharon Goldstein, the uppity secretary who lives with her fervently religious mother, laces the elder’s food with undetectable traces of unkosher beef and pork in retaliation for her parents’ refusal some thirty years earlier to allow their daughter to have a Hawaiian themed Bat Mitzvah party, but I give up the game altogether when I realize that, much as I try, I cannot come up with a single nasty thought about our receptionist who, in addition to being a tall, skinny knockout, also happens to be incredibly sweet. (I carefully avoid the painful exercise of speculating about her pants size.) Instead, I mentally travel around the table trying to picture what each person will look like in 20 years. On the whole, the men fare better than the women.

Of course, I am not alone in my endeavors to distract myself. No doubt the other 35 employees with polite expressions that feign attention are also having various and sundry conversations with themselves. The women, I assume, are occupied mentally laying out what they will wear to work tomorrow or planning for the weekend; the men are mostly indulging wildly inappropriate fantasies about the receptionist. How cool would it be, I thought, if we could all have telepathic conversations with each other while the presenter drones on about rebalancing our retirement portfolios.

I realize as the meeting breaks up that, while I have retained shockingly little information about our benefit program (I think Blue Cross is our carrier), I had enjoyed myself. Next week we’ll be reviewing our record retention policy. Can’t wait.

Alisa Singer’s humorous essays have appeared in a variety of print and online newspapers and magazines across the country and in Canada. She is the author of the books I Still Wanna Be A…, an illustrated collection of whimsical poetic fantasies in which she “morphs” herself into her childhood heroes, and My Baby Boomer Memory Album, an album to memorialize the first grand child, social security check, chin hair and other milestones of the second half of the boomer’s life. You can learn more about her work by visiting her website: or contacting her at