Most of us know that negotiating our salary is important, but there’s more to compensation than just the amount on your paycheck. It’s important to understand and (where possible) to enhance your benefits so you can be sure your time is being compensated equitably. Here are some of the things you’ll want to look for when negotiating your workplace benefits package.
Employer-Sponsored Health Insurance
One of the most important parts of your compensation is the healthcare insurance offered by your employer. Picking between different insurance plans, or even figuring out exactly what they cost and what they cover, can be completely overwhelming. The good news is you may not need to make any hard decisions now if you are under 26 years old and a willing parent or guardian can cover you under their plan (healthcare.gov).
But we’ll say for the sake for argument that this isn’t an option for you. By law, you can only make changes to your specific health plan during the annual open enrollment period or if you have a significant, qualifying “life event” (such as changing jobs, getting married, having a child, etc.) so you’ll want to make an effort to understand and choose the right package for you (assuming your employer provides you multiple options). That sounds serious, and it is, but just know that you aren’t locked into a single plan forever so don’t panic when it comes time to make your choice.
The key things to consider, from a financial standpoint, are your deductible (the amount you pay out of pocket before insurance starts chipping in) and your premium (how much is taken out of each paycheck to pay for the plan). There is often a tradeoff between the two (e.g. high-deductible, low-monthly premium) which can help you make your decision. Can you afford the weekly or monthly cost for the high-premium package and still have enough money left over to make rent, pay bills, and have a life? Common wisdom generally dictates that you should be spending less than 10% of your household income on insurance.
If you are concerned about the premium, you may want to consider alternatives such as a low-premium, high-deductible plan. Don’t make this decision just because you don’t feel like paying, though, or because you think it will save your money. Look at what the plan covers and think about what that deductible means. How has your health been recently? If you’ve spent a lot of time making high-cost visits to the hospital (these might include ER trips, seeing specialists, etc.) or if you are on expensive medication, then you might want to consider the high-premium, low-deductible plan. Ultimately it comes down to your aversion to risk and cash flow.
There’s More to Your Benefits Than Health Insurance
When looking at your benefits package, take stock of everything your employer has to offer. Do they award stock as part of your compensation? Great! You’d like additional shares, please! Especially if they are Restricted Stock Units which often require no investment (other than time) on your part, unlike stock options.
How does your paid time off (PTO) look for your position? How does it work? Is your PTO “prorated,” in that you are granted all your vacation/sick time starting at the beginning of the fiscal year and you “earn” the hours back as you go? Do you accrue time monthly? Does your PTO rollover to a new year? Ask for more PTO, ask for a better accrual rate, ask for more rollover days between years!
Be wary of companies that offer “unlimited” vacation time, however. This can look enticing at first but then you may find that the company culture doesn’t allow for you to actually take advantage of the perk. Vacation time has to be approved virtually everywhere you will ever work (unless you work for yourself) and it’s no different with “limitless” vacation. Typically, the granting of your request for time is contingent on you hitting specific milestones or goals (or just when it’s convenient for your supervisor for you to be out of the office) which gets tricky when your organizational unit’s goals are nebulous or change periodically. Worse still, this can easily become a slippery slope towards working on vacation, at home, or on nights and weekends because the delineation between work life and home life becomes so degraded. Oh, and they don’t have to pay out your accrued PTO should you decide to leave.
Finally, one perk that’s on the rise that many of you may have already experienced in some form or another during the COVID-19 pandemic is the work-from-home (WFH) benefit! Do you have a flexible work schedule or the opportunity to work from home? Ask for it. Seriously. Unlike some of the other items on this list, a WFH benefit isn’t really all that costly to your employer and may save them money in the long run. Be sure to think about how often you want to be out of the office (working remotely every day definitely isn’t for everyone), how you’ll stay productive/connected to your coworkers, and what you might be missing by being out of the office (e.g. how important is socialization to your office culture?).
So go out there, get that sweet benefits package that makes every new job your dream job, and make your friends say “I didn’t even know to ask for that!”