The America where an employee accepted a job with the expectation of an extended benefits program is no more and is hardly likely to ever come back into fashion. Not satisfied with downsizing and outsourcing higher salaries to locations where they are practically reinventing the concept of indentured servitude, Big Business in America set their sights on undermining the last remaining reason for any employee to exhibit the slightest bit of loyalty: the benefits package.
It used to be that one company could entice the best and the brightest job applicant from taking a position with a rival company by being the party that offered the most expansive set of benefits. Today, the only carrot offered as a stick to a thoroughbred employee is the promise of not making them the scapegoat when the company is caught engaging in illegal activities. If you can find a company in America to work for that offers a benefits program, you should do what you can to check out the specifics. If you can find a company in America that offers everything you are about to read and pays a good wage and keeps you and your family on American soil and doesn’t ask you to look the other way when you discover that it has been doing shifty things when it comes to the law, then consider yourself lucky.
Or a CEO. Or a member of Congress.
Medical benefits are what most people think of today when they think of a company benefit package. Mainly because medical benefits are just about the only kind of benefit left that many companies offer an enticement. Specific issues that you should inquire about include: whether the medical plan is an HMO or PPO, is catastrophic illness insurance included, is there even the remotest possibility that some dental coverage exists, will the insurance pay out for mental illness treatment and care, what age does dependent cost coverage disappear, what are the out-of-pocket expenses that the insurance package doesn’t cover, how is the deductible and how much are the premiums. Don’t just accept the blanket statement that insurance coverage is part of the company’s benefit package because it may turn out to be utter crap. Also, don’t forget to ask how long you must work at the company before you can get the insurance.
The vacation is another benefit that is sticking around in America. Of course, the specifics of the vacation benefit varies not just according to employer, but according to position. Ask if vacations are paid and how long you get. Inquire into the situation as it exists relative to accumulation, usage and loss of vacation time. What are the blackout periods of the calendar year where you are not allowed to take off on vacation. How long must you be employed before vacation time kicks in. Can you split your vacation time to allow you to take shorter vacations twice a year instead of one longer vacation.
The financial benefits that a company offers its employees vary tremendously. A common element of the financial benefit package is entry into a profit-sharing program and that can be a great thing, but always ask about the specifics involved and analyze whether it meets your specific needs. Some companies lure employees in with the promise of being able to buy company stock and that may sound great, but be realistic about your expectations of the company’s future. You will most likely be laughed at either audibly or silently inside the interviewer’s mind, but go ahead and ask about the existence of a worker’s union. You might also think ahead to aging issues and your potential for spending serious time as an employee by asking about the existence of group life insurance
First off, don’t count on it. Pension plans at American companies have almost completely gone the way of celebrity athletes who are worthy of being admired by their young fans. Ask about the existence of a pension benefits package and if you don’t get the head shake and the predictable response that the company is planning on offering a retirement plan in the future, then ask about employee contributions followed by the length of employment time before you can become vested in its interest. Make inquiries into the existence of a 401(k) plan. If you get that far without realizing that going on any further is only going to accomplish the task of making you the subject of jokes at the executive lounge at the end of the day, ask about what age you can expect to start receiving your pension. I cannot overemphasize the importance of taking this figure with you in your head to your celebratory dinner that night and swallowing it followed by a sprinkling some salt from the shaker into your mouth and swallowing that. In other words, regardless of the age figure you receive, keep in mind that by the time you reach that age, there is an excellent chance the pension plan will have ceased existing at all for several years. Other pension questions: early retirement advantages, cost-of-living increases, medical coverage for you and spouse, spousal pension in event of your demise and what it would take at this moment in time to lose your pension.
If you’ve got a kids, ask about child care benefits. Child care is one of the few additions to the whole benefits concept in America over the past few decades. In most cases, workers lost an existing benefit in exchange for child care, but not always. If you don’t have kids when you are hired, you should still ask about this since it may become an issue in the future. Be sure to ask about whether any child care expenses can be reimbursed if there is not any facility on-site. Some companies offer the small benefit of a referral service that can save you a little money so don’t forget to ask about that.
The one aspect of the American executive suite in which greed does seem to be giving way at least slightly to exercises of intellectual spirit is in the arena of business owners realizing that an educated and well-trained worker is worth the expense or, at least, an uneducated and untrained worker isn’t worth the profit. Don’t be shy about asking of the existence of a benefits package addition that pays all or part of your continuing education. If the education benefits isn’t that broad, there may exist the potential for the company footing the bill for training classes or work-related seminars. At the very least, ask if the company offers a reimbursement program if you seek out work-related education opportunities yourself.
Good luck and let us know if you’ve found an employer offering all of these in its benefits package.