Employment Trends

How to choose the right employee benefits for you

employee-benefits
Written by Kate Lopaze

When you’re thinking about changing jobs or careers, salary is likely a huge component of your decision. After all, aside from the job itself, what you will earn is one of the most important factors for your personal bottom line. Yet it’s not the end-all-be-all of your employment package. Your job offer package will also include information about benefits, and your workplace will likely also come with perks and programs that are specifically open to you as an employee.

Essentially, “benefits” are your total compensation package for your job. That includes salary, yes, but it also includes things like insurance coverage, time off, retirement plans, and work-life balance tools and programs. These are less tangible forms of compensation that can vary by company, and are often responsible for a lot of your job/company satisfaction. The paycheck is great, but it takes more than that to make a job feel like a good investment on your own part.

Let’s look at some of the most common benefits. They often vary by company and your employment status (for example, part time jobs often offer fewer benefits than full-time jobs), but here are some of the benefits package highlights you may be considering as part of a job offer.

Insurance

Health Insurance is a big topic these days, to say the least—and that focus on employer-provided healthcare catapults it to the top of the list of important benefits to understand and consider as part of a new job. Health insurance is common for full-time jobs—less so for internships, contract gigs, or part-time jobs, but not unheard of. Employers typically have a contract with a specific insurance provider and offer employees a choice of plans within that insurance company’s options. The employer subsidizes some of the cost of the employee’s health insurance plan, with the employee typically paying a set amount per pay period to cover the plan costs. You may not be able to negotiate much on the health insurance front because employers are required to provide certain options to all employees, but you can certainly ask about what kind of coverage and plans a company offers during the negotiation phase.

Medical healthcare insurance is not the only type you may encounter: some employers also offer dental insurance, disability insurance, mental health insurance, vision insurance, or life insurance. Disability and life insurance can be especially important if there are risks associated with your job, so it’s important not to forget those when considering a benefits package.

Vacation and Personal Days

Along with insurance, vacation is the other crown jewel in the benefits crown. Employees need a break, and companies know that it’s in their interest to offer a certain number of paid vacation days per year. This can vary widely by industry and company, but vacation days are often a negotiation point if the company is unwilling to negotiate much on salary or insurance.

When thinking about vacation days, it’s essential to ask about how each company handles them:

  • Do vacation days accrue throughout the year, or do you have your full number of vacation days on your start date/the first day of the year?
  • Can you roll vacation days over if you don’t use them all in one year, or does the company have a “use it or lose it” policy stating that unused vacation time goes “poof” after a certain date?
  • Does the company compensate the employee for unused vacation days if the employee leaves before the vacation days are used for the year?

Additionally, the company may offer “personal” days off that aren’t necessarily vacation or sick days, but can be used for employees to attend to personal issues, like appointments or personal obligations.

Flexible Work Arrangements

Some companies may offer alternatives to the 9-to-5-at-your-desk grind. For example, it might be possible to work remotely or to adjust hours to create a shorter work week to accommodate childcare, personal time, or other needs. (For example, working 10-hour days Monday through Thursday in order to have Fridays off.) This kind of benefit really depends on how the company is structured and the demands of your job. If you’re expected to be in the office for client meetings or to provide a particular service, this may be a non-starter. But if your job is heavily email-based or you can do it be teleconferencing in for meetings, it could be a good option.

Flexible work arrangements are a good negotiating piece if the employer isn’t willing to budge very far on salary.

Family Benefits

Many companies offer benefits geared toward employees with family obligations (children, taking care of relatives, etc.). This may mean on-site childcare or opportunities to work from home to spend more time with children. Many companies also have a relationship with specific daycare providers and can offer employees discounts or incentives.

It’s important to note that companies cannot discriminate against employees based on family status, so it’s in your interest to take advantage of family-friendly benefits as necessary. And even if it’s not really a factor for you at the time you take a job, you never know if it will be something you need in the future, so it’s best to get a sense up front about your new company’s family policies.

Some companies will also help pay adoption or foster care expenses for parents who choose this option for their families.

Paid Leave

By law (specifically, the Family and Medical Leave Act), companies that have more than 50 employees are required to provide up to three months of unpaid leave for a personal or family medical issue, and parental leave for the birth of a child. Additionally, some states have requirements about paid leave, so definitely check your state’s requirements.

Beyond that, many companies have policies where they offer certain types of paid leave for personal reasons, going beyond the current laws. There may be paid leave for personal or family issues, as well as a certain number of weeks of parental leave when a child is born. And although many companies are now broadening paternal leave policies to match maternal leave, it’s important to see how—or whether—your company differentiates between the two when it comes to parental leave.

Sick days often fall under this heading—some companies offer a certain number of paid sick days per year, while others don’t necessarily track the number of paid sick days until you hit a certain number.

Retirement Plans

Like health insurance, retirement investment plans are among the most common types of employment benefits you’ll see. In these plans (including 401(K)s, Roth IRAs, 403(B)s, and similar investment plans), employees can set aside a certain amount of their pre-tax salary toward retirement funds. Some companies also have a “matching” program, where they’ll match an employee’s own contributions and contribute that same amount to the employee’s retirement account (usually capped at a set amount each year). This matching is not a given, however, so definitely ask as part of your initial benefits conversation with your company.

These retirement plans often have strict rules, like penalties for withdrawing funds before the employee is a certain age or limits on how much can be contributed/withdrawn in a single year.

Relocation Expenses

If your new job is in your current town, great—you likely won’t need to uproot your life to take it. If you’re moving to a new place for this job, or changing locales in general, it’s important to ask about whether the company provides any relocation expenses. This can include covering moving costs like transportation, temporary housing, or other incidental costs that can come up in the course of moving from one place to another.

If a company offers relocation expenses, it may offer a percentage of your initial salary, a flat amount marked for moving expenditures, or the entire cost of the move.

Professional Development

Once a company has invested in you as an employee, it makes sense that they would also have an interest in making sure you grow and improve professionally. To that end, many companies offer built-in benefits geared toward helping you learn more about your field or picking up skills that will help you advance. This could be a yearly budget for attending seminars or conferences (including travel) or money earmarked for classes or other professional development programs. For example, it’s unlikely that your job will pay you to learn German if you won’t be visiting the Berlin office, but that management seminar might be an easy sell.

Tuition Reimbursement

If you’re in school while also working, your company may offer a program that reimburses you for full or partial education expenses. This could be a standalone course or workshop, or full-time enrollment at a college or university. It’s more common to see official tuition reimbursement programs at big companies, but even small ones might be willing to negotiate flexible work time or reimbursement plans on a smaller level.

If tuition reimbursement is relevant to you, it’s crucial to understand what the company’s policies are—for example, does the coursework need to be related to your specific job/field, or will they reimburse a broader range of classes?

As you can see, benefits can help turn your job from “new job” into “established part of my life.” There are ways for a company to compensate beyond the bottom-line salary number, and the more you know about the different kinds of compensation, the more ammo you’ll have for negotiating for more and better benefits.

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