12 workplace perks your wallet will love

A job comes with more than a paycheck. It may also bring a long list of perks and benefits such as wellness plans, insurance policies and even free food. "If you think about your compensation package, 30 to 32 percent of your total compensation doesn't come in the form of salary," says Gerry Leonard, president of ADP Benefit Services in Atlanta.

Atrium Staffing, a New York City-based employment agency, surveyed its database of job seekers and found 91 percent would accept a new opportunity if better benefits were offered. That means the stakes are high for companies in competitive markets. "The top employers are the ones thinking about how they create the best work environment and compensation packages," says Jeff Howkins, president and CEO of Ascensus College Savings.

When it comes to benefits that offer the most value, talent experts say these are the ones you want.

Health Insurance

From a dollars-and-cents standpoint, practically no benefit is as valuable as health insurance. "Getting your health [insurance] provided by your employer is huge," Leonard says.

The Kaiser Family Foundation found the average annual cost for an employer-sponsored family health insurance plan was $18,142 in 2016. Of that, employers covered $12,865 of the cost.

Retirement Plan

The standard company retirement plan nowadays is a 401(k). Although these are funded largely by workers, some firms make an automatic contribution to the fund as part of a compensation package. Others may match employee contributions to a certain level.

Even more valuable is a pension that has a guaranteed payout in retirement. "Rare, but still out there," says job-hunting expert Revi Goldwasser, who works out of Los Angeles and Boca Raton, Florida. "If you are with a firm that pays a pension, stay put."

Health Savings Account

Leonard says health savings accounts are still underutilized but provide a great value for employees. Money deposited into the account is tax-deductible. It then grows tax-free, and withdrawals used for qualified health care expenses are tax-exempt. Some businesses will make an annual contribution on behalf of workers as well. The only catch is that employees need to have a qualified high-deductible health insurance plan to participate.

Equity in the Company

Google made hundreds of people instant millionaires when the company went public in 2004. These people were workers who had been awarded stock options as part of their employment at the then startup.

While not everyone is going to become a millionaire because of stock options, equity in a company can be a valuable commodity. Just be sure to balance it out with other investments. Relying on one company's stock for financial security can be a recipe for disaster if the firm has a bad year or goes under right when the money is needed.

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Employee Health Care and Assistance Services

Benefits in this category come in a number of forms. Some companies offer screenings for early cancer detection, resources to treat chronic conditions or free gym memberships. Other employee-assistance programs offer free counseling, legal services or financial planning.

In many cases, these programs prove beneficial for both employees and employers. Workers may sidestep costly problems by addressing issues proactively. Meanwhile, companies may find their workers stay healthier and more productive. ComPsych, which administers employee-assistance programs, says the cost is usually quite reasonable, too. Workers pay nothing to access services, and employers are charged a fee equal to roughly $24 per employee per year.

Parental Leave

Parental leave can be a significant benefit both financially and emotionally. It is also still relatively scarce. However, some companies are working to change that.

"I have seven children, so I have a lot of empathy for working moms," says Vanessa Quigley, co-founder of the photo-printing service Chatbooks. Her company offers one month of leave to all employees who add a new family member. New mothers can take an additional two months off for medical leave. Both part-time and full-time workers have access to these benefits, and Quigley says they make for a stronger, more passionate workforce. "We do get incredible work and loyalty [from employees]."

Some companies also offer family planning perks. SAP North America gives employees a lifetime benefit of up to $15,000 for fertility treatment and $15,000 for fertility drugs. For those planning to adopt, the company will pay $10,000 per adoption to cover associated fees.

Paid Time Off

Atrium Staffing found unlimited time off was one of the top three benefits job seekers desired. It's a perk that's been embraced by companies such as Netflix.

Other firms have adopted innovative ways to reward their workers with time off. At translation-services company TransPerfect, co-founder Phil Shawe takes his employees on team vacations to place like Machu Picchu and the Mount Everest summit. He sees the excursions result in greater workforce productivity and employee satisfaction.

Career or Personal Development

At tech company VictorOps, co-founder Todd Vernon holds monthly "Lunch and Learn" meetings to mentor employees with entrepreneurial dreams. Such career-development sessions are a low-cost way for companies to afford workers the chance to gain skills and knowledge needed to further their careers.

Some companies are funding personal-development initiatives for workers. Avadim Technologies, for example, sends employees on an all-expenses-paid mission trip designed to combine healthy vacation time with the opportunity to do positive social good, according to a company representative.

Tuition Reimbursement or Loan Repayment

While tuition reimbursement is already offered at some companies, talent experts say loan repayment will be increasingly rolled out. "Forward-thinking companies are doing that because they see young people suffocating under their student loans," says Roberta Matuson, expert on talent and author of "The Magnetic Leader."

These benefits offer significant value, but workers need to understand the fine print. In some cases, they may be required to pay back benefits if they don't stay with their employer for a certain number of years.

College Savings Accounts

Although employers don't often make contributions to 529 college savings accounts on behalf of workers, merely offering payroll deductions for the plans can be valuable. "When people have a chance to save, they are 15 times more likely to do it," Howkins says, citing 2014 data from the Employee Benefit Research Institute.

529 Plans offer the chance to pay for qualified higher education expenses using tax-exempt dollars. Plus, some states offer deductions for certain contributions. Legislation has been introduced in Congress to allow people to use their plan to make student loan payments, and Howkins says several states are considering initiatives to encourage employers to match contributions.

Parking

Finding an employer who will pay for parking is no small thing in some urban areas, including Los Angeles, where parking can cost up to $400 a month, Goldwasser says.

Food

Complimentary meals have long been a mainstay at startups. VictorOps serves free breakfast and lunch to staff once a week. For employees who want to work off-site, the company also offers gift cards to local coffee shops and eateries.

Older workers might not be too impressed by these perks, but Matuson reminds people that everyone has different priorities. And that's the bottom line when it comes to workplace perks, experts say. Individuals must decide for themselves which benefits add the most value to a compensation package.

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