49. How to Negotiate Workplace Benefits

October 13, 2022

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The following article may contain affiliate links or sponsored content. This doesn’t cost you anything, and shopping or using our affiliate partners is a way to support our mission. I will never work with a brand or showcase a product that I don’t personally use or believe in.

There’s a lot to consider when you’re negotiating your salary

Mostly the fact that there’s more to a compensation factor than just the number in your bank account each month.

Many career climbers and job hunters neglect the important piece of evaluating total compensation when they’re deciding on a job offer –– and we get it! Every job is going to offer a different set of benefits and perks, and no two companies are completely alike. So, how do you know what’s worth it and what’s just fluff?

In today’s episode, Tori walks you through a list of potential “non-salary” benefits you might come across when you’re job hunting. These include everything from Unlimited PTO to Stock Options to Healthcare. 

What you’ll learn:

  • What you can negotiate (besides salary)

  • A master list of workplace benefits

  • Scripts for getting clarity on benefits and non-salary compensation

  • Definitions and break downs of so not so common benefits 


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Tori Dunlap (00:00):

Hi Financial Feminists. Hello. Welcome back, Welcome back, Welcome back, Welcome back. What is that from? Welcome back, welcome back, welcome back. Oh, hold on, hold on. It’s going to come to me. Welcome back, Welcome back. Oh, oh, oh. It is Tom Hiddleston doing Graham Norton in front of Graham Norton. That’s what it is. Has anybody seen that? Tom Hiddleston is very good at impressions, fun fact. And yeah, he was hot, but then I saw him on Graham Norton, and then I was very attracted to him because he’s extremely good at impressions. But he does an impression of Graham Norton, the very famous, well, he’s technically Irish, but on British networks he’s the Jimmy Fallon of Britain. Right? And for all my British people, of course you will know. He does an impression of him in front of him and it’s fantastic. And he goes, “Welcome back, Welcome back, Welcome back, Welcome back,” and it’s very cute. Anyway, that’s what I thought of. This is how my brain works. It’s just constant references.


So Welcome back. Welcome back to the show. Thanks for being here. Thank you as always for supporting the show, for liking and subscribing. If you haven’t done so already, Financial Feminist is also a book now. It is a book called Financial Feminist: Overcome the Patriarchy’s Bullshit to Master Your Money and Build a Life You Love. It is available literally wherever you get your books, not just in physical form, but also an eBook and audiobook. And as of this recording, over 5000 of you have ordered a book, which wowie zowie, thank you for your support. We really do recommend that you pre-order the book to make sure you get a copy because I have a feeling they’re going to be sold out some places.


And not only is it so beneficial to order from your independent bookstore to of course support your independent bookstore. But also, fun fact that I didn’t know before I wrote a book is that bestseller lists like the New York Times actually give more weight to books that have been sold or purchased through an independent bookstore, so it’s a win-win. It’s a win for us in terms of increasing the likelihood that we’re on a bestseller list, which is literally my entire life’s dream. But also, you get to support your local business and we’re all about that. So you can go to herfirst100k.com/book or the link in the show notes, and we have every single place you can purchase linked on that site.


Okay, team, we are talking today about workplace benefits. This is one of those topics that is different depending on your position, or your potential position, your industry, your city. So the information is going to feel more basic sometimes that we’ll give you today, and sometimes it isn’t. But the importance of this episode is recognizing that the content is not always going to fit your situation 100%. So the best thing you can do is leave us a voicemail if you have a particular question. So the workplace has changed so much in the last decade. Right? So much has shifted, and so much about our expectations of our job has shifted as well. I literally just spoke at an HR conference where the other panelist was an HR professional and an HR expert.


And according to recent studies, more and more employees and team members are expecting jobs or positions to not just support themselves at work, not just support their professional selves, but also supporting their personal selves, which means now that our jobs are not just the places we get paychecks, but employees are expecting jobs and companies to support every single part of a
person’s life, their relationships, their mental health, their physical health. So a lot has shifted, not just in the last 10 years, but especially in the last couple years with COVID. That change is only accelerated because of the shift to remote work and flex time and potentially unlimited PTO.


We have discussed this many times on our Instagram, on our TikTok at Her First $100K. I work as a negotiation coach and a negotiation expert, and one of the things that I always make sure to direct candidates to is evaluating job offers not just by the salary, but by the benefits. This is why we call it a compensation package, is it’s not just the salary, the amount of money you’re getting in your paycheck. It’s also all of the benefits that are offered and the monetary value of those benefits. And sometimes it might be actually more advantageous to take a job that pays less in terms of salary but has better benefits, or has benefits that make more sense to your life.


You can also negotiate benefits if they can’t budge on salary. If you’ve attempted to negotiate the salary and that’s not working, your benefits are flexible as well. Kristen, oh, what number, the negotiation episode? 19? Why in my head is it 19? If I’m right, I’m going to be so excited. We can keep this in because I think I’m right and I really want to be right on the episode. If I just remembered … Oh, 19. Yes. Yes. Yes, it is 19. Yes. Okay, episode 19. I don’t know how … This is where my brain is, Tom Hiddleston interviews and the podcast episode in numerical order about what we are covering. Jesus Christ, it’s sad that I remember that.


Okay, episode 19 is all about how to negotiate with confidence, so if you haven’t listened to that episode, please go back because we talk about of course not just negotiating raises, but also negotiating bills and salaries at new jobs, and that includes benefits. So again, keep in mind that your compensation at a company or at an organization is not just the number that is on your check, or your metaphysical check, but is all about … I’m winded from yelling to loud. I need to take a breath. You can keep this in too. I’m a mess today.


Okay, yes, it’s your total compensation. Right? It’s all of your benefits in addition to your salary. We have outlined this in the book Financial Feminist. We have a whole chapter called The Earning Chapter about making sure to find a job that compensates you fairly, negotiating your pay, side hustles. And we go through literally every single benefit that an organization could offer. So again, get your copy of Financial Feminist wherever books are sold. But I’m going to go ahead and read you the laundry list of potential benefits. Now again, some of these might not make sense for you. Right? They might not make sense for your industry or for your position. Others might definitely make sense for you. So I’m going to give you every potential benefit a company could offer you, in addition of course to your salary.


The first is health benefits. This includes health insurance, but also potentially your employer paying for part or all of your health insurance. The second is a 401(k) or a similar retirement program. And two A is a 401(k) match, which means of course that if, let’s say it’s a 3% match, if you contribute 3% of your salary, the company will double it. That is one of the best benefits because it’s free money. Number three is a relocation stipend. Maybe they’re asking you to move from one place to another and they’re going to help subsidize that move, those moving costs. Four is flex time or a work from home schedule. Maybe that’s fully remote, maybe that’s once a week or twice a week. Maybe it’s just the opportunity and the flexibility to show up when you want, as long as you get your work done. Right?


My first job out of school, where I met my best friend, Christine, I would show up at 8:30 and leave around 5:00. She would show up at about 9:30, 10:00, and leave at 7:00, so that was flexible time. Another benefit is PTO days. PTO stands for paid time off. How many PTO days do you get a year? How much time off do you get a year? Some organizations like yours truly at Her First $100K offer unlimited PTO, which we’ll talk about in a bit. You can be offered a transportation stipend or a public transit card. Maybe they’re subsidizing the cost of you commuting into work, either through paying for your bus or train tickets. Right? In Seattle, we have what’s called an ORCA card, and one of my previous companies paid for my ORCA card. That was the card I got, you use to get on the bus or on the light rail. If you are living in New York, it might be a subway card. It might be a metro card. Or it could be, we’re going to pay for your gas, or we’re going to pay for half of your gas.


You can also get a signing bonus. A signing bonus is exactly what it sounds like, where when you sign, when you sign onto a company, you get a one time bonus. Maybe it’s $5000, $10,000. It’s an incentive typically for companies trying to get you to take their offer over somebody else’s, over another company’s offer. You can also sometimes ink and guarantee an annual bonus, so you can literally say, “This is the amount of money I’m guaranteed to get this year if I hit my goals, or if the company does this amount of money.” We’ll talk about this more in a second, but stock options, stock options are very, very popular at tech companies, if you work at an Amazon, or a Microsoft, or a Google, or a Facebook. Stock options are very common. And it’s exactly again what it sounds like is you own part of the stock in the company, or you can potentially buy stock in the company.


Profit sharing is also another benefit that you could potentially offer. Again, the idea that you are getting X amount of the company’s profit at the end of the year. Commission is another possibility. Typically this is for a sales kind of role, something that actually is revenue generating, where you get part of the benefit of that. It’s kind of like profit share, but in a different way. Health and wellness stipends are becoming very common. This typically manifests as a gym membership, or a Better Help subscription, or some way that they’re taking care of your health and wellness. Another benefit is new equipment, like a new laptop, or work from home, where they give you a standing desk, or a wireless mouse, or something like that.


My favorite thing to negotiate is a professional definitely stipend, which is this idea of maybe they’ll give you $1000 a year for you to take an online course or to attend a conference. This is one of my favorite things to negotiate because your company gets a better, more educated, well rounded employee, and you get training that you can take into your future career. The professional development stipend is similar to an education stipend, but an education stipend is become unfortunately all too rare, but where they’ll literally pay for you to get a free or discounted bachelor’s or master’s degree, or a new certification. We see this very commonly at universities if you work in education, is the idea that you can get a master’s or higher degree at little to no cost. I don’t know if they still offer it, but again in Seattle because I’ve helped people negotiate for it. Boeing offered this for a long time, and it was like if you worked this amount of years, we will basically pay for your master’s degree.


My other favorite thing to negotiate is a better title because it’s at no cost to the company, but it sets you up for success as you progress in your career. This is very easy to negotiate at startups where the structure might not be super hierarchical yet, or super defined. But also, if you are a team of one, like I was the team of one marketer at pretty much every company I worked for, and as opposed to being the social media manager, I might say, “I’m the head of marketing or the head of social media,” because no one else is doing it.


And the last two, a childcare stipend, where they’re covering part if not all of daycare costs, or nanny costs, childcare. And the last and most important is unfortunately the United States of America is still, still one of only two, quote, unquote, industrialized countries that do not have required parental leave. So parental leave is also a benefit that is offered by more and more organizations, and is also a benefit that should be demanded to be offered by organizations. And parental leave should not just be offered for folks who can get pregnant, but also for their partners, who are also going to take part in raising those children.


That was a lot, but that was your laundry list. And again, we have all of this written down in Financial Feminist, the book. If you want to see it on paper, you want more into about negotiating, great place to go. Okay, today’s episode, we’re going to dive into some of these benefits to hopefully give you an understanding and some followup questions to ask whether you’re negotiating for your next job or for a raise. First, let’s talk about compensation. Again, traditional salary. This is the amount of money that you are getting paid. One question to ask is: How is compensation determined? How do they come up with this? How did they decide that this was the amount of money they were going to pay you?


Two, what standard do you set for employee evaluations for raises and bonuses? This is my favorite question for multiple reasons. One, it will become very clear if they don’t have a set process for you. And if they don’t have a set process, that means that you probably are not getting a raise for a very long time, if at all. Two, you also need to know how and when you will be evaluated. You want to know you’re doing good work. Right? You want to know that you’re setting yourself up for success. And the workplace needs to structure it as so. The other thing is that this level sets that you want a conversation about these things, that you expect to have a conversation about compensation, that you expect this to not be the last conversation about money. It shows that you of course know your worth and that you value yourself, but also that you are going to continue to know your worth and value yourself and have conversations.


And finally, is this total compensation, or could I expect performance based bonuses? Is this the total amount of money you’re paying me, or could I expect some sort of bonus related to how well I perform at this company? All right, number two, we’re going to talk about time off. PTO is paid time off. Some companies give a set number of days, like 14 days of PTO a year. Some companies do several types of PTO. This is what I’ve seen most commonly, where they’ll include personal time, which is you going on vacation, versus sick leave, or medical leave. Some companies do menstrual leave. So it might be a combination. Right? And then often, you get paid holidays. So I think most commonly what I see, especially in corporate jobs, is that you’ll get an amount of flexible PTO. That’s for your vacation or your more traditional time off.


Then you’ll get sick days that are mandated by the state or by the city. And then you’ll get paid holidays like Christmas, New Year’s, Thanksgiving, et cetera. What is unlimited PTO? It is PTO that is not beholden
to a particular number of days or hours. It’s an incredible benefit. Right? But a lot of companies unfortunately put asterisks behind it, so a couple followup questions to ask because some companies will use the unlimited PTO thing as their excuse to actually not give any PTO, or to incentivize people to not take time off. So we can ask: What is the process for asking for PTO? And does someone have to approve it? Again, not the end of the world, but again, will show you if there’s a system in place.


The second question you can ask is: How often are employees not approved for PTO? Or how often are they approved? Again, are people actually taking PTO at this organization? And the third thing you can ask is: Are there any blackout dates for PTO, times you can’t take time off? We know here at Her First $100K, with our book launch and some things around that, we are kind of all hands on deck during that time, so there are certain blackout dates or certain times where the company might be launching a product, or if you’re a customer service professional, they are need you there, or somebody else already took PTO, so you can’t. Again, none of these are necessarily red flags, you’re just getting more information. Some companies say unlimited, but they just actually want you to feel bad about taking time off, or they make it impossible to do so. So asking these questions will give you a good idea of which side they might be on.


Okay, number three, common benefit, or hopefully should be fucking common, paternity or maternity leave. The US is bass ackwards in that there is no guaranteed paid federal maternity or paternity leave. Right? I mentioned that earlier. Complete bullshit. Vote, please. Go vote and protest. Many companies are going to offer some kind, but you need to be very clear on what those options are before you start, especially if you consider having children. Okay. Number one, how long is the maternity or paternity leave policy? And number two, is it paid or unpaid? Some are paid for a particular amount of time. Right? Some require you to use the PTO that you’ve saved up. Others are like, “Yep, you can take 10 weeks, 12 weeks, no questions asked.”


Some people also choose to look into disability insurance as an option to help lessen the blow of not having income, but you’re going to need to chat more about this with your HR department and make sure you understand what is covered and what is not covered under this policy. Again, I can’t say this enough. This is why financial feminism is not just personal choices, but policy change because this is some bullshit. You shouldn’t ever have to wonder if you’re going to be paid by taking time to raise children or to have children. So please make sure that you know going in what your benefits are.


Number four, investing, 401(k), 401(k) matches. We’ve talked about 401(k)s previously in our retirement accounts episode. They are a tax advantaged account for retirement that is only offered to companies with W-2 employees. These are a benefit. Companies are not required to offer a 401(k). I have worked at companies that don’t offer a 401(k). The positives of this account include a $20,500 a year contribution limit. This is as of 2022 when we’re recording this. And then plus, sometimes an employer match, which I talked about earlier, this idea that if you contribute a percentage of your salary, your company will match it.


If you don’t know if you have a 401(k), if you don’t know if you have a 401(k) match, ask. Ask your benefits person. Ask your HR person. Ask your boss. And yes, you can have a 401(k) and potentially a Roth IRA, even if you aren’t maxing either account out, unless you fall into the higher tax bracket that does not qualify for an IRA. We talked about this before. 401(k) matches are free money, so even if that’s all you can afford to contribute, contribute at least up to the match. Contribute more if you can, 100%, but don’t leave free money on the table. This is part of what they’re paying you for.


Okay, number five, stock options. We have talked extensively about stock options in our course called Navigating the Negotiation, which is all about how to negotiate a salary at a new job, how to negotiate a raise. It’s literally information that you’ll need for your entire career. We have specific scripts. We also go into literally an entire module about stock options. We’re going to do a very brief overview of stock options. This is a lot more nuanced and a little bit more complicated, so again, all of the information is in Navigating the Negotiation.


A stock option in the context of a benefit is the option to purchase company stock at a set price. A lot of people think with stock options, even though is says option in the title of it, that you’re just going to get stock. No, you still have to go buy the stock. It’s just at a typically discounted rate. So again, if you work at a company like Amazon and they’re going to give you, I don’t know, 5000 shares of Amazon, which amazing, you still have to go purchase those shares. They’re just typically discounted. They’re not asking you to pay for the full price of the share. And it’s buying stock at a certain price during your time at the company, regardless of how well or poorly the company does.


So let’s say you get a new job at really snazzy tech startup. In your compensation package, you are offered stock options for let’s say 10,000 shares of the company stock. You and your employer both
sign a contract that outlines the terms of those stock options. This contract will include the amount of shares that you are offered, 10,000, the price you must pay to exercise the shares, meaning purchase the shares so that you own them, as well as the date and terms under which your options begin to vest.


So let me break that down in non jargon. Again, exercising your shares is just a fancy way of saying buying shares. Right? You do not actually own your shares of stock unless you choose to exercise your options or buy the shares. Again, this benefit is kind of a hypothetical benefit unless you choose to buy your shares. My last corporate job, the corporate job I had when I quit to run HFK full-time, I had stock options, but I chose not to exercise them. When I left, I chose not to purchase any of my options. The other thing is what’s called a vesting schedule. This also sometimes happens with a 401(k). Okay, so vesting is kind of like, again, the asterisk to this is they’re saying, they’re trying to incentive you to stay longer by giving you more.


So sometimes when you’re offered stock options, you’re not actually receiving your options right away, or if you have a vesting 401(k), you’re not receiving all of the benefits right away. They become available gradually. It’s called a vesting period or a vesting schedule. You’ll typically see this as a four year vesting schedule, so in year one, you’re going to get 25% of your options. In year two, you’re getting 50%, year three, 75%. And then if you stay for the full four years, you get your total. You get the total amount. They’re basically, again, kind of dangling the carrot and they’re saying, “If you stay longer, you’re going to get seemingly more benefits.” Again, sometimes they’ll do this with 401(k) matches as well. There’s a lot more to this, so if you want a further deep dive, let us know. Send us a voicemail and we’d be happy to do another episode. But again, this is part of why we have Navigating the Negotiation.


The other thing about stock options is that they’re usually offered to employees of startups or tech companies as a way to incentivize them to join a company, and especially in the early days of companies, at a lower rate of pay than you might find in more established companies. They’re kind of saying, “Hey, we want you to work for us, but we can’t pay you as much as Amazon, or Microsoft, or Google, or whatever. But what we can give you is stock in the company, equity in the company that hopefully will be worth a big chunk of money.” So the pro to that is that you could have the next Starbucks or Amazon on your hands. You could be making a shit ton of money if you choose to exercise those options.


But typically what ends up happening is most startups do either fine, or they end up failing. Right? So we hope that the company will do so well that when you exercise and sell your shares, the profit you make will far exceed the compensation that another company could offer you. But sometimes those options are actually worth nothing, so it’s something to keep in mind. Again, more in Navigating the Negotiation.


Number six, health insurance. For those international folks that listen to Financial Feminist, I am jealous of you. The American healthcare system is a shit show, much like our lack of paid leave. Right? Please, universal healthcare. Okay, most companies offer some kind of insurance plan to full timers. You do not have to use your health insurance from the company, but I would probably advise it because it’s going to be way cheaper. So a couple questions to ask. One, what is the typical cost of insurance for the employee, for me, to come work? Number two, what insurance company do you offer? Who is the insurance through? Number three, what portion of the premium do you cover? Premium is the amount of money you’re paying for the health insurance. Right? Is it all of it? Is it half of it? Again, last corporate job I worked, I believe I covered 20% and the company covered 80%, which was a great benefit.


And number four, do you have a list of benefits I could look over? Right? You might love a certain therapist and need to know that therapist is covered under your insurance. Right? Or maybe you have a preexisting condition, where you need to know if the health insurance covers that. Certain benefits have to be covered legally because of the Affordable Care Act, but many companies are beginning to offer more comprehensive coverage for things like fertility care or something else.


Okay, last but not least, flexible time, or work from home, or working remote. Flex time means that you can again kind of work whenever you want. We have that at HFK, but we have a kind of hybrid because there’s some meetings that people have to attend. You have to be at the 10:00 AM meeting, our 10:00 AM marketing meetings every week. But other times, if you want to work weekends, but take a certain day off in the week, if you work better at night, if you work better in the morning, that is flexible time. But you need to understand again if it’s actually flexible, or if there’s meetings, or if there’s different time zones that you need to be available for. With work from home, similar thing.


You also, I literally listened to a New York Times podcast about this, there’s more and more companies now that are doing work from home, but they’re tracking your every movement. I know a couple friends who are working jobs that are work from home that lit
erally track your cursor, track if you’re online, so ask if it is work from home, if it is remote, if it is … Ask. Do you track the amount of hours we work? Do you track our cursor movement, our browser activity? And you need to decide for yourself if that’s something that you’re comfortable with. I know I would not because because it’s borderline tyrannical.


Okay, team, let’s wrap this up. Sometimes compensation is not flexible. Right? But you can negotiate so many other things. We have an entire chapter in Financial Feminist around earning money, around negotiating, so you can get a copy of Financial Feminist for $22 or less at anywhere you get your books. You can also get a copy from your local library if $22 is not in your budget right now. We also, if you really want to invest in yourself and you want to get the all you can eat guide to negotiation, including a bunch of very specific scripts about what to say, how to go about negotiating, you can check out our Navigating the Negotiation course that we’ve linked in the show notes.


As always, Financial Feminist, we appreciate you being here. We appreciate your support of the show. We hope this information is super valuable for you and we hope you have a great rest of your week. Take care. Share this episode with somebody who needs it, and we’ll catch you later. Thank you for listening to Financial Feminist, a Her First $100K podcast. Financial Feminist is hosted by me, Tori Dunlap, produced by Kristen Fields, marketing and administration by Karina Patel, Olivia Coning, Cherise Wade, Alena Helzer, Paulina Isaac, Sophia Cohen, Valerie Oresko, Jack Coning, and Ana Alexandra. Research by Ariel Johnson, audio engineering by Austin Fields, promotional graphics by Mary Stratton, photography by Sarah Wolfe, and theme music by Jonah Cohen Sound. A huge thanks to the entire Her First $100K team and community for supporting the show. For more information about Financial Feminist, Her First $100K, our guests, episode show notes, and our upcoming book, also titled Financial Feminist, visit herfirst100k.com.

Tori Dunlap

Tori Dunlap is an internationally-recognized money and career expert. After saving $100,000 at age 25, Tori quit her corporate job in marketing and founded Her First $100K to fight financial inequality by giving women actionable resources to better their money. She has helped over one million women negotiate salary, pay off debt, build savings, and invest.

Tori’s work has been featured on Good Morning America, the New York Times, BBC, TIME, PEOPLE, CNN, New York Magazine, Forbes, CNBC, BuzzFeed, and more.

With a dedicated following of almost 250,000 on Instagram and more than 1.6 million on TikTok —and multiple instances of her story going viral—Tori’s unique take on financial advice has made her the go-to voice for ambitious millennial women. CNBC called Tori “the voice of financial confidence for women.”

An honors graduate of the University of Portland, Tori currently lives in Seattle, where she enjoys eating fried chicken, going to barre classes, and attempting to naturally work John Mulaney bits into conversation.

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