5 Underrated Company Benefits You Need to Consider When Negotiating a Lowball Offer
The interviews are finally behind you. Your reference checks have cleared.
And after waiting with bated breath for what felt like forever, you get the call: “We want to hire you!”
If you’re like most people, the first thing that probably pops into your mind is how plum a paycheck you can negotiate.
But while we’d never discourage anyone from going for the big bucks, your salary shouldn’t serve as the be-all and end-all of what you look for in a new job offer.
You heard right.
In fact, salary typically accounts for only about 70% of an employee’s total compensation.
According to the Northwestern Mutual guide, Changing Jobs: Top Financial Considerations Beyond Salary, a 2015 Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) stat indicates that the remaining 30% is made up of benefits.
So if you’re not being offered quite as big a salary bump as you’d like, keep in mind that there are additional things you can ask for to augment your compensation package, says Alyssa Gelbard, founder and president of New York-based career consultancy Resume Strategists.
On the flip side, you could land a $10,000 pay increase—only to discover that you’ll be leaving behind benefits at your current employer that are actually worth more than that new salary.
“Say you’re giving up a week of vacation, leaving a portion of your bonus on the table, or losing out on tuition reimbursement—that $10,000 increase can get eaten up really fast [if you lose these kinds of benefits],” says Bruce Elliott, a compensation and benefits manager at the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).
So even if you’re stoked about your new salary, it’s still important not to overlook other package perks—like these five benefits that have the potential to really help boost your bottom line.
1. Don’t Overlook a 401K Match
Saving for your golden years can often feel like a tall financial order—so why pass up an opportunity to have your employer help contribute to your nest egg?
That’s where a 401K match comes in.
“It can actually be quite valuable,” says Kerry Chou, a senior practice leader specializing in compensation at WorldatWork. “Since many companies have abandoned pension plans, this is a way to contribute [to employees’ retirement].”
So what kind of difference can a match really make?
According to a 2015 Aon Hewitt study, the most popular matching plan is currently dollar-for-dollar up to a certain percentage of an employee’s salary—with 42% of employers currently offering this formula.
So let’s say you get 50% of your contribution matched up to 6% of your $75,000 salary at your current job. Meanwhile, a potential new employer offers a slightly lower salary of $70,000—but will match 100% of your contribution up to 6%.
Assuming you contributed 6% of your salary, and saw a hypothetical annual return of 7%, in 30 years, the nest egg at your new job would actually be over $161,000 larger than if you’d stayed at your old job.
2. Don’t Overlook Added Insurance Perks
It’s no secret that medical costs are on the rise: A 2015 Kaiser Family Foundation study found that the amount workers contribute to their family’s medical premiums has skyrocketed by 83% since 2005.
So before saying yes to a new employer, do the math to see whether higher out-of-pocket costs could be in your future—and possibly impact your negotiations.
According to the Northwestern Mutual guide for job changers, a 2015 Employee Benefit Research Institute survey found that 40% of people would actually give up a wage increase just to maintain their existing health coverage.
But it’s worth noting that subsidizing premiums isn’t the only way that companies can help cover employee health care costs.
For example, is your future employer offering a contribution to a health savings account or health reimbursement account?
If you have a high-deductible plan, that company’s money could be used to help offset deductibles and such costs as prescriptions or laboratory fees.
There are also other types of insurance policies a company may offer that can provide added protection in the event of an accident or illness.
For instance, employer-provided disability insurance could help replace a portion of your income—typically 50% to 60%—if you’re unable to work.
Your future employer may also choose to use short-term disability coverage to replace all or a portion of your income during maternity leave, so it’s all the more important to check coverage details if you think you’ll be growing your family.
3. Don’t Overlook Wellness Programs
So you say your new company offers great health insurance…but would they pay you to hit the treadmill on a regular basis at the gym?
“Wellness programs are gaining in popularity,” Chou says—a statement that’s backed by a 2014 BLS stat in the Northwestern Mutual guide for job changers, which shows that 54% of full-time workers have access to corporate wellness programs.
Some companies may offer to lower your medical insurance premium if you agree to take a health-risk assessment. Others may offer rewards ranging from $10 to $500 for completing healthy tasks, like getting a flu shot or completing a triathlon—and even achieving ideal biometric targets for cholesterol or blood pressure.
Your prospective employer may even offer to subsidize programs that could help you address less-than-stellar health habits.
For example, “if you’re a smoker, they may pay for your [smoking-cessation] program, or your weight-loss program,” Chou says.
4. Don’t Overlook Professional Development Perks
Your top-notch experience is what helped you nab your new gig, but further building your skills for the next career step could be a costly endeavor.
But what if your employer could help foot some of that bill?
“Most companies will budget professional development on a per-employee basis,” Elliott says. “It could be anything from classes in specific disciplines to conferences, seminars, or tuition reimbursement.”
According to 2014 SHRM research cited in the Northwestern Mutual guide for job changers, half of companies offered some type of undergraduate or graduate educational assistance, with the average maximum reimbursement averaging $5,000.
But in order to qualify for such perks, your prospective employer may attach strings to a tuition benefit.
Typically, the offering “has to be related to what you’re doing now, or what [your employer] thinks you could do in the future,” Chou says.
An employer may also require you to stay for a minimum number of years at the company—if you leave before then, you may be required to pay back the tuition.
But that kind of commitment may be worth it for education that could impact present success and future promotions.
“If your employer is offering professional certifications or robust professional development, [those are things] that [future] employers will look at when they are shopping for new hires,” Elliott says.
5. Don’t Overlook Commuter Perks
The average American spends $2,600 annually to commute to work, according to the 2015 Citi ThankYou Premier Commuting Index.
But chances are your prospective employer may be willing to help alleviate some of that outlay.
“If you drive to work, consider asking for mileage, tolls, gas, or parking reimbursement,” Gelbard says. “And if your role requires a lot of travel, you can also inquire about a company car.”
Big-city workers, meanwhile, can consider asking an employer to help offset the cost of a monthly public-transit pass with pre-tax dollars.
Plus, there’s also the possibility of not having to deal with a commute at all—at least part of the time.
“The opportunity to negotiate flexible work arrangements is really gaining momentum,” Chou says. “I work from home three days a week. Those days when I don’t have to get up earlier, and [experience] the headache of rush hour, I’m happier.”
How to Negotiate Work Perks Like a Pro
“Once you get to the part of the hiring process when you start to discuss compensation, they’ve already made the decision to hire you,” Elliott says. “So it never hurts to ask for [better perks]. The worst they can do is say no.”
But could you increase your odds of hearing more yays than nays? Quite possibly—if you heed these tips from our workplace pros.
Know What’s Negotiable—and What’s Off the Table
Don’t bother trying to negotiate things like 401K contributions or disability coverage—those benefits are subject to greater legal scrutiny.
But if what the company is offering in non-negotiable areas isn’t up to your expectations, you may be able to negotiate a different benefit that might be able to make a similar difference.
For instance, if a company 401K isn’t offered, you could try for a bigger bonus—parts of which you could then divert to a retirement account later.
Or “if the company’s medical plan doesn’t offer gym reimbursement, ask for it,” Gelbard suggests. “A healthy employee is less of a risk for the company financially, so it could make sense for them [to offer the benefit] in the long run.”
Request a Breakdown of Your Total Package
To get a big-picture idea of what your current benefits bring to the table, ask your human resources department for a total rewards statement, suggests Elliott.
“A lot of midsize and large employers today offer [them], at least on an annual basis,” he adds. “It details an employee’s cash compensation, plus what the company contributes toward the benefits.”
With this in hand, you can then better compare your current statement against what your new company is offering to help determine what you’re really worth.
Do a Competitive Analysis
If you do some research to see which perks are common for your industry, it could make it harder for your new company to say no.
“Understand what it is that you want, and how it relates to the market,” Elliott advises. “If a lot of your prospective company’s competitors offer telecommuting, for example, but your future employer doesn’t, [then you’ll know] you’re not asking for something out of the ordinary.”
If they still won’t budge, remind them that these perks can help reflect the true value of what you bring to the company.
“Outline how you drove business growth, cost savings, efficiency, or process improvement—and include expertise and skills you’ve gained from prior work experience,” Gelbard suggests. “This can show management you’re worth more.”
Photo of money courtesy of Shutterstock.
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