Is It the Paycheck or the Perks? Evaluating Your Next Job Offer

Susan Doktor
Be sure to look carefully at the benefits package associated with any job you’re considering.

Be sure to look carefully at the benefits package associated with any job you’re considering.

mediaphotos via iStock

Based on brand new survey data, the ABA YLD has issued a landmark report on the current state of law student loan debt. Among the many findings, we learned that more than 75 percent of respondents had over $100,000 in student loan debt and almost 90 percent of respondents said their debt had a major impact on important life decisions. To learn more about the report’s findings and proposed solutions, watch our new webinar replay Understanding and Navigating the Student Debt Crisis. (Replay is free for ABA members. Login required.)

A generation or two ago, job offers usually consisted of just two things. They told you how much an employer was willing to pay you and, if you were fortunate, what type of health benefits you’d receive under the company insurance plan. If you were entertaining multiple offers or deciding whether to switch jobs, it was pretty simple to figure out, at least from a financial perspective, which employer was offering you the best deal. Boy, have things changed.

According to the US Department of Labor, in 2020, employee benefit costs typically equaled about 30 percent of total compensation. That salary-to-benefits ratio has held pretty steady for the past three decades or more. But the range of benefits employers are offering nowadays is far wider than it was just a few years ago—and even wider than it was before the advent of the COVID-19 crisis.

What’s behind the Benefits Explosion?

A number of forces, actually. First, there’s the changing face of the American family. A 2015 Pew Research study found that the percentage of dual-income households in the United States rose from 25 percent to 60 percent between 1960 and 2012. Access to affordable childcare became an economic imperative for millions of families. On-site daycare, childcare allowances, flex time, and similar benefits rose to the top of employee wish lists.

In some fields, a skills gap emerged: not enough people knew how to do what employers needed them to do. The tightening labor market, particularly in the technology sector, forced employers to get more creative in the competition for top talent.

  • Workout facilities sprung up in corporate headquarters.
  • Visiting massage arrived on the scene to soothe employees’ stressed-out shoulders.
  • Employee kitchens stocked with organic ingredients allowed an increasingly health-conscious workforce to leave their brown bags at home and fix lunch at the office instead.

While the tech skills gap has narrowed in recent years, a persistent tech skills shortage remains. And the battle for brains continues.

While baby boomers were long ago dubbed “The Me Generation,” the X, Y, and millennial generations wanted more than to have their individuality respected. They wanted to see their values reflected where they worked. More than ever, recruiters rely on corporate culture as a selling point, and companies use their benefits packages as critical cultural communicators. Organizations that make socially responsible commitments are also more attractive to employees. By some estimates, more than 60 percent of millennials wouldn’t work for a company that didn’t make them.

In addition, employers discovered that a robust benefits package wasn’t just an attractor or gift to employees. Certain benefits made an impact on their bottom lines. Satisfied employees were more likely to stay put and reduced the costs associated with employee turnover. The consequence of offering comprehensive health and wellness benefits was a lower rate of absenteeism. Employees became more productive when they were less hassled by the business of managing life outside the workplace.

Weighing Your Options: Evaluating Employee Benefits

Are you a newly minted attorney entertaining multiple job offers? Are you less than satisfied with your current position and trying to figure out whether it makes sense to jump ship? Then you’ll want to look carefully at the benefits package associated with any job you’re considering. You’ll want to compare each offer using an objective set of standards: the pure dollar value of the benefits you’re being offered, individually and in aggregate. And you’ll want to apply your own “soft” criteria: which benefits will improve your personal quality of life or simply make you feel good about a job.

Where’s the Money?

We all know healthcare is expensive. And frankly, the complexity and frustrations of managing health insurance costs and claims is something most people want to avoid. It’s no wonder that 80 percent of employees give health, vision, and dental plans moderate to heavy consideration when evaluating a compensation package. When considering employer health plans, you’ll want to look at the out-of-pocket costs each plan will leave you with. How much does your employer deduct from your paycheck to offset its contribution to your health insurance premiums? Look for plans with lower deductibles and copays. Consider the freedom each plan gives you to direct your own care, from selecting your doctor to choosing when to see a specialist or get a second opinion. Study the services covered by the plan. Now that we’ve been living with a global pandemic for more than a year, many—but not all—health plans are covering telemedicine. If you’d like to have the option to choose virtual, that might be a make-or-break health plan feature for you.

Here’s another health benefit to consider. Do you share your life with a dog or cat? Some firms are now offering pet insurance as a benefit, too. The best pet insurance plans can save you thousands of dollars on veterinary care costs—which are also on the rise—in the event your golden retriever falls seriously ill or suffers an accident.

Get It Now, Use It Later

Retirement savings benefits, including employer 401K plans, are another top-dollar figure in employee compensation plans. (And yes, you should be thinking about your retirement pretty much as soon as you join the workforce.) Most plans nowadays include an employer-matching feature. Some companies will contribute as much as an additional 6 percent of what you put in your 401K each year. Look at the match percentage offered by your employer and take advantage of it by contributing the maximum amount you legally can to your plan each year. You’re leaving money on the table if you don’t—and serious money if your investments do well. Some employers are also offering financial counseling as a perk too. The right financial strategy can help you maximize the value of your 401K benefit, as well as the rest of your earnings.

Incidentally, a 2018 ruling by the IRS now permits firms to support employees who are struggling under high student loan debt by tying student loan payments and retirement savings together. Some are making contributions to their employees’ 401k accounts as they pay down their student debt.

Time: The Free Kind

Ah, those precious vacation days. Paid time off has long been a cherished benefit, proven to increase worker satisfaction and performance. But it’s not just full days off that matter. Working from home offers daily time-savings employees appreciate, and, particularly since COVID-19 made it an imperative, employees have grown accustomed to it. Most don’t want to give it up and report they’d gladly take a pay cut to have the opportunity. How much do you value the opportunity to work remotely? You may want to factor that benefit into your calculations when choosing your own best professional scenario.

Professional Development Pays Off

Employers that regularly provide skill-enhancing training rate highly with workers. While the number of firms that offer tuition assistance has declined, many still finance “bite-size” educational opportunities in the form of certificate training and continuing education credits. Even as you start one job, it’s a good idea to keep your next one in mind. Build your skills, and you’ll build your appeal in the job market. You bring a lot of value to your job. An employer who helps you increase it is one to seriously consider.

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Susan Doktor

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Susan Doktor is a journalist and business strategist who hails from New York City. She writes on a wide variety of topics, including finance, education, and government affairs. Follow her on Twitter @branddoktor.