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11 Benefits You Should Be Taking Advantage of at Work
For the first two years of my previous career, I was largely unaware of many of the employee benefits I was eligible for. Sure, I knew about the health insurance and Social Security and the optional retirement plan, but I was never really made aware of how good some of those options were, and I certainly never knew about some of the other benefits. It was only during the last year or two of my active employment in that career path that I actually began to tap into some of these benefits.
During that period, and after I switched into my freelance writing career, I also began to encourage my wife – and, eventually, some of my closest friends – to seek out some of the extra benefits of their jobs.
It turned out that there were a lot of benefits that we were missing out on. Here are 11 of them to look for at your workplace.
Finding These Benefits for Yourself
A list of potential workplace benefits might not seem particularly useful to some, but if you use it as a starting point and a resource, it really can be.
Although many of these benefits apply to white-collar jobs, even entry-level jobs will have a few of these benefits. You need to ask around (particularly in the human resources office) and carefully read your employee manual to discover which of these, if any, apply to you.
11 Benefits You Might Be Missing
Each of these benefits were things that either myself, my wife, or a close friend of ours had available in the workplace but didn’t notice. Often, it was simply because these benefits were glossed over during their orientation at their new job; in other cases, the benefits were never directly spelled out.
Regardless, you should be taking advantage of these benefits in your workplace if they’re available to you. Check and see if each of these is available to you and, if they are, use them!
Employee Wellness Initiatives
In my wife’s workplace, the employer offers a pretty impressive wellness initiative in cooperation with the employer’s health insurance provider.
In her case, the program takes the form of a web and smartphone application, where she can indicate that she’s taken positive health steps such as exercising, getting a wellness checkup at her doctor, and many other simple things. She usually updates the app twice a day or so.
Why do this? The big reason is that she earns points for entering that information. At the end of each year, everyone who hits a certain point threshold receives some kind of prize. In her case, the most recent prize was a $250 prepaid Visa card. Yep, $250 from her employer for taking normal personal health steps and writing them down.
Another friend of mine was issued a Fitbit when he signed up for work. He was given the option of joining an employee-run Fitbit group, with prizes for the most weekly, monthly, and yearly steps taken.
Many employers offer programs like this. It is far less expensive for an employer to offer some perks for employee health than it is for an employer to deal with lots of illness and lower productivity from their workforce.
While many employers offer some type of retirement plan, the real benefit of such plans is often overlooked by employees.
What’s that real benefit, you ask? Free money.
If your employer offers any sort of matching funds for your 401(k), 403(b), or other retirement plan, this is free money for you. There’s no other way to say it – it’s free money.
All you have to do to claim that free money is to contribute to your own retirement savings, something that you should be doing anyway.
At my previous job, my employer contributed one-for-one up to 6% of contributions. That meant that if I contributed 6% of my salary to my retirement plan, my employer contributed that much more in addition to my own contributions. In other words, my 6% contribution magically turned into a 12% contribution. Taking advantage of that was like getting a 6% raise.
At my wife’s job, they offer a 50% match up to 10% of her contributions. That means if she contributes 10% of her income, they’ll contribute an amount equal to 5% of her income in addition. That’s like getting a 5% raise.
If your employer offers any kind of retirement plan matching like this, you need to be gobbling up every single dime of it. It’s free money.
Employee Assistance Programs
Many employers offer programs to help their employees get through challenging periods in their lives. While I could have separated out many of these programs into their own sections, it really makes sense to just provide a list of such offerings:
- substance abuse assessment and support
- occupational stress assessment and support
- emotional distress assessment and support
- financial counseling
- non-work-related legal counseling
- family, personal, and professional relationship counseling
- work relationship issue resolution
- aging parent support
These are things that many people deal with in their daily lives. If these situations aren’t dealt with efficiently, they can cause a lot of distraction at work and at home; dealing with them well can make your life better and also make you a lot more productive at both work and home.
As with the employee wellness initiatives mentioned above, many employers have realized that offering these kinds of services to employees results in much more productive employees. If your employees have stable and happy lives, then they’re going to be much more reliable, which makes services like this make a lot of sense.
Many employers offer a term life insurance package, often with no additional cost to the employee. It simply provides a lump sum of cash to your dependents if you pass away while in the employ of the company. The trick is, as always, to sign up for it.
At my previous employer, there was no mention whatsoever of life insurance during the orientation process. In fact, it wasn’t a benefit that I was aware of until I read the full employee manual and discovered mention of it in a single paragraph.
When I went to my HR person – and, remember, I’d been there for years at this point – she seemed to barely be aware of it, too. She had to look up information on how to sign people up for the program and seemed almost surprised that it existed.
Yet, there it was. Five years of my salary in a term life insurance package that lasted as long as I was employed there. The price? Virtually nothing.
With young children at home, you better believe I signed up.
What about you? If your employer offers a free or heavily discounted term life insurance policy, you owe it to yourself to get signed up for it as soon as possible, especially if you have dependents.
One great perk offered both by my previous employers and by my wife’s current employer is coverage of educational costs, usually up to a certain limit. My previous employer paid for a certain number of credits at partner institutions; my wife’s employer pays up to a certain dollar amount anywhere.
During my final years at my previous employer, I started to use this program to inch toward a master’s degree (that I didn’t finish). My wife is currently engaged in a summer master’s program that she’ll finish up in a few years, and her work is paying for most of it.
Why would employers offer this? It’s often an inexpensive way to build a better trained and more educated workforce. Often, such arrangements require that you stay at an employer for a certain period of time after receiving the educational benefits, which means that the employer receives return on their investment.
For you? It means that your long-term employment prospects get much better while most of it is paid for by your employer. It’s a win-win, and you should be taking advantage of it if it’s available to you.
Discounted or Free Products
One of my friends works for a small grocer. He’s allowed to take anything home that’s past date or any produce that isn’t looking particularly fresh. 99% of it is just fine for his own use.
Another of my friends works at a local retailer that offers a 50% discount on everything in the store up to a certain dollar amount each month. He uses this to maintain his own hobbies as well as pick up a few items for resale on eBay.
Yet another friend of mine works at a software firm and he receives a pile of codes for the company’s software. I’ve been the beneficiary of this in the past, as he’s given me some of his codes for various things.
If your employer offers some kind of discounted or free product offering, you should take advantage of it to the hilt. If nothing else, you can re-sell the items for a financial gain. More likely, you can use the items for yourself or give them to friends who may really appreciate them.
Concierge or Errand Service
In the workplaces of two of my closest friends, a concierge service has started to take care of things like dropping off dry cleaning, picking up flowers for a romantic holiday, and so on.
At one friend’s workplace, the company now offers five hours of concierge services per week. At another workplace, the company offers a certain stipend for various services, each of which has a different cost.
Get this: One of my friends took advantage of this service to have several gifts wrapped for his child’s birthday party. He simply had a few boxes delivered to his workplace, then handed those items off to the concierge service. At the end of the day, he had several wrapped packages ready to go outside of his office door. It saved him most of an hour (at least) and resulted in presents that were very nicely wrapped. (Yeah, he probably stayed at work for an additional half an hour because of that service, but he also got to leave just a bit earlier than he otherwise would have.)
Again, some workplaces have figured out that it’s far cheaper for them to hire someone at $10 an hour to pick up your dry cleaning if it means you’ll stay at the office for another half an hour to get some tasks done. It’s simply smart business, and that smart business translates to benefits you can take advantage of.
Transit and/or Parking Permits
My previous employer offered free passes on the city mass transit system upon request. At that time, I lived in an apartment that had a bus stop just outside the front door and my employer also had a bus stop right across the block, so it was very convenient to just use the bus to go back and forth to work.
Another friend of mine is able to buy mass transit passes for his city directly from his employer at a huge discount. He uses the system to go to and from work and saves a ton of money.
This benefit often occurs when an employer partners with a mass transit system in some way, either by buying a lot of passes in bulk at a discounted rate or receiving them as part of a co-promotional package. My previous employer, for example, bought passes at an incredible bulk level and offered the passes for free as a relatively small perk (for the employer). Some employers do the same thing with parking permits.
Mass transit and parking permits can save a lot of money if they’re used regularly. Slashing the cost of one’s commute can make an enormous financial difference.
Some employers, particularly in high-risk fields, offer disability insurance to their employees as an enticement for those employees to take on the relative risk of the job. Other employers will offer such packages as a special perk, even if the job doesn’t have much risk of disability.
Still, because of the cost of such insurance packages, the employer is sometimes loathe to promote the availability of such packages, so it’s up to the employee to find out about it.
How can you find out about such things? As always, turn to your employee manual and to your human resources officer. They’ll let you know whether such programs are available.
Community Discounts (or Freebies)
In just the past few years, my wife has received free passes to amusement parks, community festivals, museums, a zoo, and several other things thanks to her work. Her employer often sponsors “group days” where passes are given out for free to employees as an effective way to draw them to certain events and help employees to bond and build a stronger team.
Another friend of mine receives a lot of passes to community festivals and the like in exchange for simply wearing his company’s shirt during the event. This serves as a way to get the company’s name out there, but it also gives him a lot of free weekend entertainment.
This is a benefit that sometimes pops up indirectly, too. Employees at larger companies will sometimes initiate bulk ticket purchases to save everyone involved some money on the tickets. While that isn’t a deal-maker or a deal-breaker, it can help participants save a little bit of money.
Another perk is one that one of my closest friends uses literally every day – telecommuting. If you work at an information-oriented job, it’s likely that you can perform most – if not all – of your work tasks from the convenience of home. Doing so adds a ton of flexibility to your life and saves greatly on the costs of commuting.
Some employers offer mixed arrangements where employees can telecommute on some days while going into the office on other days. Others offer features like “telecommuting Friday” where many employees telecommute on one day of the week.
If this isn’t an obvious perk in your workplace but it is a feature that sounds like it could be particularly useful to you, don’t hesitate to ask. Talk to your boss and your human resources officer about it. This is the type of benefit that employers will often add in situations where an employee deserves a real perk but there isn’t adequate money in the budget for it.
A final service that’s invaluable to parents is child care. Some very large employers offer an on-site child care center where children can be dropped off at the start of work and picked up at the end of work while on the actual work site.
Other employers, like my previous employer, have a tight arrangement with an off-site facility that ends up offering reduced rates and sometimes even a shuttle service between the two sites.
If you have a parent, an employer that offers any sort of child care benefit is going to be saving you a mint. If you’re in the situation we were in, with three children that weren’t yet old enough for school, it can easily add up to tens of thousands of dollars a year.
Hidden employee benefits can save you money in almost every aspect of your life, from food to transportation and from child care to education. They can offer savings on incredibly useful community resources and provide support for you when you need it most in your life.
The key is to know about these benefits. Often, they’re never directly introduced to employees, but are hidden away in employee manuals or in the dusty corners of corporate websites.
Dig around. Do some reading. Ask a human resources officer. See what’s available to you and take advantage of it.