Employee Benefits: In 2017, This Is What Actually Matters

Caroline Beaton

Employee benefits were the sort of logistic I’d never thought about until the hiring manager at my first full-time job said, “Oh, and we have great benefits.” Only when I became self-employed last year did I realize how much they matter.

But not all benefits are equal. Here are some things to consider as you’re looking for a new job or evaluating a benefits package:

Right now, health insurance matters more than anything else.  

Today’s precarious healthcare policies mean that having a safety net of employer-sponsored coverage has never mattered more. With Donald Trump in office and the GOP promising to repeal Obamacare, more than 20 million Americans could be kicked off Obamacare with nowhere to go in 2017 – or, at the very least, vulnerable to a complicated, costly transition.

Many young millennials don’t think about whether their company even has health benefits because, with Obamacare, they’re insured through their parents until they’re 26. Unfortunately, some may be rudely awakened when employer or individual policies aren’t as good as their parents’ was. Of all the hundreds of companies represented on kununu, less than half offer health insurance with dental and vision plans.

Last year, I graduated from my parents’ excellent health insurance and had to pay $220 a month for health insurance that didn’t cover dental, vision, lab tests, specialists, surgery or competent doctors. Good employee health insurance alleviates all that stress.  

Schedule fit trumps flexible hours.

Flexible hours are in demand. In fact, one Microsoft employee’s favorite thing about working there was the flexible hours. If you’re young and want to travel, work from home or balance a side hustle, flexibility may be critical.

But flexible hours aren’t always a good thing, depending on what you need. If you’re a parent, you may want part-time but very set, predictable hours. Or if you need the money offered by full-time, rigorous employment, flexible hours may not be ideal. Several employees at Lowes commented in kununu reviews that they wished they had the opportunity to work more hours. For them, Lowes’ flexibility meant compromising full-time pay. Said one employee, “I feel like having less employees who are allowed to work more hours would have made this a better place.”

Make sure you and your employer are on the same page about what your schedule will look like, and that this expectation meets your lifestyle needs.  

Benefits are a form of pay.

According to a Wall Street Journal article, just one-third of workers are “willing to trade pay for more health insurance.” But the value of benefits, especially healthcare, can easily amount to thousands of dollars a year. One Disney employee remarked that the “base pay is low but the benefits and incentives can easily make up for that.”

If you’re considering two comparable job offers and leaning toward the one with the higher salary, take a close look at the benefits package. Their benefits may not only save you money long-term; they suggest that the company cares about their employees.

Shady and/or inconsistent policies abound.

Benefits may be compellingly advertised upfront but shrouded in fine print once you want to use them. For example, some employees noted that employers have strict or strange requirements for tuition reimbursement that are hard to meet. An employee at Samsung said that “While we receive a generous vacation package, we are forced to work with limited headcount making it virtually impossible to use your PTO.” Or when one employee tried to return to Apple on a part-time basis after her maternity leave, she was told that she wouldn’t be able to take a part-time position unless she was an enrolled college student.

By contrast, this review by an Amazon employee shows a distinct absence of needless complication or loopholes:

They provide health insurance beginning on day 1 of full-time employment. They also offer every employee the opportunity to take a personal leave of absence, once a year, for a maximum of 84 days (12 weeks) and keep employee’s health insurance intact during such leave.”

Seek employers that are painstakingly transparent about their benefits. Ask to see a comprehensive benefits breakdown before you take a job. If you’re not convinced, contact someone who works there and ask about their experience.

Watch out for smoke and mirrors.

Perks are great. Working at Disney, “you get to go to Disneyland whenever you want and ride Space Mountain and eat churros. Beautiful,” according to one review. Or kununu, for example, offers free lunch every Friday, a ping pong game room and happy hours.

But these perks, at any company, would mean nothing without core benefits like open company culture, a challenging work environment and good leadership. One Fidelity employee summed, “once you’ve been attracted, all the great benefits cannot offset poor leadership.

Benefits may help get workers in the door, but they’re often not enough to dissuade people from leaving. Beware of companies that repeatedly emphasize their chill office and cool perks; they may be overcompensating.

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In 2017, employee benefits are so common and confusing that many of us don’t worry about them. But the quality and selection of benefits can make thousands of dollars of difference. And, in the end, benefits are about feeling like your company cares about you. Do your homework, and you’ll quickly discover the ones that do.

 

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Caroline Beaton (@cs_beaton) is kununu’s millennial career expert. She’s an award-winning writer and entrepreneur who helps ambitious millennials change their habits and behaviors to lead more fulfilling lives. Her writing has been has been featured in Forbes, Psychology Today, Business Insider and many others.