Benefits are one of the most important things to look for in a new job, but they can be hard to understand sometimes, even to those who have been in the workforce for years. From fresh grads who are pretending to understand what a 401(k) is to experienced workers who are almost positive they understand what a 401(k) is, everyone could use a refresher to ensure they’re getting the most out of their job. KSL Jobs is here to help with our guide to common benefits. 

Essential benefits

Picture these as the “Greatest Hits” of any benefits package. When you see Lady Gaga you want to hear “Pokerface,” right? Well, when you get a full-time job, you want to have health insurance. 

Retirement planning/401(k)

401(k)s are one of the most common benefits offered by employers, and one of the most misunderstood. Is a 401(k) a bank account? A pension plan? The name of Elon Musk’s new baby? 

A 401(k) is a company sponsored retirement plan that employees may opt into. 401(k)s have grown in popularity in the last few decades as traditional pensions have largely been phased out. Rather than receiving regular payments from their employers after retirement as with a pension, a 401(k) deducts money from each paycheck and places it into a fund that the employee can withdraw when they retire (or when they have a surefire business idea for Shark Tank). 

So a 401(k) helps you save money, big deal right? There are a million apps that do that. Well, with a 401(k), your company does all the work for you, and by keeping your retirement money in a specific account that’s not readily accessible, it’s easier to keep the money set aside for its intended purpose. You also don’t pay taxes on the money you put into a 401(k), so you can save with a capital S. 

Plus, many companies have 401(k) matching programs in which they match your contributions at a certain percentage. For example, if your company matches at 3% and you contribute that much, they’ll throw in another 3% on top of yours. If you contribute less than the matching amount, you’re leaving money offered from your employer on the table but getting more per paycheck. If you contribute more, you’ll be getting an even higher matched rate, but sacrificing real take-home money. 

Health insurance

Here’s a quick quiz: Do you anticipate needing to go to the doctor ever again in your life? If you answered yes, you should make sure your job offers health insurance. If you answered no, you should read the question again. Health insurance is a vital part of an employee benefits package, and your employer will likely offer several levels of coverage for you to choose from. 

Just like with a 401(k), the more money you’re willing to put toward your insurance, the more you’ll get out of it. Higher priced plans usually result in fewer out of pocket costs at the doctor’s office. Cheaper plans mean less money taken out of your paycheck, but more out of pocket money if you need medical treatment. As with any other financial decision, there are pros and cons to scrimping or splurging. 

If you’re having trouble deciding what level of coverage is right for you, talk to a human resources representative. They’ll help break down coverage options, answer questions (What even is a deductible?) and help you take into consideration things like budget, in-network resources and pre-existing health conditions. 

Vision and dental insurance

Who doesn’t like seeing a nice smile in the mirror? And being able to see that smile? Employers may not always offer vision and dental insurance, but the good news is, if they do, the monthly expenses are usually much less than standard health insurance. You also may not need to make copayments (payments required on medical visits) very often, since most people only visit the eye doctor or dentist once or twice a year. If vision and dental are offered to you, there are few reasons not to opt in. 

Work/life balance benefits 

Is play more important than pay to you? Nowadays, employees and companies alike are putting more stock in the ability to separate work and home life, with policies like unlimited PTO and remote work. These flexible benefits could be the difference between loving a job and leaving it. 

Paid time off

Unless your boss is Ebenezer Scrooge (pre-ghost), a full-time job will likely offer PTO in at least some capacity. The three most popular PTO systems are allotment, accrual or unlimited. With an allotment style program, employees are given a certain amount of days off to use at the beginning of each year. With an accrual program, employees accrue a certain amount of days off per month or pay period, adding to their PTO bank as they go. In both systems, longer tenured employees are usually offered more time off. 

An alternative to those two systems, unlimited PTO is gaining popularity, and for good reason! With an unlimited PTO system employees are free to take as much or as little time off as they need throughout the year. The caveat, of course, is that employers will expect their workers not to abuse the privilege and take off because they’ve got a “case of the Mondays.” Otherwise, workers are free to enjoy a few vacations throughout the year and the occasional mental health day without stressing over PTO. Meanwhile, employers don’t have to pay out remaining PTO days if an employee quits or retires. Win-win. 

Remote work

Once upon a time, people went green with envy when they heard someone was able to work from home. Nowadays, if people hear you talking about “the office” they’ll ask you who your favorite character is. The COVID-19 pandemic has shifted the work landscape for good, and while some employers are offering hybrid office/remote systems, many have accepted that remote work is here to stay. There are lots of advantages to working remotely, chief among them that employees have the ability to control their schedule in a way they couldn’t with traditional office work. This can be anything as exciting as working from the beach with a tropical drink in hand or as convenient as doing laundry in between meetings. 

Of course, it can be easy to get distracted when managing your own work and time, and some people prefer to keep a physical separation between work and home. If you’re the type of person who needs some accountability to keep them from falling down a YouTube rabbit hole, remote work might not be for you. If you’re looking for some advice on how to work from home more efficiently, check out KSL Jobs’ tips on working remotely. 

Other benefits

Remember those greatest hits from before? Well, these benefits are kind of like the B-sides. Except instead of saying “I knew this song before it got popular,” you can say “I got stock options before my company went public,” which is a lot more satisfying. 

Stock options

If your company offers stock options, it means that company stock is available for purchase by employees at a discounted rate. This perk is seen most often in startups, who are interested in both retaining workers and rewarding tenured employees in the event that the company goes public. 

Employee stock options differ from company to company — you might need to work for a certain amount of time before you can purchase stock, or go through a vesting period before you’re in full control of those stocks. The profitability of stock options also depends on the company’s success, and a startup’s path to its initial public offering may not always go as planned. If things go smoothly, however, you may be toasting to both your company’s success and one heck of a payday

Dog-friendly offices

With dog-friendly offices, employees can save on doggy daycare while keeping their four legged friends happy and well cared for. Dogs can make new friends in the office (both human and canine) and owners don’t have to face the dreaded “Why are you leaving me?” face every morning. Who doesn’t love that? 

Well, Linda the cat lady in Accounting might not, especially if your dog is poorly behaved. Your dog will probably need proof of certain shots and have to pass a quick behavioral inspection to join the rat race. But if you’ve got a friendly dog, dog-friendly offices are an underrated, life-changing perk. And if Linda is waiting on cat-friendly offices, she’ll have to keep waiting — no one wants their coffee cup knocked over 8 times a day. 

Tuition reimbursement 

Tuition reimbursement is a great way to continue your education while still earning a steady paycheck. A tuition reimbursement program covers some or all of your education costs, and may be used for anything from an advanced degree to a forklift license. However, you’ll likely be limited to subjects related to your job — if you’ve always dreamed of writing a screenplay, you might have to foot the bill for Scorsese’s Masterclass on your own.  

You might also be limited by the price of a certain class or program or be asked to maintain a specific grade point average. When they work out, tuition reimbursement programs are usually a win-win for employers and employees; employees gain valuable experience, and employers save the stress of finding outside hires for positions that require certain degrees or experience.

These are just some of the many benefits that may be included along with a new employment opportunity. When it comes to benefits, it pays to read carefully, study up and ask questions. Use KSL Jobs to search easily by perks and benefits so you can find your next job sooner.