Maximizing work benefits

After a year of living with higher living costs – and many years of unusual work circumstances brought on by the pandemic – 2023 could be the year to take a close look at how much value you are getting from your employer.

I sat down with BT Toronto to offer some advice on how to know if your work perks are really working for you.  Catch the segment here.

Many of us only think about salary or hourly wages, but you should think more holistically about this.

A salary or hourly wage is strictly transactional: you work this amount of time, complete these tasks for the company and here’s your compensation.  But in the past few years with the Great Resignation and Quiet Quitting, we’re seeing very real ways our jobs relate to our identity and overall wellness.

Think of your work as a partnership. Your employer compensates you for your skills and effort, but that’s just the foundation.  For long-term success, effective employers will think about the big picture and how they’re supporting their employees to stick around, stay engaged and grow in the company.

This is an area we don’t talk about enough and it can lead to an imbalance between what we truly need to realize wellness in the workplace and what our workplaces are providing.

Get ahead with some of the more popular and common non-salary perks.

According to the National Payroll Institute, the most popular workplace benefits are medical benefits, life insurance, on-the job training, automobile allowances, and gifts (both cash and non-cash rewards).

Things like medical benefits and life insurance go a long way in supporting the well-being of employees. If you’ve ever been self-employed or had to pay for your own insurance, you know how expensive it can be for good coverage. Having an employer take care of this gives a great deal of peace of mind – especially if you need ongoing support to continue working. Physically demanding jobs performed over time may require ongoing treatments like massage therapy, physiotherapy etc. Those expenses add up.

Job-skills training is also key to well-being. We sometimes make the mistake of thinking “I’ve been hired to do X job, and that’s all I’m going to do”. But industries are constantly evolving, so it’s important to keep your skills up-to-date. It’s also important to be in a culture where even lateral moves can be attractive if it allows you to develop and grow other skills.

If your company doesn’t have the skill-training you want, see if they can reimburse you for it. We’re no longer living in a time where you can work the same job for the same employer for your entire adult life. It’s about career-management. You are the constant in your career, not your employer. So what can you do to keep your skills sharp, fresh, and true to what you’re interested in. For the employer, this will keep quality talent on your team longer than if you kept them static in one position. For the employee, ongoing skills training feeds the need to develop and grow at your own pace.

Automobile allowances and cash rewards (in the form of bonuses) are great if your work situation is unique. If you need to drive for work, then it makes sense your company supports you in this. Rewards are easy incentives and give the employee the autonomy to spend that bonus in a way that uniquely benefits them.

Whatever work perks your employee offers, it is vital to be an active participant in it. There are estimates that Canadian workers are walking away from millions of dollars in unused benefits – medical, employee matching programs, savings plans. Speak to someone in HR, speak to someone in payroll and see what perks are available. Then, opt in to whatever benefits best suit your lifestyle right now. Paid-time-off might be more valuable to you than prescription benefits, or vice versa. Have the conversation with your employer and see how to create a benefits program that works for you.

Newer workplace issues that have come up during the recession – like flexible work hours and the four-day work week – could your company embrace this trend?

Companies have been experimenting with flexible work schedules and locations long before the pandemic. The mass movement to work from home just accelerated the conversation for some places and introduced it to others.

Childcare and cost of living (especially in major markets like Toronto and Vancouver) cannot be ignored if we want to create more inclusive workplaces.

Think of the four-day work week. Companies around the world have been experimenting with this for the past year. Many have been successful and are now sharing their learnings.

The 40-hour, five day work week is only the norm because we collectively agree it’s the norm. But in recent history, the six-day work week was expected. The hours we work in exchange for compensation are not set in stone. Depending on where you work, remote work or a four-day work week could save you hundreds of dollars a month in childcare and commuting expenses. Not to mention what you could do with that extra day – start a side gig, learn a new skill or enhance an existing one, or just spending more time with family. All of it contributes to overall wellness in the workplace.

Asking for a raise especially if wellness isn’t enough to cover living costs.

One thing that didn’t change during the pandemic is how to ask for a raise (and how intimidating the process can be). The best way to approach it is to be prepared.

Research what comparable salaries are in your field. is a great resource, but so are your colleagues. Salary transparency is becoming a lot more common. If someone isn’t comfortable sharing the actual number, ask them to give a range. Know what is typical in your field and if you’re earning over or under.

Outline your list of recent accomplishments and how it helped the company overall. Demonstrate an understanding of how your work helps the broader business goals. Also, don’t wait until this one-on-one time to brag about your contributions. Make this a regular part of how you show up to work, so when it comes time to ask for a raise, these accomplishments are not a surprise to your boss or leader.  Then put your request in writing and follow up.

If your employer can’t offer a raise, ask for feedback. Maybe your contributions aren’t in alignment with the company’s direction. If so, identify this and realign how you work so you are contributing in a way that will get you a raise or promotion.

And if there isn’t room in the budget, see if you can secure something comparable by way of workplace benefits. There are many options available to your employer that may be within budget if salary is not.