Who Cares About Employee Benefits? Actually, You Should

If you’re about to become a college graduate and are embarking on a long-anticipated journey into the workforce, congratulations, this is a very exciting time for you. The world is your oyster. You’ve always wanted to experience true independence that you get by earning your own money and making decisions about how you want to spend it. The sacrifices you’ve made to further your education are about to pay off. There are certain goals you want to achieve over the short, medium and long term, which, with proper management of your finances, you will be able to accomplish. But have you considered what your employee benefits are?

Or, let’s say you’ve been part of the workforce for a while, but have belatedly realised the job you’re in isn’t the correct fit for you, that the employee benefits are paltry, and instead of helping you, they are only pushing you further away from achieving your financial goals. Case in point: The lessons of the past two years have taught us all about the concept of certainty — that it simply doesn’t exist. Were you in a job that, it turns out, had no flexi-time policy (and was not interested in quickly putting one together) and brought pressure to bear on you simply because you have children? During the early months of the pandemic, there were women who were domiciled with their children when schools started engaging in remote learning, and were forced to use their vacation days to stay home with them. Conversely, there were childless women who felt they were at a disadvantage because their need for a work-from-home mandate was not taken into consideration, even while they had to bear the weight of remaining in office and taking on the added workload of their peers who were working from home, without additional compensation.

As a professional, it is important to understand that, especially in an approaching post-pandemic age, quality employee benefits or perks will increasingly become a key underpinning of your salary package. Your salary is more than simply a pay cheque you take home at the end of each month. Employee benefits are really a compensation package — in recognition of your service in helping to build the organisation — which an employer adds to your base salary to keep you happy and from straying to their competitors. These benefits can come in many forms. Before signing a contract, read the paperwork carefully and make sure you are agreeable to them as they pertain to these critical areas below.

Health insurance

A very vital employee benefit is health insurance. Needless to say, health care is extremely expensive, and although you may feel in the prime of your life when applying for a job, especially one that you can see yourself staying in for the long haul, always remember that sickness often shows up unexpectedly and at any stage of life. Is the health insurance package enough? Does it cover your spouse and children? Paying for health-care services out of pocket can put a severe strain on your pay cheque. When does coverage start after you begin the job? What kinds of doctor’s visits are covered? Is it basic coverage or will eye and dental also be covered? What percentage of the premium is the organisation prepared to cover? Always consider how not having a good health insurance package will affect your bottom line.

Retirement benefits

If you’re a young college graduate, pension is an area you might not be interested in. After all, you’ve only just begun working. Why would you be considering the distant future? However, this is a company that you can end up dedicating 10, 15, 20 years of your life to; the years fly by so quickly and who knows what the labour market will be like down the road? How will you live the rest of your life after the job? The earlier you start contributing to a good pension plan that your company can match, the better off you’ll be, in terms of your golden years when you decide to travel, complete home improvement projects or whatever it is you want to do. But, again, pension plans differ from one organisation to the next. For example, how many years do you need to be fully vested at your company, that is to say, how long should you be employed there before your employer’s contributions go to you? Five years? Ten? If it’s 10, you see how important it is for a young employee to get a pension plan rolling, so that by the time you’re approaching pension age you would have built up a nice nest egg.

Vacation time/sick days/compassionate leave

And, finally, as we’ve earlier touched on, the world, in the very near future, will be embarking on a post-pandemic era, and HR departments need to start formulating flexi-time policies going forward, knowing what we now know. When applying for a job, you will need to find out what these policies are. Be clear also about the other various categories of leave the company issues, and what the ramifications are. A good employer understands that employees are their best resources; to ensure their employees’ mental wellness, yearly paid time away from the office stimulates longevity, productivity and ensures a happy work space.

Lamar Harris, vice-president, wealth management, NCB Capital Markets

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