Looking for a job means compromising. You probably will not find the perfect position in the perfect location with the perfect salary (unless you’re offered a job at Google). But you should not compromise benefits.
Although most of us look at a starting salary and get big green dollar signs in our eyes, benefits boil down to more than just being able to afford a doctor. Believe it or not, benefits are actually a better predictor for enjoying your job than salary alone.
The Benefits of Benefits
The bread and butter of a good benefits package is, of course, health insurance. It isn’t the sexiest job benefit, but it’s probably the most valuable.
A catastrophic health problem can bankrupt even someone making a six-figure salary, and unpaid medical bills were the leading cause of U.S. bankruptcies last year. That includes many people with health insurance and decent salaries.
I’m not trying to scare you. Preparing for something doesn’t mean you’re expecting it to happen. In fact, research shows it’s wisest to think optimistically, even while preparing for the worst.
Beyond the added peace of mind that a case of appendicitis won’t send you to the poor house, a good benefits package is also a sign of a company that actually cares about its employees.
Benefits are expensive for a company, and offering things like insurance or childcare represents a real effort to provide a good experience for employees. That’s a good predictor for your overall experience.
Research shows that work engagement and satisfaction increase with better benefits. According to the 2013 Aflac WorkForces Report, 68 percent of workers who are satisfied with their overall benefits packages are also satisfied with their jobs, compared to only 5 percent of workers who are satisfied with their jobs but not satisfied with their benefits packages.
5 Perks to Look for When Job Hunting
If you want to be happy with your job, benefits will matter as much as (if not more than) salary in the long run. But what should you look for in a new job?
Here are a few benefit options you should ask about during the interview process:
1. Health Insurance or a Defined Contribution Plan
Knowing an employer offers health insurance is not as cut-and-dry as you might think. Does the company offer a one-size-fits-all plan, or do you have different plan options? Are your preferred physicians in the network?
As insurance costs have risen, some employers have stopped offering their own health plans altogether. They may offer a defined contribution plan instead, which means they essentially give employees a fixed dollar amount to choose their own health coverage. They put the power of choice in your hands, but they can be expensive if you end up paying 100 percent of the deductible out of pocket in an emergency.
2. Dental and Vision Insurance
Annual or biannual visits to the dentist and optometrist can be costly for you and your family — especially if you end up needing eyewear or dental work.
3. Voluntary and Ancillary Benefits
Life insurance, short- and long-term disability, childcare, eldercare, and a 401(k) are all perks that you should weigh heavily when choosing an employer. These are benefits younger employees may discount, but they become increasingly more important as you get older and have family members depending on your income.
4. Wellness Programs
A good employer will provide incentives to stay healthy, such as gym memberships or smoking cessation classes.
5. Time Off
Vacation time is an obvious must, but what about maternity and paternity leave? Other benefits, like flex-time or working from home, can be advantages as well.
It’s important to ask as many upfront questions as possible so there are no surprises once it comes time to sign up for — or use — your benefits. To avoid mind-numbing piles of paperwork, determine whether your employer has a computerized system to manage your benefits. There are plenty of systems that make it easy to choose, enroll in, and use your benefits.
And with healthcare reform dramatically changing the healthcare landscape, it’s more important than ever for employees to understand their options. Ask potential employers if they have someone on staff who will explain the benefits and enrollment processes.
Don’t worry about asking too many questions about benefits when considering a job. An employer who goes the extra mile to provide good benefits will want to tell you all about them.
When considering a job offer, don’t just take the money and run — make sure the employer offers good benefits, as well as a cushy salary, so you can relax and focus on a job you love without worry.
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