Salary freezes, enemy to the employee raise, are in the financial forecast for many industries. It can make a new job look less appealing, but in this economy, you have to consider your entire compensation. The package of employee benefits you earn can dramatically affect the bottom line of each job. So before you can make a fair evaluation of your compensation, you have to evaluate your employee benefit plan.
Before the recession, a competitive employee benefit plan might have included such perks as on site massage and yoga classes, an in-house juice bar or even an employee basketball court. Now that the fiscal realties are changing, it’s even more important to consider the real, tangible value of what an employer is offering, above and beyond a paycheck, in return for your time and hard work.
You should absolutely have a checklist in mind, and know which benefits you should consider mandatory.
Here is MainStreet's benefits checklist:
1. Health Insurance
For your physical wellness and overall peace of mind, there’s no employee benefit more vital than medical insurance. Period. The only time you should even consider a job without insurance might be if you’re part-time, or applying to an extremely small, family-run business (and the position is so coveted or specialized that you’re willing to forego this and pay for health insurance on your own; but bear in mind it could cost you several hundred dollars, maybe more, per month).
If you are offered insurance, take a good look at your options. The standard at most firms is an HMO (health maintenance organization) plan, under which you choose from a pre-selected list of primary care physicians, and are allowed a certain number of visits, usually once a year, with referrals required for any specialized treatments. The HMO system can be cumbersome, inflexible and time-consuming, but it’s certainly better than nothing. Find out how much of your insurance premiums your employer will cover: “most” is good, but “all” is better.
If you are so fortunate, you may be offered a better and more flexible range of health care plans—including PPO (preferred provider organization), PPO plus, etc.—though you may have to pay a bit more for those options.
2. Flexible Spending Accounts
Often, employee health care packages are augmented by flexible spending accounts, which let you set pre-tax dollars aside in an account you to use to pay for approved medical expenses such as doctor visits, prescriptions and eyeglasses.
3. 401(k) Plan
This is one benefit you can’t afford to overlook regardless of your age or salary. Sure, the stock market is taking a beating, but with the erosion of the company pension, the 401(k) is often one of the best options for retirement planning. If your employer does offer a 401(k) plan, and any competitive business should, you’ll want to find out whether they provide a matching program, whereby they’ll match, and in some cases, even better, your own personal contributions with every paycheck.
4. Compensation Time and Flex Time
As the saying goes, time is money. Naturally, you'll want to know about any paid time off your employer promises, in the form of vacation, personal days, etc. A good employer recognizes time off as a key to keeping employees relaxed, healthy and sane. Two weeks is still fairly standard in the corporate market, but people working in education or nonprofits may enjoy dramatically different vacation privileges. Consider asking about opportunities to telecommute, so you could work from home occasionally, or even regularly.
5. Child Care
If you have children, you'll surely want to ask whether they offer any subsidized child care benefits, whether through an on-site daycare facility or if they'll reimburse you for the costs for an independent facility. Childcare is often one of the biggest expenses for young families, so be sure you investigate all the relevant options in this area. If you have dependent children in your life, or if you may be starting a family in the near future , try to get a feel for how family-friendly your employer will be (for this, don't just take the word of the HR department, but try to ask around among current employees).
6. School Tuition
Consider any opportunities for career development: will your employer pay for (or contribute to) classes or seminars relevant to your profession that can help you to grow and expand your skills? Some employers will even help to pay for a full degree program, such as an MBA, if it's relevant to your career.
7. Physical Fitness Benefits
More employers are offering fitness incentives through their health insurance plans, which may include discounted gym memberships, rewards for those who wish to quit smoking, sponsorship of activities like corporate softball or basketball teams, road races and more. Ask if your employer has something like this in place (and if not, maybe you can get one started).
In today's economy every benefit helps.
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