Updated on 09.09.14

The One Hour Project: Dig Into Your Job Benefits

Trent Hamm

When I first got my job, I pretty much paid minimal attention to the benefits that were available to me. I signed up for a 401(k), but only put in enough to match. I signed up for the cheap health insurance option. And that was it, even though if I dug around, there were lots of other benefits available to me.

When I finally got some sense, though, I realized I was missing out on a lot of worthwhile stuff that my organization offered to me, so I started digging around. I wound up with free meals, free college coursework, free tickets to sporting and cultural events, a free term life insurance policy, and much more. How? I spent some time digging around the benefits office at work and finding out about all of the programs. All told, it only took about an hour to discover all of this stuff. Obviously, your mileage may vary, but here’s what you should do at work when you have an hour to burn.

Ways to Maximize Your Time at Work

Peruse employee material given to you when you signed up for work

Look for all of the benefits programs available to you. Almost always, there are several things mentioned in the manual that were never mentioned during the orientation session. Catalog everything you find that might be of interest to you.

Place a friendly call to the benefits office

Ask if there’s a full listing of benefits programs. If you can’t get one of those, ask for an updated copy of the employee orientation materials. This will provide additional material to look through.

Sign up for every program you find of interest to you

I found a life insurance program that I didn’t even know existed when I started digging. It’s basically free term life insurance for every employee – if you know about it. I figured that signing on a dotted line was well worth getting a life insurance policy that lasts while I work there equal to a multiple of my salary. If you find anything of interest or benefit to you that’s part of your benefits package, sign up for it.

Utilize every career advancement option available to you

For example, if your organization will pay for college credit, start taking something. Start on an evening MBA, or work towards a master’s degree in your area of expertise. If you can get free tickets to cultural events, get everything you can and use them instead of doing other things that would actually pinch your wallet.

My philosophy is that if it’s a benefit at work that’s given to all employees, I might as well be using it since the company’s already paying for it and viewing it as part of my compensation. You should, too – don’t hesitate to look up the programs available to you and sign up today.

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  1. guinness416 says:

    Sounds like you work for a giant corporation. Benefits office? A small or medium sized company like the ones I’ve always worked for professionally, is unlikely to have “hidden” benefits you have to dig to find. But on the other hand what they do have is flexibility. I can ask for more time off, get bonuses like restaurant vouchers, put a lot of stuff on my expense report, etc without it having to go through a HR drone or be told such things aren’t in this quarter’s TPS report.

  2. Great post.

    It took me forever before I found out (via many many website links) that my cellphone plan was reimbursable (grr).. And that I’d get extra money to go towards paying for benefits, that would mean less out of pocket cash which equaled a fatter paycheck every month.

    Guinness: You’re right – most big corps only have these kinds of perks.. but at least you have less overhead and admin telling you what you can and cannot do. That’s something you just cannot put a pricetag on. I always have to triple and quadruple check my expense reports to make sure I don’t make a mistake, or it’ll come back and haunt me via my manager.

  3. Rae says:

    My favorite job benefit ever was when I worked for the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, and got a museum employee discount. Basically, my work ID got me (and often a guest) into any museum FOR FREE. A lot of co-workers didn’t take advantage of this, but I probably saved hundreds of dollars visiting museums and aquariums. I always had cheap options for entertaining friends and family, and got a lot more culture than I would have otherwise!

  4. Elaine says:

    This is an easy one for me! I get one benefit. They pay for my BC Medical Services Plan (i.e. basic health care, which is $54 a month).

  5. guinness416 says:

    Professional organizations are another place to look. I get a discount on home insurance through mine, and would get a car insurance discount too if I had one.

    Job function can impact perqs too. When I worked for a mid-sized contractor as an estimator I got a lot of Yankees tickets, Rangers tickets, and gift cards etc from subcontractors as a matter of course, as well as freebie home reno plans at one point.

  6. Jessica says:

    I can take courses for free because I work at a university. I haven’t taken any yet, because of the time commitment involved, and also because the master’s program I’d love to do requires you to attend half time, which I wouldn’t be able to do while working full time (some people do it, but I value my free time too much). I may take one or two job related courses though.

  7. Mariette says:

    I was the same way at my first corporate job with a 401k. I had the insurance options and the 401k plan, which was quite the novelty at the time but I didn’t take advantage of anything else – including the FSA (flexible spending account.) I was a bit overwhelmed by it and had no idea how much to put into it. People should at least put some money into this as it’s pre-tax and you can buy all sorts of things with it including aspirin and contact lense solution (not to mention any doctor bills.)

  8. Matt says:

    I don’t have any benefits whatsoever at work, which was clearly stated to me when I took the job(sometimes you just REALLY need a job.) I believe I’ll spend this hour finding a better job.

  9. Kathy says:

    Are corporations getting reluctant to offer things like reimbursement on college classes?
    My first job was with a big corporation, and I did take full advantage of it and got a two year degree. A lot of other employees poo-pooed it… took maybe 2 classes and quit. I guess they figured they had enough job security and didn’t need it. I think there were maybe 3 or 4 employees who actually saw it thru to the end.

    After downsizing and getting a job elsewhere, I find that my new employer doesn’t really get behind us at all on this. Years ago, I was told, they actually did.

    Maybe just another sign of our rapidly deteriorating economy?

  10. Dan says:

    I have worked for a couple of larger companies that have Employee Assistance Programs. These programs can help with all kinds of things, including substance abuse, counseling, finding daycare and/or eldercare. One even offered to screen childcare providers for me!

    The other money-saving benefit we have from work is the ability to use our corporate discount on shipping (UPS and FEDEX) and rental cars for personal use. These discounts are usually about 25% cheaper than if I had to get them on my own.

  11. MVP says:

    Great ideas. I work for a fairly large company, but unfortunately our single, overworked human resources employee is usually too busy to return an email, let alone dig up paperwork on our benefits. It’s like pulling teeth to sign up for that free life insurance you’re talking about. But on the up side, we’ve got an on-site fitness center that’s barely ever used. Yes, it’s second rate, but it’s convenient, offers the basics and helps me stay in shape – oh, and it’s FREE! Also, for those of you who’ve worked for the same employer for more than a couple years, it may pay to revisit your updated benefits package. Often, employers add perks here and there, then don’t bother to tell employees about them.

  12. Minimum Wage says:

    Okay, that took me less than one minute. What shopuld I do with the other 59+ minutes?

  13. the camera lady says:

    Note re: the tuition benefits

    If the amount of the benefit received for graduate exceeds $5250 per year, then the excess has to be reported as income and you have to pay tax on it. Keep this in mind if you use tuition remission for a graduate program at an expensive private university.

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