Career & Finance

Stop Thinking Salary, Start Thinking Compensation


Most of us equate the word “salary” to “compensation” and that can shortchange us on all of the other things we can actually gain from our workplace! You might be surprised to see how many other benefits are available to you in addition to your salary that you can start considering part of your compensation.

Whether you’re on the verge of a new job offer or just ensuring you can get the most out of your current job, read on for some ideas about how you can be compensated in the workplace—in addition to your salary!

  • Commission and Bonus: Be sure you understand how commission works! For most companies, a commission varies from a bonus structure. With commission, you are generally making more of your money based on some aspect of production, along with having a lower “base” salary. This usually differs from a bonus, which can still be based on your value to the company and productivity, but usually isn’t intended to compensate for a greater portion of routine pay. Since bonuses and commissions are rarely guaranteed, be sure you’re comfortable with this being a varied part of compensation.
  • Health Care: Healthcare coverage through your employer is often an affordable and easy option—and often there a number of plans to choose from to fit you (or your family). Your company usually pays a significant portion of health care premiums. Be sure you know what you are getting!
  • Paid Holiday and Sick Time: In addition to paid time-off and sick leave, many companies honor national holidays (and even quasi holidays!). Check to see if your company allows “float” holidays. No plans on Columbus Day? Offer to work in exchange for taking Black Monday off to shop from your couch (in a turkey coma).
  • 401k Plan (retirement contributions): Understand up front your employee match of your 401k (and when it maxes out). Sometimes this is negotiable, as a percentage, or can increase after your time with the company increases—giving you a greater opportunity to boost your long-term savings.
  • Pension Plan: Most of us assume that having a defined benefit retirement plan, often known as a pension plan, is pretty much off the table in this day and age. But don’t assume the worst! About a quarter of Fortune 500 companies still offer some sort of pension system, so you may be missing out if you don’t check with your HR professional.
  • Tuition Reimbursement: Getting help with school loans or paying for classes is compensation that’s a win-win for you and the company! You receive “free” money and they get a more skilled employee in return. Some companies will even go so far as to retroactively assist you with tuition by giving funds for school (if you are able to effectively document that the money went to student loan payments).
  • Company Car: Can you demonstrate that you’ll be driving a lot of miles and need to be reimbursed for the miles on the job? If so, you might propose a company car instead of expensing mileage or gas receipts every month. You’ll want to do the math to ensure it’s the best option for your own personal finances, but if core functions of your job require ample transit, this might be another reasonable compensation ask.
  • Parking or Transportation Allowance: Alternatively, if you’re in an urban center, your company may offer subsidized public transit or offer other types of shuttles and ride-share services. If you have to drive to work and parking is a premium, see if this can be expensed or discounted if you park in the building.
  • Company Stock Options or Grants: While this usually comes into play at higher levels in the organization, some companies offer this possibility right off the bat! If so, be sure to get details about when you’d become eligible, including how long you have to be on board, if you need to hold a certain title, or achieve specific performance benchmarks before participating.
  • Health and Wellness Plan: Does your company offer any perks related to staying healthy? Some companies will offer bonuses to your health savings account if you complete an annual physical. Others will even help you make fitness a priority by offering time to work out (during the workday) or encourage nutrition group meetings at the office. Ask around because these perks are often underexploited!
  • Company Perks and Expense-ables: Your company should be able to provide a list of where you might get local or national discounts for things like a cell phone plan or various supplies (if they’re can’t already be expensed outright!). You might also ask about expensing meals when working overtime or at odd hours. These little benefits can add up over time!

Negotiating for compensation… 

We’ve talked a lot about how to negotiate salary, so think of this as an addition to that skill set! You should definitely go about it in much the same way, and sometimes these non-salary “gives” are easier for employers to provide you than an additional raise, making it more likely you’ll get what you’re after.

…and making it work for you.

Other aspects of work compensation can help offset a salary you’re not 100% satisfied with (and boost job satisfaction even further when you are). Calculators like this one can add perspective to the financial value of compensation and make you better positioned to negotiate for them.

Also, think about your work from a more holistic perspective—it can help you make the best decisions when deciding between different job opportunities. Just because a particular salary is higher doesn’t always mean that job provides the best compensation. For example, maybe you value having great stock options at a promising startup and Friday’s off every other week instead of a higher salary at a more traditional office.

Remember, your salary is a very important part of your compensation, but it’s just that: only one part.

Have you negotiated for compensation other than your salary? What are some of your workplace perks?