“Well you sure can’t eat benefits!”
I remember this conversation vividly from my childhood, as my dad talked to one of his younger coworkers at the time. My dad has worked for a public utility company for many years. He has a defined pension, free health/vision/dental insurance, and a generous 401(k) equivalent match among other benefits.
His coworker was complaining because his net paycheck was slightly lower than what he would receive if he went out to work as a contractor for a private construction company. My dad was trying to explain to him the monetary value in the free benefits that he received at his current job, and the above statement was his reply. He just did not get it.
I don’t know what happened to my dad’s coworker, but I do know how important it is to factor the value of your employee benefits into your total compensation package.
A Free Master’s Degree
When you are evaluating a job offer you should know that it is generally acceptable to negotiate your benefits, as well as your base pay. Many companies have more flexibility with their benefits package than they do with the base salary they can offer, and while this may not give you more money in your paycheck each week, it can add up to serious value over the long run.
When I was evaluating job offers for my current job, I decided to take one that offered considerably less salary because of the free tuition benefit. I work at a university, but free tuition for employees is not always a provided benefit in the education sector.
At my university, however, I can take up to six credit hours each semester for free, at any degree level. I am six credit hours away from graduating with my master’s degree, and my only expenses will have been a few hundred dollars in textbooks (which I rented, of course!). I was more than willing to take a lower salary temporarily while avoiding the cost of a master’s degree.
This free tuition benefit is worth $1,250 per month. Had I taken the better-paying job, I still could not have afforded to pay my own way through a master’s degree. Once I graduate with this degree I can then request a degree completion bonus, or simply begin looking for new jobs.
Evaluating Your Benefits Package
Free tuition, or a tuition assistance program, are excellent benefits, but they are only one piece of your overall benefits package. Traditional benefits often include some form of health, vision, and dental insurance, along with paid vacation, paid sick leave, disability insurance, a life insurance policy, workers comp, a retirement plan, and a 401(k) match.
In recent years, additional benefits have become common in the workplace such as: free lunches, free snacks, free coffee or beer, child care assistance, paid volunteer days, patent/trademark assistance, gym memberships, telecommute options, relaxed dress code, adoption assistance, dog friendly workplaces, and company cars.
As you can imagine, these benefits can add up to a significant sum, and the overall value of these benefits should be heavily weighed in addition to the base salary. Taking a job should be as much about your quality of life as it is your paycheck. Happy employees make better employees, and benefits are one of the chief ways that companies try to make their employees happy!
If you have dreams of owning or running a business one day, what benefits do you plan to offer your employees to promote the best work possible? How does your current benefits package compare to any of the above options? Have you negotiated your benefits package? How did it go?
DJ works in financial services at a large public university. He lives in the Southeast with his wife and young daughter.