Negotiate for These Employee Perks
Job seekers spend a lot of time fretting about salary as they go on interviews and head into the negotiations between receipt and acceptance of an offer.
If you give a number that is too low when asked what your expected salary is, you may be leaving money on the table. Give a number that is unreasonably high, and you may be pricing yourself out of a good career move.
But all that fixation on salary can leave us overlooking other perks and benefits in a job offer. In fact, recruiters say that in a good job offer, salary should only account for about 70 percent of your total compensation, with the rest coming in perks and benefits.
Those perks can often be used as a negotiating chip to find a happy medium between employer and would-be-employee. In other words, salary is still king, but other benefits can contribute to your long-term happiness and make it less likely that you'll be on the market looking for something else when you realize there's more to work happiness than the bottom line.
The best time to negotiate is after you've been made an offer but before you accept a job. Some of these perks, however, are worth asking for no matter how long you've been with a company.
The key to any workplace negotiation is to be prepared. Make sure you do some research about what your company is capable of offering, and only ask for benefits you truly care about.
Equality provisions prevent most companies from giving you a higher match percentage. So if the company offers a 5 percent match, that's what you are going to get.
What you may be able to negotiate, however, is the waiting period before you start contributing to a 401k. Companies often have new hires wait anywhere from a month to a year before the can contribute to a 401k plan and tap into that company match.
You may be able to negotiate an early start to your 401k benefit which, even if the company doesn’t match, will increase your retirement savings and lessen the tax hit you take in your first year on the job.
If the company doesn’t offer a 401k or retirement savings plan, that's your queue to ask for a bigger salary so you can set aside a portion of it for retirement savings.
More than half of all workers in the U.S. have access to wellness programs and they're increasingly becoming something employees take a close look at instead of the afterthought they once were.
Employers like wellness programs because a well-run wellness program will usually pay for itself, in terms of lowering the employer's share of health insurance premiums.
Some employers will offer you a lower premium if you agree to a health assessment. Others will offer perks for completing different health tasks.
At Whole Foods Market, for example, all employees receive a 20 percent store discount. But that discount can be increased to as much as 30 percent if employees reach certain health markers, such as maintaining a healthy weight and keeping their cholesterol down.
Professional Development and Education
A 2014 Northwestern Mutual guide for job changers found that half of all employers surveyed offered some sort of reimbursement for undergraduate and graduate courses, with the average maximum cap being $5,000.
Most employers put some strings on educational reimbursement: the degree you're pursuing has to be related to your current job or a job the employer thinks you may be suited to fill in the future.
You also may be required to stay with the company for a certain period of time after the reimbursement. Leave before that time period, and you may owe the company money. Still, with colleges costs constantly increasing, that commitment to stay for a certain time period may still be worth it.
Most employers budget a per-employee expenditure for professional development. But not all employees tap into the funds for courses, training and travel to conferences related to their work.
So there is likely extra money in the budget if you find a training, course or conference and can make the case to your manager that it will help you in your work. The key here is simply asking what is feasible.
How much does your commute lop off the top of your salary? On average, it's about $2,600 for the typical American worker when you add up gas, tolls and wear and tear on your car.
Public transportation passes can run several hundred dollars per month, depending on the metro area you live.
The person who coined the phrase, "You have to spend money to make money," probably didn’t have commuting in mind, but it certainly applies here.
So it pays – literally – to ask your employer what they can do to help you cut those costs. Do enough people at your company use public transportation to qualify for a group discount on monthly passes? Do you travel enough for work to qualify for a company car?
And, of course, make sure you ask for help with tolls and gas if you're driving to work.
More Vacation Time
For a long time, two weeks of vacation, nine paid holidays, five sick days and three personal days seemed to be standard for the American worker. But during the great recession, a lot of companies tried to scale back these offerings to avoid making layoffs.
Some places give employees a bank of 15 days that can be used for all of those days that you need to take off. Others have increased waiting times for new hires before they're eligible for vacation pay.
Make sure you understand your company's paid time off policies before accepting an offer, and make a realistic estimate on whether or not it's going to work for you. If you have school-age kids, a family-wide outbreak of the chicken pox can eat up all those personal days you had been saving for the family vacation to Disney.
Along those lines, if your would-be employer can't or won't budge on salary, see if they'll throw in some extra vacation time. Employers tend to have much more flexibility with things like vacation time than, say, 401k matches or health care payments, which usually have their own set of legal requirements outside of the company's control.
If you have to move to take a new job, you shouldn’t think that relocation assistance is limited to turning in the receipt for the U-Haul truck for reimbursement on your first expense check.
Think of all the costs that go into moving: everything from cable activation fees to the cost of breaking your lease before you move. Have a nanny with a contract that calls for a payout if you break it? That's an expense you wouldn’t be paying if you weren't moving to accept this new job.
You have to be realistic when calculating these costs, and then you need to be frank when discussing them with your employer.
And don’t overlook cost of living increases and decreases: $100,000 in salary doesn’t go nearly as far in hot housing markets like Boston and San Francisco as it does in other places.
If your would-be employer says they really want you but then balks at helping you make a big move to accept the position, it might be a red flag on accepting the offer.
Particularly if an offer means you have to move to a new city, make sure you research cost of living differences. There are plenty of online calculators to help you figure out how far a dollar will go in your new town, and scanning real estate ads will help you get a feel for what new expenses you may incur.
If your interview includes talking with employees at the company, request to speak with an employee who relocated to accept the position. They will have the best handle on cost of living differences, as well as non-monetary adjustments you should expect.
If the company is willing to invest in moving you, they want it to work out. They may have ways to help you, including housing subsidies.
The company may also be willing to pay for short-term housing for you so your spouse can stay behind in your old home to let kids finish a school year, sell the house and tie up loose ends before you make the permanent move.
The more seamless your transition to your new home, the more likely they are to end up with a happy and productive employee.
The biggest mistake employees make when asking for a flexible schedule or the option of working from home is they focus on their needs, not their employers’ needs.
Yes, it's great to be able to see the kids off to school, catch up on housework when things are slow at the "office" and work in your pajamas. But your employer doesn’t want to hear about those perks when considering your request for a flexible schedule.
Instead, point out that Stanford Research shows work space and schedule flexibility may increase worker happiness and productivity. Use it as a means of solving a problem: if the office is getting too cramped, your willingness to work from home and grab space in the conference room when you do need to be onsite may be solving a problem for your employer.
Make sure you understand your manager's concerns about not having you on site and make a plan to address those concerns before they become issues.
An Earlier Review
So the company comes back to you with a salary offer that is close but not quite what you're looking for.
You sense that this is as high as they're going to go, so it's starting to seem like another round of counter offering is going to be a waste of everyone's time.
Your best option here is to ask for an earlier review. If you can get a raise after three- or six-months instead of the standard one-year waiting time, that's may be enough to bridge the gap between you wanted and what you were offered.
In return, the company gets an employee that is motivated to prove herself and make an impact in a short amount of time.
A Better Title
It's been said that the best time to update your resume is you start a new job, and what better update can you make than an impressive title? While you shouldn’t enter a new job thinking about leaving, the better title will go a long way when it does come time to make your next move.
Make sure you know the company's structure and your position in it: it may not be feasible to ask for a better title if you're in an organization where a lot of people have the same title as you do already. And it helps if you can do some research within your industry to figure out what the norms are.
The key here is to make a fact-based argument: don't simply go in saying you want or deserve a better title. Have the data that shows why you deserve the title.
If your company expects you to buy a uniform, it should be standard that they reimburse you for the purchase.
If it isn't, ask. But employees in other lines of work who are expected to present a certain appearance should also be reimbursed for a portion or all of their wardrobe expenses.
It's not uncommon for executives to have as much as $20,000 per year built into their compensation package, solely for wardrobe expenses.
Guaranteed Severance Package
If you’re being hired as part of a turnaround plan for a company that has had a rough recent history, accepting an offer in a startup, or in an industry where sudden turns of fortune are common, this should be a key part of your negotiations.
Sacrificing some salary for a guarantee if things turn sour is worth the peace of mind and allows you to better focus on the task you were hired for.
Standard severance packages are one to two weeks of pay for each year of service, eligibility for COBRA benefits and a cash out of your unused personal time off. At the executive level, however, you want at least six months guaranteed salary regardless of how long you have been with the company. You should also get your company to pay for six months of executive coaching and other outplacement services.
At any level, you need to ask about what happens if the company lays you off or files for Chapter 11. This is a touchy area for most hiring managers, so approach it with tact and discussion. You also want to understand whether those safety nets extend to you if you are fired.
The average family spends close to $12,000 per year per child on daycare — and often more if you hire a full-time nanny or live in metropolitan areas where everything is more expensive. Companies realize that, and many are now implementing programs to help you with these costs.
Many company now offer flexible spending accounts modeled after similar accounts for health care expenses. You set aside up to $5,000 annually in pre-tax dollars, and those dollars remain untaxed as long as you use them on childcare expenses, like daycare or a nanny.
Keep in mind you usually lose unspent dollars at the end of the year, so if you or your spouse are anticipating a change in life circumstances, these may not be the best option for you. But if they are, the tax savings can add up to as much as $1,500 annually.
Other employers offer more direct help. On-site daycare, direct reimbursement for a portion of childcare expenses and company-negotiated childcare discounts are all important things to ask about if you have kids or think you may have kids at some point in the future.
Shorter Work Week
Does it make a difference to your boss if you work five eight-hour days or four ten-hour days to make your 40-hour work week?
Four- and even three-day work weeks are becoming more common as employers try to give employees with more flexibility without sacrificing productivity. There are some hidden perks in the shorter work week as well: they generally call for you to head to work earlier or leave later, meaning you may be missing rush hour traffic.
The key in asking for this perk is once again flexibility. Acknowledge there may be weeks where you have to come into the office all five days, or you may need to at least be reachable on that fifth day.
Also be willing to agree to a trial period: if you find that the four-day workweek doesn’t work for you or your manager, you'll both have the option of reverting back to a more traditional schedule.