When you were interviewing and negotiating for your last job, you were probably focused on the salary they were offering. That makes sense — the amount of money that shows up in your direct deposit every two weeks is important, and knowing what number you’ll start at may help you figure out what your growth potential would look like at that company.
But just as vital as your salary are the benefits that come with it. A 2018 Glassdoor survey of 1,100 employed or job-seeking adults in the U.S. found that the most important factor that would drive them to apply to a job opening is exciting benefits and perks.
So what are the major categories of benefits to consider, what are the latest offerings within them, and how can you best ask for them if your company doesn’t offer them yet?
Not all benefits are created equal
The federal government mandates that employers offer certain benefits. Those include disability, minimum wage, overtime, and workers’ compensation. Large companies (those with more than 50 employees) have to offer health care, but small companies don’t, and companies of any size aren’t required to offer dental, vision, sick leave, personal leave, retirement plans, or life insurance, among other common benefits. (They do have to offer leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act, but the time off is unpaid.) If an employer does offer additional benefits, including paid leave, they do so at their own discretion.
When thinking about benefits on offer beyond the ones mandated by the government, you can break them up into a few major categories: health and wellness (your smorgasbord of insurances: health, dental, and vision, along with perks like free gym memberships or on-site flu shots), work flexibility (like work-from-home options, vacation packages, and flexible hours), family flexibility (think paid parental leave and daycare reimbursement), long-term (your retirement plans, life insurance, and stock options), training and teambuilding (retreats, conferences stipends, and tuition assistance), and other (which could include anything from free snacks and foosball to work covering your WiFi bill).
And according to a Harvard Business Review study, some of those are valued more highly than others. Better health, dental, and vision insurance tops the list of most-important benefits, followed by flexible hours, added vacation time, and the ability to work from home.
What’s new on the benefits circuit?
Benefits are just another part of how you’re compensated for your work. And with today’s 3.7 percent unemployment rate — the lowest in almost 50 years, as NPR reported — you may be able to command more compensation than in more austere times.
Employers are keeping up. Here are some of the latest offerings in each category:
Health and wellness
A 2019 survey of 147 large employers showed that almost 40 percent of respondents were worried about their companies’ high-cost health insurance claims. To address the rising cost of healthcare and provide more options for employees located around the globe, companies have started to implement virtual healthcare solutions, which can include health care delivered via phone or video, digital health coaching, and sleep monitoring.
(My old company offered teledoctor services, and let me tell you, if you’ve never FaceTimed a doctor to get their expert advice on a headache that won’t go away, it’s much more reassuring than trolling WebMD and much more convenient than queuing in a cough-filled Urgent Care waiting room.)
Companies, particularly in the uber-competitive technology and finance fields, have started to offer elective egg freezing, a procedure that can extend fertility options but usually comes with a $10,000-and-up price tag. While it’s often lauded as a thoughtful benefit, Business Insider noted that some critics say that offering egg freezing as an employer benefit can send a message that work should come first and that a family should take a back seat to career ambitions.
Beyond revamping the delivery of healthcare and what’s covered, companies are also investing in more wellness and relaxation options, even while at work; both NASA and Google offer nap pods, whose rejuvenating effects have been said to fend off a mid-afternoon slump, and Microsoft offers employees a $800 annual reimbursement for “wellness-related expenses that help you get and stay fit physically, emotionally, and financially.”
Companies are innovating not just how they do work, but from where and when they do it.
Several companies have adopted a four-day work week, like tech-education company Treehouse, whose CEO told The Atlantic that doing so gives employees “a more balanced total life” and that the company “take[s] ridiculous good care of people because [they] think it’s the right thing to do.”
And many companies who still stick to a Monday-through-Friday routine have incorporated remote work policies into their workflows, allowing employees to work from home, from coworking spaces like WeWork, or as they travel, and offering flexibility to shift schedules around based on convenience, competing priorities, and preferences.
Aside from offering more inclusive parental leave policies — Netflix now offers a full year of paid time off to both mothers and fathers; KPMG covers up to $20,000 of adoption costs per child, according to NBC News — companies are also starting to offer specific perks to help support parents as they reenter the workforce.
“Companies [are] beginning to think about team member needs relative to various life stages or milestones,” Kelly Ann Doherty, EVP and Chief People & Communications Officer for home loan servicer Mr. Cooper Group, said. “Some organizations offer coaches to parents returning to work after [parental] leave. Others are addressing the needs of new mothers who have to travel for work by offering services like Milk Stork that allow them to get their refrigerated breast milk home from anywhere in the world.”
This area of benefits seems to have seen the least amount of innovation, which doesn’t bode well for the future retirement of today’s workforce.
According to Willis Towers Watson, in 2017, just 16 percent of Fortune 500 companies were still offering some sort of pension plan to new employees. Others offer 401ks, which put the responsibility of saving on the employees. Some companies are offering financial wellbeing resources, according to Alight Solutions’ 2019 study, like advisory services, to employees, but this area of benefits continues to stay largely stagnant.
Training and team-building
The biggest advances in this benefit space seem to have been in companies footing the bill for educational opportunities — both forwards- and backwards-looking. Bank of America, Gap, and Ford all offer over $5,000/year in tuition reimbursement to qualifying employees, according to Business Insider, and companies like PwC have rolled out programs where they will help pay off employees’ student loans, even for degrees finished before the employees joined the company.
How to advocate for the benefits you deserve
If your company doesn’t offer the above benefits, you don’t need to jump ship just yet. You may have the opportunity to shape their offerings and change things both for you and for all the employees who will come after you.
“Being heard is important,” Doherty said, and added that employees should take advantage of whatever communication methods are available to them, whether those are sit-downs with line managers or engagement surveys sent out by HR. She suggested that employees looking for new benefits bring research of other companies who have done so to good results, noting that it’s always helpful for change-adverse companies to see concrete evidence that they might be falling behind.
If you’re in a position to negotiate with your company — whether it’s the last stage of the interview process or something you’re bringing up after a successful performance review — do so with confidence. You are your own best advocate, and you deserve to be compensated for all you do.