We’re taught to prioritize salary negotiations, but often overlook negotiating aspects of our work that will have a greater impact day-to-day. While salary is important, after you reach a certain point in your income, another couple thousand dollars per year amounts to a pretty small increase on each paycheck.
I recently asked a group of clients and friends about the benefits and perks they valued most.
Flexibility in hours and location
Many people appreciated being able to work hours outside of the traditional 9 to 5 in order to accommodate child care, avoid rush hour, or work during their peak productivity. One woman wrote about loving her 7:30am-3:30pm schedule, while my best friend tends to arrive after 10am and work into the evening.
A working mother I’m close with opted for a 9/80 work week. One summer, she extended her hours slightly each day so she worked 80 hours over the course of nine work days, which meant she’d have every other Friday off to be with her kids.
You could also negotiate your location and the number of hours you work per week – this same friend is now working 30 hours per week remotely. She tells me, “I may do laundry during the day, and then work after the kids go to sleep. My boss doesn’t care as long as I get an average of 30 hours per week in each month.” She notes that with trust and good work habits, this structure works well for everyone.
Additional time off
While there’s a limit to how much extra vacation time you can negotiate, you may be able to save vacation time by redefining what counts as work-related. One woman negotiated with her employer so that the time she spends on a specific volunteer project during the workday doesn’t count against her paid time off.
More established employees have negotiated for additional benefits for the whole office like summer Fridays, in which the business shuts down a few hours early each week. A personal favorite was from a fellow New Orleanian who convinced her boss that no work ever gets done on Lundi Gras (the Monday before Mardi Gras), so now the office closes every year.
A budget or allowance
Employers often have separate funds for things like professional development, continuing education, and office supplies, so even if there’s a cap on salary, you may be able to negotiate to have some of your expenses covered.
One parent ensured that if she was expected to attend an offsite conference, her organization would either (a) cover the cost of another person (i.e. her partner or nanny) flying to the conference with her or (b) connect her with a childcare service in the conference city and cover the cost.
Among the more memorable things my clients and friends have negotiated are a quarterly clothing allowance, a yearly roundtrip business class flight home for international placements, a car wash allowance and a very, very expensive chair.
A change in policy
In some companies, employees receive benefits at a higher rate based on seniority. This can serve as an added facet to your negotiation. One person wrote about accruing paid time off more quickly, while another described coming in at a higher match rate for their 401k.
A policy that might not occur to you to negotiate is the rate at which you’re evaluated. Before she accepted the position, my very first client asked her prospective employer for an opportunity for a promotion after 6 months with clear metrics for success. Several years and promotions later, she’s still with the company.
How you spend your time has an enormous impact on your quality of life. If you know there are specific responsibilities you’re dreading, you may be able to negotiate for them to get done another way. This could include everything from how often you’re expected to travel to specific tasks.
For example, when I was asked to come on board as Development and Communications Director of a nonprofit, I knew that having me manage the organization’s social media accounts was not in anyone’s best interests. Before I accepted the role, I ensured I’d have funding for staff to manage that responsibility. Similarly, a bar manager told me he doesn’t do payroll or inventory. He gets paid slightly less as a result but says, “I’m happy to give that money back for the sake of my sanity.”
This list is far from all encompassing. It’s designed to help you get creative about what benefits will make your life better as well as to give you new ways to approach the negotiation with your employer. My car currently has pine needles from my Christmas tree in the backseat, so clearly a car wash allowance wouldn't be a priority for me. But give me a flexible schedule, and I’m a happy camper…and I wouldn’t mind a fancy desk chair as well.