Vacation, health benefits, pension: your compensation is more than your pay

Pay attention to what else your employer is offering so you don’t leave money on the table
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Jillian Climie, a compensation expert and co-founder of Vancouver-based consulting company Thoughtful Co., says employees should take time to research and read up on what the company has to offer in perks and benefits before seeing HR. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Sophie Warwick, *MAN

How much money do you make?

Many people zero in on their paycheques when considering their compensation. Yet experts say workers should regularly check that they’re taking advantage of vacation time and other benefits, lest they leave money on the table.

Employees often receive other considerations such as benefits and health insurance, said Cindy Marques, a certified financial planner and co-founder of MakeCents.

“That will result in dollars saved,” she said. “And essentially, dollars in your pocket when you think about not having to outlay that money yourself.”

People often forget what’s included in their package or don’t keep up with changes to group plans, Marques said.

Jillian Climie, a compensation expert and co-founder of Vancouver-based consulting company The Thoughtful Co., said employees should take time to research and read up on what the company has to offer in perks and benefits before seeing a human resources representative.

“They’re not the most exciting to read but they have a huge value — doing that pre-work yourself,” Climie said. Especially as employees get promoted, she said it’s important to take stock of benefits as new ones roll in, such as funding for professional development and coaching allowances.

Fitness allowances such as gym memberships or coverage for at-home workout gear like yoga mats or even treadmills could be included in benefits. Other underutilized unofficial perks could include at-home ergonomic setups, monthly phone bill payments, paid parking spots and travel expenses, Climie said.

Marques said even the most common benefits such as vacation and health care go underutilized, with workers “not realizing that there’s actually a fair amount of value that they can extract from their workplace.”

She said people often don’t fully use their paid time off because they can’t afford to travel. “You can still get paid your full wage to just stay at home and relax and give yourself a break,” she said.

“Be mindful of the fact that you’re not going to be carrying these vacation days forever,” Marques warned. Usually, leftover vacation days from the previous year expire at the end of the first quarter of the following year, she added.

“If you don’t use it, you will lose it,” she said. “That is money left on the table.”

But it can be hard to keep track of all the benefits and perks of the job amid deadlines and time constraints. Climie suggests making time for yourself.

“On a quarterly basis, allocate an hour to yourself to say, ‘Hey, have I used all my health and dental benefits that really could have an effect (on) me or my family?’” Climie said.

She also suggested talking to co-workers about how they’re making time to use their benefits.

Many employers have grown more flexible, letting their workers go for a medical appointment during work hours, especially since the pandemic, she said, which can be helpful for making the most of health benefits. Smart workplaces realize their employees are more likely to be productive when they feel like they’re being valued and compensated at work, Climie added.

Craig Copeland, director of wealth benefits research at the Employee Benefits Research Institute, said a large number of people don’t take advantage of group retirement benefits and pension-matching programs — when an employer matches a worker’s retirement contribution dollar for dollar — at work.

Even those who contribute to an employee pension plan don’t always maximize their matching, he said. “Many employers have the default rate below the maximum match and people then go to the default rate,” Copeland said.

“People are hesitant to go too much … because of the cost of living and what’s relative to their salary.”

Marques said she crunches the numbers before speaking to clients to reinforce how important retirement matching can be — even if her clients in their 20s and 30s don’t see the value yet.

“When you have a matching program with your employer, that’s a deal that’s hard to beat,” she said.

If a young employee is earning $80,000 a year with an average matching at three per cent, that’s $2,400 a year or $200 a month in retirement contributions from the company, she said. Over 30 years, that can turn into $1,000 a month in extra income in retirement.

“That’s a five times difference, a five times return on what you’re putting in because you allowed your employer to match it for you,” Marques said.

At the end of the day, she said, “If your employer has any sort of package, then it’s good for you.”

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