During the recession, new hires often took what they were initially offered from potential employers. Back then, the idea of negotiation seemed like looking a gift horse in the mouth. But now that the job market has improved, especially for highly skilled talent, applicants are once again feeling confident about asking for more than the offer on the table — including a better employee benefits package.
But how exactly do you negotiate for better benefits? And how far can you push things? Here's some advice to consider:
It's unlikely that you can negotiate a better rate within the company health plan. However, if you already have external coverage — say, through your spouse — you may be able to negotiate for a higher salary if you forego the insurance plan at work. Hiring managers at small businesses, in particular, may be open to this tactic because the cost of offering insurance to workers can be extremely high for these businesses.
Bonuses and commission
Ask about the possibility of earning a bonus for exceptional performance or for reaching a certain service milestone with the firm. Alternately, if the company offers a 401(k) plan, consider requesting matching funds or an additional annual contribution to your account. Just be sure you get the details in writing and are very clear about what targets you must hit (certain sales figures, for example) in order to be awarded the bonus you negotiated.
Paid (and unpaid) time off
Some companies will negotiate with new hires for more vacation or sick days, and, in general, there can be more flexibility here than with other elements of the employee benefits package. One option is to request more time off from the start — three weeks of paid vacation rather than the standard two, for instance. Another is to ask that your allotment of vacation and sick days be increased more quickly than would normally be the case. A third option might be to take unpaid time off from time to time.
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Flexible work schedules
A great perk to have in your employee benefits package is the option of pursuing alternative work arrangements. Telecommuting once a week can save you money in commute costs and effectively increase your salary — not to mention the reduced wear and tear on your car. Plus, you'll be trading commuting time for more personal or work time.
Another popular alternate work arrangement is a 4/10 schedule. Under this arrangement, employees work 10 hours a day for four days (versus working five eight-hour days), giving them the benefit of three days off each week.
The key to negotiating an alternate work arrangement when discussing the employee benefits package is to include your thoughts on how this type of perk would benefit the firm, not just you. Coming into work an hour later than the rest of the team, for instance, might save you half an hour on your commute and allow you to be more productive in the morning.
Training and continuing education
Ask whether the company provides financial support for obtaining an advanced degree or certification. Sometimes, company policy requires that employees work for a set amount of time — usually one year — before becoming eligible for this benefit. This might be something to consider when negotiating your employee benefits package, especially if you're already pursuing your degree or certification. Could this time frame be shortened or eliminated completely?
If a potential employer doesn't offer subsidized training at all, you might ask if they would be willing to if the training you pursue benefits the organization — if you're an accountant working toward a CPA designation, for example.
One last word of advice: It's easy for the items you negotiated to be forgotten by the time you start your new job. All it takes is a miscommunication between the hiring manager and HR. So be sure all details of your employee benefits package — including any special adjustments you've been granted — are clearly stated in your contract or offer letter.
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