U.S. workers have never been good at taking vacations , one of the best “perks” of working, if you can call a few days off during a year a perk rather than a right (the article discusses how little vacation days we get compared to Europeans but how it’s self-inflicted). When the economy tanked, many workers took even less time off for fear of losing their jobs. It’s a normal reaction, if there need to be cuts, it’s better to fire someone who is less productive and folks on vacation aren’t very productive (since they’re not at work); though I suspect few employers think that way.
That being said, while we may not be taking as many vacations days, there are still many employee perks that can be safely taken advantage of without fear of losing your job. These different perks may not be available to everyone but they’re available to most, depending on the size of your employer, and should be given serious consideration if you aren’t taking advantage of them.
If your employer offers a 401(k) plan with a contribution match and you aren’t contributing, you’re leaving money on the table. At my first job, my employer would match 100% of your contribution up to 2% of your salary and then 50% on the next 2%. So if you contributed 4% of your salary towards your 401(k), the company would kick in 3%. That’s a 3% raise, which is about what we got each year, right off the bat. Not only do you get free money, which would vested immediately in that plan (not as common), but you also get tax benefits for contributing to your 401(k). 401(k) contributions are tax deductible and since they usually come out of your paycheck, you get the benefit almost immediately.
I have an MBA that was almost entirely paid for by my first two employers. I started the program at my first job, which paid for any class I took towards a higher degree as long as I got a B or higher, and completed it at my second, which had the same reimbursement program but I had to pay some back if I left before a year and a half. I forget how much classes were at Johns Hopkins, where I got an MBA, but it was easily several thousand dollars a year in benefits that I wouldn’t have received if I didn’t start taking classes. Unlike the 401(k), this one costs a lot of your time.
If you get health insurance through your employer, one of the most overlooked perks are the regular routine visits you get. With dental insurance, you can visit your dentist for routine cleanings. I go twice a year and while no one really enjoys the dentist, going that often (all covered by insurance) make each visit faster and less painful. With medical coverage, you can probably get an annual exam and other preventative procedures done for free or a small co-pay depending on your age. Regular routine visits can ensure any health issues can be identified and remedied early.
These are just three of many employee perks that are probably as under utilized as vacation time. Do you take full advantage of the perks of your employer? Is there a big perk I’m missing that you absolutely love?