October 3, 2012
No free soda, sauna or shuttle, but what perks are you missing?
So maybe you're sweating it out at a not-so-great-paying job, just trying to stay positive and make some solid career moves to take you ahead. But it seems like while you're counting pennies all you hear about from friends, or the brother-in-law of so-and-so who said he heard it from his neighbor's girlfriend, is how great the employees at Company X have it.
Company X employees have free soda. And orange juice. And a state-of-the-art gym on site.
And cheap haircuts. And dry-cleaning pickup.
Super snazzy cafeterias with underpriced freshly carved roast beef sandwiches. Catered meetings. Shuttles.
Child care. Flex time. Box seats at the Seahawks.
It's enough to make Average Joe and Jane employees sick with envy.
Maybe you are getting a raw deal. Or maybe Company X employees are spoiled rotten.
But in fact, many Average Joe and Jane employees actually have more perks than they might realize. So, what could you be overlooking while you're busy thinking enviously about that fleet of free, green-and-white commute shuttles you'll probably never board?
Commute incentives: Many companies offer discounted or free Orca passes, especially helpful these days for avoiding a certain bridge toll. These can also cut your parking costs and shorten your work day by allowing you to take care of some tasks while you commute. Some companies also offer incentives and rewards for carpooling and transit use, so ask. Discounted transportation programs and incentives are also often offered through cities and King and Snohomish counties.
These alternative transportation benefits, designed to benefit the environment and improve commutes, can range from cheaper transit passes to rewards such as gift cards and discounted bicycle tune-ups. Reducing or eliminating car usage can save you hundreds or thousands in wages a year.
Free food and fun: Sure, you could set up a secret alert system among the down-and-out employees so that whenever the catering wagon is pulling out of the higher-ups' conference room station you all run over to grab the crumbs. But if you want to keep your dignity, there might still be other ways to eat and play off the company dime. Check to see whether your company has a partner program or any dining or retail discount card or programs.
Many companies negotiate partnerships; an especially effective way to pursue this is to get to know someone in the marketing/advertising/sales department. Or better yet, get a job in one of those.
Health incentives: It saves employers money to invest in the health of their employees. Many companies offer discounted health-club memberships, free health screenings and even incentives to quit smoking and lose weight. How much money a year (or over the course of your life, if you improve your long-term health) could you be saving if you took advantage of these?
If your company doesn't offer something like this, consider researching the benefits and presenting a proposal. Your company might easily be able to negotiate a group rate for a health club with no increased cost to their bottom line and major savings to employees. Also make sure you are using your known benefits to their full advantage -- is massage covered? Reflexology? Physical therapy for that nagging back pain that you never take the time to deal with? Use it.
Basic built-ins: Employer 401K matches, the (possibly dwindling) pensions, child-care subsidies, union-negotiated benefits, college-savings plan matches, life insurance and even things like discounted legal services plans and financial advising -- how many of these typical programs are you not enrolled in or not utilizing to their maximum advantage? It adds up. Your employer negotiated your salary and benefits down to the dollar. It's up to you to utilize all the perks, as unglamorous as they might seem, to your advantage.
Taken alone, some of these small benefits might not seem as glossy as lunchtime rock concerts, yacht bingers and bringing your dog to work every day. But if you seek out and exploit even a few of them, the savings could translate to a nice little pile of extra cash. Then you can take those savings and go on vacation, put them toward your nest egg, or buy a stack of lottery tickets in hopes of one day playing with the big boys and girls of Company X.
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.
Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.
Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.
Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.
Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.
Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."
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