What are job benefits worth?

Calculate the worth of jobs benefits. But don't let them stand in the way of career advancement.

By , Guest blogger

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    People wait in line to meet with recruiters during a job fair in Melville, N.Y., last week. When comparing jobs, it's sometimes hard to figure out which company offers better benefits.
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A few days ago, I posted an article entitled How much do you really make?, in which I discussed the fact that many jobs have additional costs and expenses that aren’t included when you simply look at the salary that a job pays you.

From that article, I received a fair amount of reader feedback about the issue of benefits. Benefits certainly do add value to any job position. The problem is that it’s not easy to quantify how much benefits are worth.

Some aspects of it are easy to calculate. For example, in the scenario outlined in this article, if two jobs have identical health insurance plans and one job covers all of the premiums while the second job does not, then there’s a clear cash advantage for the first job. Simple enough.

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The same thing happens when you compare retirement plans. If one job offers 5% matching and another offers 2% matching, it’s pretty easy to calculate what those benefits are worth.

It gets much trickier from there, however.

Again, take health care plans. The specifics of health insurance plans vary widely. One plan might have a $1,000 deductible for everything, while another plan might cover 80% of all doctor visits and have a $500 deductible on other procedures. What are each of these worth? The value is going to be incredibly dependent on your situation.

To really know what they’re worth, you’d have to get quotes independent of work for health plans and any other benefits you want to match for each of the plans you’re considering.

The “easy” rule of thumb most people use is that the presence of a health care plan has a large, unspecified value. In other words, a job with such benefits is seen as always strictly better than a job without such benefits.

The problem? That perspective can cost you in terms of career advancement or career change. If you tell yourself that you “can’t” switch jobs because of the benefits, then you’re often missing out on chances that could put you in a much better place, both in terms of your career and your life.

For more than a year, I delayed switching to writing as a career because I was concerned about health care benefits. In my mind, I had basically attributed an extremely large value to them and because of that I was very afraid to walk away.

Our solution for this problem ended up involving a switch to the health care plan that my wife uses through her work, though it was more expensive than my own. However, I did do my own shopping around for health care plans during that process, and I found that it wasn’t impossible to find health care coverage. I used such services as eHealthInsurance to find some plans that worked for me at what I considered to be a reasonable cost.

If you are considering a career switch, don’t balk at the idea simply because of benefits. Price them out yourself and see where that puts you. If you’re able to switch to another job that eliminates the need for a commute, for a work wardrobe, and for lunches eaten out, that saved money can be enough to make up for a lost benefit out of your own pocket.

Do your own pricing of the benefits you need, and don’t use the presence of those benefits as an easy reason to not even consider a career switch that could change your life.

The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best economy-related bloggers out there. Our guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. To contact us about a blogger, click here. To add or view a comment on a guest blog, please go to the blogger's own site by clicking on www.thesimpledollar.com.

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