Published April 30, 2014
You already know the basics: Salary? You better be negotiating. Vacation? Also on the table. In fact, here are six things beyond your paycheck you can negotiate on the job, at pretty much any level.
Since most of us spend more time at work than we do at home or with friends and family, asking for what you deserve is important.
But if you’re a senior, high-earning employee, such as a vice president or higher, did you know that a little artful negotiation may help you secure even more unique extras?
Here are six perks you might want to know about if you’re within spitting distance of the C-suite.
As for what’s worth asking for, Roy Cohen, career coach and author of “The Wall Street Professional’s Survival Guide,” says you’ll have the most success negotiating perks that have some bearing on your position and may support your ability to do your job more effectively.
We talked to career experts and real workers to find out which of these six nice-to-haves seemed nicest to them, and how they went about asking for said perk.
Lincoln Smith, a minister in Huntsville, Ala., has spent more than 20 years working at Twickenham Church of Christ, eventually moving up to an executive-level position. As his twentieth year approached, and he was wrapping up a major project, Smith asked for—and received—a three-month paid sabbatical. He spent the time biking across the country, covering 2,700 miles in 32 days, resting and traveling to visit other churches to pick up new ideas.
“The biggest benefit for me was getting a chance to be free of the daily grind and recharge my batteries,” Smith says. “We had just finished a building renovation, which I oversaw, and I was pretty worn out. The church hopefully was reenergized because I was recharged when I returned.”
How to Get It: Elizabeth Pagano McGuire, a founding partner at YourSabbatical.com, says a sabbatical is more than an extended vacation; it should have a purpose. So before you talk to your employer, make sure you have one—and that you’re a valued employee.
Then outline a specific plan for what you’ll be doing during your sabbatical—volunteering in another country, finishing your novel, learning to make cheese? Articulate how your time off will positively affect your organization. Maybe you’ll feel rejuvenated and more productive upon your return like Smith was, or you’ll have learned valuable lessons you can share with your co-workers.
But be aware of the timing: You’re more likely to hear yes if you don’t ask to skip your company’s busy season this year.
2. Training Opportunities
The best performers are interested in constantly improving throughout their careers. One surefire way to do that? Pursue an advanced degree or certificate program, or attend conferences and other industry events.
As a senior-level employee, you may be able to secure approval to take paid time off for these endeavors; however, at many companies, training expenses are not included in the regular budget—so you’ll have to ask for them.
How to Get It: Stacy Lindenberg, owner of workplace development firm Talent Seed Consulting, says the right companies will actually encourage you to seek out these opportunities—so long as you frame them in the right way. Spell out how your coursework or conference attendance will benefit you and your company, she says. “For instance, if attending a conference, offer to share best practices and learnings with others when you return, thus benefitting more employees in the organization.”
In the case of an educational benefit, such as your company footing the bill for an executive MBA, Cohen says you’ll likely be asked to commit to staying at the company for two to five years after completing the degree. Use this to your advantage in negotiations, explaining how your employer can continue to reap the rewards of your additional knowledge—not to mention the money they’ll save in recruiting and training a replacement.
As the mother of a special-needs daughter and a longtime corporate officer for technology companies, Brenda Christensen has frequently negotiated for the ability to work away from the office when necessary.
Before starting her current job as director of communications at email solution provider Contatta, Christensen says she was completely transparent about her needs, which require working from home and odd hours—sometimes even having to leave a meeting or work at a moment’s notice.
To negotiate for the telecommuting schedule she needed, Christensen relied on her network of contacts who were willing to recommend her work and vouch for her 25-year record of success.
And—this is key—she was able to demonstrate how working away from the office would fit well with her job: “Since so much of my position is outwardly facing—building relationships with influencers, bloggers and social media types—it wasn’t a problem,” she says. “My value translates into being able to work anytime and anywhere I want.” Fortunately, her employer agreed.
Even if your needs aren’t similar to Christensen’s, the ability to do your work from somewhere outside the office—at least at times—can still be a perk worth negotiating. But it’s important to understand that telecommuting is different from flex time: It’s not about arriving to the office later than usual and leaving when your work is done; it’s about having the freedom to do your work wherever you’d like. In many cases, this perk is more negotiable for high-level employees because they have more experience and are trusted to maintain their responsibilities without close supervision.
“High-wage earners can bring some balance into their lives by telecommuting, working a schedule with varied work times and full or half days off each week,” Lindenberg says. “For those who travel regularly or work in territories within their cities, they can arrange to complete office work from home, rather than being expected to come in to the office right after a long trip or a day in the car.”
How to Get It: Before broaching this topic with your boss, find out your company’s policy and whether there are other employees who successfully telecommute. If so, you may be able to pattern your request to match similar existing situations that have worked out well. Then demonstrate how you can still be successful in your position regardless of how much face time you put in at the office by staying on top of your deadlines and making yourself available for check-ins with your boss.
“It is relatively easy to negotiate: Severance costs the company absolutely nothing if it is never exercised. But the benefits of feeling safe and secure are infinite.”
4. Lifestyle Perks
To attract—and retain—the best talent, some companies are sweetening their benefits packages with lifestyle perks, especially ones that help their most valued employees perform their jobs better.
For example, if entertaining your clients is an important part of your position, you may be able to justify a club membership for golf or dining. The same goes for positions that require frequent car travel: Cohen recommends asking for use of a company car or leased vehicle.
A number of Cohen’s clients have also successfully negotiated for wardrobe allowances from their employers, and he says it’s not unusual for other high-level employees in client-facing roles to receive this type of compensation as well. “When you have a highly visible role, the right image is critical,” he says.
And a polished look doesn’t end with your wardrobe: In some industries, such as advertising, the way your office is decorated is just as much a reflection on your employer as your personal appearance. Cohen says this benefit is fairly common if clients visit often or your office is considered an extension of your brand.
Don’t underestimate how far a company may go to make their top employees happy: “I once got $10,000 added to my salary to fly to see my boyfriend every other weekend,” says Meredith Andrews*, 44, who’d agreed to take a job in another state.
How to Get It: As with other negotiations, lobbying for lifestyle perks requires a strategy. Start with a clear idea of what you want and why you want it (to impress clients? to feel more comfortable and thus more satisfied at work?). Each employee is different, so make a personal case to show how a lifestyle improvement will help you be more effective at work. Be able to rationally defend your requests, but compromise on items that don’t rank at the top of your list.
For example, in the case of a wardrobe benefit, this is a perk you’re most likely to get if you work for an apparel manufacturer or another business in the fashion, design or entertainment industry. But remember how important it is to negotiate extras that have a direct bearing on your position: Asking for a wardrobe allowance in a field that doesn’t place a high value on appearance could indicate you don’t understand industry standards or know what’s appropriate to request.
5. Severance Pay
Maybe you’re recruited away from a stable, corporate job to take a leadership role at a thriving startup. While the challenge can be exciting, there are inherent risks: If the startup fails or you don’t fit in with the small company culture, you could wind up on the job hunt again. Before taking the leap, consider negotiating a guaranteed severance package and outplacement services.
While a severance package is a valuable benefit in any industry, it’s especially worth pursuing if you’re considering a company or industry that is experiencing a downturn or other instability. “In the event that your position is eliminated through no fault of yours, this is a payment to ease in the transition and to provide job search support,” Cohen says.
Several of Cohen’s clients have successfully negotiated enhanced severance packages, both prior to joining the company and during their employments at their annual reviews. “It is relatively easy to negotiate: Severance costs the company absolutely nothing if it is never exercised,” he says. “But the benefits of feeling safe and secure are infinite.”
How to Get It: If you are a prospective employee being offered a new job, start by explaining that leaving your current company to join a new one is a risk for you. Present in detail the severance package you’d like to include in your contract (such as three months’ pay), and remind your employer (tactfully) that this agreement is free to them if they keep you on board.
If you are a highly valued employee working in an unstable situation, point out that in light of industry or company hardships, you feel you need this insurance policy.
6. Stock Options
Feeling a sense of ownership is an important aspect of any professional culture—and especially in high-tech startups. “I would never even consider working somewhere unless I had some skin in the game,” Christensen says.
Depending on your company’s retirement offerings, you may be able to negotiate for accelerated vesting in a pension plan (though likely not for your 401(k), due to restrictions in the Employee Retirement Income Security Act). But Cohen says you can negotiate vesting in restricted stock and stock options, an exercise that’s quite common for senior executives.
How to Get It: Start by finding common ground between your request and your employer’s needs. For instance, if having restricted stock options would encourage you to help build a stronger, more highly valued company (and you are in a position to do so), explain how that’s a positive result for both of you. Also, point out that stock options offer a way for the company to increase your earnings package without taking any money out of the payroll account. And be ready to show how your contributions are worth the extra earnings.
Christensen’s contributions to the organizations she’s worked for have led to higher company valuations on several occasions—a point she’s used in negotiations. “It makes sense [for employers] to include incentives toward that goal,” she says. “When it comes right down to it, it’s about knowing your value and being willing to be completely transparent about it.”
*Name has been changed.
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