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What do the Many Workplace Benefits Actually Mean?

Oct 8, 2020
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In addition to receiving your salary, when you work for an employer you typically receive a number of benefits as well. These are offered to you for a variety of reasons, but usually they fall under one of the following three:

  • To recruit you in the first place;
  • To retain you as an employee; and,
  • To help you improve as both a skilled employee and a person.

While the specific names for many of the benefits can be confusing, they can be grouped into one of several major buckets. We provide some descriptions below but please be sure to ask a teacher, parent, advisor, or – especially – the employer if you have specific questions about particular benefits. It’s important that you know what you’re signing up for!

Insurance

Health insurance is the most common benefit provided by employers to their employees. The concept of health insurance is the same as it is for home or auto insurance: a regular payment is made to the insurance company so that if something unfortunate happens and you face major medical expenses, the insurance company will pay a large portion of your bills. Most employers make the regular payments (known as “premiums”) for you as part of their benefit program.

The different types of health insurance and some terms you might see associated with them include:

  • Basic medical insurance – this relates to your doctor and hospital visits plus pharmacy expenses. This is generally offered to you as part of a group plan from your employer.
  • Dental and vision insurance – these are usually offered as a separate option, outside of basic medical insurance.
  • HSA and FSA plans – these terms refer to Health Savings Accounts and Flexible Spending Accounts, and they are basically accounts that your employer can set up to help with some of your ongoing healthcare costs such as doctor visits and pharmacy expenses.

Other insurance-related benefits can include:

  • Disability insurance – a program through which you would receive payments from an insurance company to help replace some or all of the income you would lose if you became sick or injured and unable to work
  • Life insurance – a program through which your family or someone you listed as a “beneficiary” would receive a financial benefit in the event you died.

It is important to know: how much, if anything, do I have to pay for my basic medical insurance?

Retirement and Savings Benefits

These benefits are in place to help you prepare for the time when you end your career and stop working; to build a nest egg you can draw from when you no longer have a salary from an employer. The most common retirement/savings benefits are called 401(k) plans. You may choose to take some of your salary and put it directly into a 401(k) plan so that it can grow with tax benefits and be ready for you in retirement. In addition, many employers will offer to match some or all of the money you choose to put into this plan so that you receive an extra benefit from saving some of your salary today.

Be sure to ask your future employer for the specifics around their savings plan! You’ll be glad you did when it’s time to retire. By the way, it’s important to know that 401(k) plans follow you if you change employers…you get to keep the money you’ve put into them even if you can’t use it until you retire.

Employers have a strong incentive to help you become an even better employee and person, and they’re usually willing to spend money to make that happen

Professional Advancement

Employers have a strong incentive to help you become an even better employee and person, and they’re usually willing to spend money to make that happen. The most common types of benefits in this category include:

  • Tuition reimbursement – fully- or partially-reimbursed expenses for outside training in your area of expertise (a local technical college, for instance)
  • On-the-job training or in-house classes – your employer may provide specific programs either on the job or perhaps delivered through local instructors brought into the company for training
  • Pipeline grant – this generally refers to a state grant of money going to a company to help train its employees in a particular area or skill set
  • Leadership programs – this is usually associated with employers’ efforts to develop the management and leadership side of their employees, building on the technical skills they use every day on the job

Paid Time Off (PTO)

PTO, or days away from work while you're still being paid, is basically “earned” by employees as they work. Some employers will provide PTO from day one, while others require that you work for a period of time before earning paid days off. PTO can include sick days, vacation days, and holidays. Be sure to understand your particular employer’s PTO policies, including how much of each you receive and whether or not you are paid during time away from the office or simply get to take time off.

Family leave is another type of time-off benefit although not all of it is likely to be paid. Employers may provide time off for their employees for maternity or paternity care, as well as bereavement (dealing with a death in the family, for instance) or compassionate care. Some of this time off may be paid (PTO), while an extended time away from the office may be granted by your employer but it will be unpaid. Be sure to look into the specifics of your employer’s particular leave plan.

Other Benefits

Finally, other benefits may include:

  • Employee assistance program – this typically refers to either company-provided or company paid for services pertaining to job placement, mental health, and other related services
  • Profit sharing – this type of program enables employees to share in the profits of the firm when results are good, providing opportunities for income over and above your salary
  • Employee stock purchase plan – if the company you work for is publicly traded on a stock exchange, you may have the opportunity to purchase shares in the company at a discount to the market price
  • Fringe benefits – a variety of other benefits fall into this category such as wellness offerings to free snacks and beverages to many other benefits
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