3 of the Best Employee Benefits You Didn't Know You Had
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For those of us that have day jobs, working 9-5 as the beloved Dolly Parton sings, employee benefits are an entitlement entrenched into our mindset.
Pay for our own healthcare? Ha, in your dreams. If you think we are going to get suited up and drive 45 minutes to an austere office tower under fluorescent lights for nothing (wait, who works in an office anymore?) well then you are mistaken.
You see, back in the day, employee benefits were a powerplay by large organizations to compete for labor and make the public see that they care about their employees and offer ways for them to be compensated outside of their salary. (RIP widespread pensions)
Many companies offer everything from free healthcare, paid vacation, retirement plan matching, and more. Some companies, notably private equity-backed startups, offer even more lucrative benefits such as catered lunches, free daycare, free public transit passes, and even free massage therapy!
I thought I had it made when my first employer out of college had a benefit where they would pay for my Master's degree, which I happily took advantage of.
Then, I had an employer where I got free items of actual use, like backpacks, tumblers, and even a laptop just for completing health challenges like getting a dental cleaning or logging my mindfulness minutes for a month.
Some friends of mine work for companies where not only do they receive huge matches to their retirement plans, they companies deposit money into their HSA (Health Savings Accounts) while also offering subscriptions to mental health therapy (since the staff is now remote).
With the change of the office culture after the pandemic, many employers changed from offering free lunches and onsite daycare, to stipends.
Some companies offer office equipment reimbursements, such as money for a new desk or chair, to subsidizing phone, internet, and electricity for working from home.
This runs in contrast to many small businesses, which don't truly have the flexibility, bargaining power, or funds to provide comprehensive benefits to their employees.
My friend's mother worked as a secretary for a car dealership and then a dental office for decades, and has no retirement savings because they never had a plan for that. She was paid a salary, based on the hours she worked.
With employer benefits so widely variable in each circumstance, this is why it's crucial to consider employee benefits when negotiating your salary.
So, here are 3 employee benefits you may or may not have, but should consider if you do, because it can save you big bucks.
Mental Health Support
We all know how tough these last few years have been (watch me get lambasted by a boomer telling me things have never been better, back in the day she had to read a map instead of using Google Maps among other things). More people are feeling down and disconnected today than ever before.
The pandemic and work-from-home culture made things worse in some cases (not all obviously) because people don't have that in-person social connection they once did. For many people, that was a major source of interaction, because other than your immediate family, who else do you spend that much time with on a daily basis?
Further, many people found themselves unable to deal with the issues of their immediate family, partner, or roommate that they live with. Who can they vent to when in-person gatherings are few and far between? No, video calls aren't the same.
Even more, folks felt disconnected from the world and just down in general because they don't feel their friends understand what was going on in their heads.
Mental Health is a serious issue, and we need to care about it as much as physical health. So, ask if your employer has an EAP (Employee Assistance Program). This usually includes a few free sessions with a licensed therapist, or at least a resource library on overcoming psychological barriers and conditions.
Some employers, as I mentioned, pay for subscriptions to mental health platforms, or apps for mindfulness and meditation. Check if yours has any benefits like this. If not, reach out to your HR about including it as a benefit for employee retention and how much it would mean to you.
Time off to Volunteer
Most people can tell you exactly how much vacation time they get (some are lucky enough to have "unlimited" time off), but how many know their employer may offer them a day or two to take time off to volunteer?
You might be laughing right now thinking "Yeah, I'm sure my employer, who buries me with work through the week and always has deadlines coming up is going to let me take time off to volunteer at the food bank."
Yet, you'd be surprised at the increasing numbers of employers who are finding ways to incorporate stewardship and philanthropy into their workplace culture. Millennials are some of the most socially-conscious and values-driven generations, and they also happen to be the biggest piece of the pie when it comes to U.S workers.
This benefit might be in the form of matching donation dollars to your favorite charity during the holidays, or a day off to volunteer. We just finished talking about mental health. So, you know what one of the best things to do is for your happiness? Volunteer and give your time away to a good cause!
Taking the focus off yourself and into the service of others who might be in a less fortunate place than you, could be the spark you need to find the love of your job, why you do what you do, or reminding you to be grateful for what you already have in life. It will help you look at the big picture.
I know from experience when my previous employer gave us a day off to volunteer, I got to spend time with my colleagues on a sunny mountain slope under pine trees doing work to protect the forest.
I got to know them on a different level, I saw previously tense relationships grow fonder, and we did meaningful work for our environment. Thus, no one lost a precious vacation day for it!
Take a good look at your employee benefits PDF. There may be perks that you didn't even think would be offered to you, but are. I've seen benefits such as pet insurance discounts, car insurance discounts, free templates for legal documents, free consultations with attorneys for estate planning, discounts to theme parks and rental car companies, and even meal-delivery service discounts.
The purpose of this exercise is to make sure you are taking advantage of things you would normally spend money on anyways. I'm not saying sign up for the yacht club membership because the enrollment fee is waived through your employee benefits, I'm saying if you already had a trip planned to drive to Yellowstone National Park to Mount Rainer, why not check to see what hotels and rental car company discounts are available through your employer or related agencies?
In my own experience, I have discovered discounts on hotels as much as 30%, car rental discounts that included free upgrades and insurance, free subscriptions to newspapers and magazines (as an author, you know I'm gonna clean that out), as well as 6 free sessions with a therapist, a few sessions with a nutrition counselor, and free sessions with a personal trainer.
These are valued at hundreds of dollars, and are not always advertised! As I said, read through your employer benefits PDF, and focus on the ones where you already spend money or those that are free to you.
You're not being a mooch or "cheap" by taking advantage of these perks, you're being a frugal FI'er who knows how to get your money's worth!
Any employer benefits you've seen that are out of this world or greatly useful to you?