I'm changing a lot of details here to protect my friend Ed's privacy, but, the most important detail -- that he's working so hard at being a human resources manager that his vision is getting blurry -- is true.
Anyhow, Ed is a very nice, responsible guy who's gotten all of the credentials necessary to be a successful, instantly employable HR employer.
Whether you want to hire people, fire people, or simply get the paychecks and the notices required by various government agencies sent on time, Ed's the guy you want in your personnel office, and not just because of the bowl of sugar-free (but delicious) licorice on his desk.
He has a new job at a company with offices in New York, New Jersey, Chicago and Winnipeg.
He has to understand the federal benefits and leave laws, state benefits and leave laws, the payroll system rules, the policies of the private benefits providers his company works with, and how to make sense of the completely different laws and rules that apply to the company's 15 employees in Winnipeg.
Every office in the company is governed by leave laws that are just different enough to make him long for a mental health day.
Many, many disability insurers and benefits administration firms would love to help midsize companies with their benefits and leave administration responsibilities, but Ed has to do everything himself, with the help of one harried administrative assistant.
He's so busy learning and managing the ropes that he's barely had time to skim through his own benefits packet.
What's striking when one talks with Ed is how much of his time is spent on dealing with the consequences of lack of uniformity and policymakers' lack of serious efforts to simplify procedures.
New Jersey policymakers want their rules to be a little more this or a little more than than New York's rules, so Ed has to spend countless, expensive hours dealing with differences between New Jersey rules and New York rules that rarely make much difference for the employees.
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 (PPACA) might move Heaven onto Earth, or it might be a demonic force of socialist evil, but, either way, it seems likely to increase Ed's workload and make his vision even blurrier.
I'm tempted to suggest that some agency ought to come up with an HR red tape indicator, to measure how much red tape is strangling and shortening the life of the median HR manager. Then, maybe, government agencies, insurers and others could work together on ways to reduce the Red Tape Strangulation Index (RTSI).
But, of course, if an RTSI monitoring agency came into being, it would send up surveys and create requirements and red tape of its own and, no doubt, end up increasing the RTSI.
And, in some cases, government actions and similar actions increase uniformity.
The fact that we can use U.S. dollars in our transactions, rather than having to rely on separate private currencies issued by each commercial bank, obviously makes Ed's days simpler.
The fact that he can (usually) drive to work on roads paid for with taxes or, occasionally, by agencies that plug in seamlessly to the EZPass toll paying system, makes Ed's days simpler.
But, when policymakers are coming up with new rules, forms and procedures, it would be great if they could give some serious thought to what they are doing to the RTSI, and what they are doing to Ed's eyes.