You did it: You brushed up you resume, wrote a killer cover letter, and crushed your interviews — and now, you’ve got at least one job offer (maybe more!) on the table. What now? Before you take on a new position, it’s always worth considering what benefits you can negotiate in a job offer. There’s salary, of course; however, there’s also plenty you can negotiate for beyond salary — including lots of things that might help you maintain a healthy work-life balance.
The elusive work-life balance has seemingly become almost mythical over time. In recent years, study after study has found that Americans are not only overworked — and overstressed because of those heavy workloads — but also frequently poorly compensated. A lot of that, of course, is due to factors outside much of our control: The rising cost of living, the mounting of student debt following the not-always-born-out promises that a college degree would help us land higher-paying jobs, stagnant wages, and the mess of an economy we’ve inherited from earlier generations.
That’s where job offer negotiations come in. You might not be able to fix the wider systemic problem with just a single negotiation process for a single job — but you can try to work in some benefits to your new job that might make keeping your professional life and personal life well-balanced a little easier.
“It's important to consider what is important to you in the workplace,” Alicia McElhaney, business journalist and founder of the financial literacy site She Spends, tells Bustle. “Do you prefer a flexible schedule where you could work from home one or two days a week? Or perhaps you prefer to travel, and having extra vacation days would be worth more to you.” Which benefits hold value for individual employees is highly personal; you’ve got to do a little work beforehand to figure out what kind of benefits might be the most valuable to you, specifically — because what one person might not care about might make all the difference between a good offer and a great one to another.
Adds McElhaney, “I think it's important to get creative too. Perhaps your employer can't offer a raise, but they can help you to pay for a conference or continuing education. Or maybe they can increase your healthcare benefits or 401(k) match.” Ultimately, suggests McElhaney, “Look at all of the benefits your employer offers, and determine which ones will enhance your life the most.”
What actually makes sense to negotiate in any given offer depends on a lot of considerations — what level you’re at in your career, what field you’re in, where the job is, etc. So, make sure you pick your battles carefully — if you try to negotiate for something that’s Not Done in your field, or if you ask for perks that are only afforded to positions at a much higher level than yours, you’ll risk coming across as out of touch. These eight options, however, are not only common to ask for, but also commonly granted, so consider this a place to start.
1. A Higher Salary
It might seem like a no-brainer, but most people actually don’t negotiate their salary. According to a survey conducted by staffing firm Robert Half in February of 2018, only 39 percent of respondents said they negotiated their salary while navigating their last job offer. What’s more, women were even less likely to negotiate their salary than men: While 46 percent of men said they negotiated, only 34 percent of women did. (Hi there, gender wage gap.) And while money can’t buy happiness, a higher salary can be the difference between needing — not wanting, needing — to spend your spare time working a side hustle (or two, or three) in order to pay your bills and being able to use that time to step away from work and recharge. Think working to live, rather than living to work.
Laying the groundwork for salary early on can make a big difference later in your career, too. “My biggest negotiation regret is not asking for more money when I took my first job,” says McElhaney. “The earlier you ask for a raise, the more that compounds over time. If you ask, for instance, for your first job to boost your salary from $40k to $45k, your second employer will be paying you at least $45k and likely more than that. I recommend asking for as much as you can as early as you can."
When arriving at a number to negotiate for, keep it in line with the job title, the level of the position, the field, and the area in which the job is located; you don’t want to lowball yourself, but it can come across as if you’re out of step with professional norms if you, say, push for a C-level salary when the position is mid-level.
2. More Vacation Time
Negotiating for additional vacation time can be a particularly effective strategy if the salary isn’t quite ideal — for example, if you’d be taking a significant pay cut by moving into the new job, or if the offer is on the lower end of your range (or even below it) and the company can’t or won’t budge on it. That said, though, you can certainly ask for it in other situations, too, like if your current job grants you substantially more of it than the job on offer does — think four weeks compared with two, for instance — or if they’ve said no to something else you’ve requested during the negotiation.
Again, you’ll want to keep the ask reasonable — if the company norm is two or three weeks of vacation time per year, asking for an additional month off might not go over well — and it’s always possible the answer will be no; however, as Alison Green of Ask A Manager noted over at The Cut in September 2018, “It’s a very normal and reasonable thing to ask about, and an employer shouldn’t have a problem with you raising the question.” It’s worth noting, of course, that this one is only on the table if the employer doesn’t have an unlimited vacation policy — but that’s the kind of thing you should be looking to find out this stage, anyway.
If you had a trip planned or another commitment on your schedule that would require time off before you received the job offer, you can also build the necessary time into your negotiation. You might have to take it unpaid (if, for example, the trip occurs before you’ve accrued any vacation time), but if you make it part of the negotiation, it’s less likely to surprise your employer later. As Green puts it at Ask A Manager, “It’s very, very normal to say something like, ‘I have a trip scheduled from April 15-27. I’m willing to take the time unpaid, since I assume I won’t have accrued enough vacation time by then, but I want to make sure up-front that that’s OK.”
3. The Ability To Work Remotely
Working remotely a few days a week — or even just one — can do wonders for your work-life balance: You don’t have to commute; you can wear whatever you want (unless you’ve got video conferences scheduled with clients or something like that); you’ve got a little more freedom with how you spend your breaks; and on, and on, and on. (As someone who has worked entirely remotely for eight years, I can attest to all of those perks and more.) Indeed, according to OWL Labs’ 2018 State of Remote Work report, people who work remotely even just once a month are more likely to report feeling both happier and more productive in their jobs.
They don’t just feel more productive, though; that’s actually one of the proven benefits for employers who offer remote work benefits: According to one landmark study from researchers out of Stanford University, employees working remotely displayed a boost in productivity so high they basically got another full day’s work done in the same amount of time as their in-office counterparts.
Recruiting expert and public speaker Alina Tubman counts this benefit as one of the most valuable perks she’s ever negotiated for herself. When figuring out what might be worth negotiating for, she tells Bustle, “I suggest taking a look at your past jobs and see what you liked and didn't like and use that as a starting point for building a list of what you want to see in your future job.” She notes further, “Also, your personal situation [or] circumstances might have changed, so think about how that will impact your decisions for the next six to nine months and let that be a basis for your requests.”
4. Commuter Subsidies
If you live in a city with good public transportation, you might be able to get a subway or bus pass subsidized by your company; or, if you drive, they might offer parking (which can be an excellent benefit to have if you have a long commute into a city where parking tends to be expensive or hard to find), or reimbursement for gas, mileage, or tolls.
“Commuter subsidies… are huge,” McElhaney tells Bustle, because they “take pre-tax dollars from your salary, which means that you’re essentially getting more bang for your buck.” Subsidized transportation means more money in your pocket, which — again — means you’re more likely to be able to spend your time outside of your main gig recharging than working even more to make ends meet.
5. A Flexible Schedule
As The Balance Careers notes, having "a flexible schedule" can mean a lot of things, particularly for exempt employees: It could mean that you work, say, 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. instead of from 8 or 9 a.m. to 5 or 6 p.m.; it could mean that you work some core hours — from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., for example — with the rest of your hours moving around depending on other needs or requirements; it could mean working a compressed week (think four days of 10 hours each instead of five days of eight hours each); or it could mean that you can come and go as you please, as long as your work gets done, gets done well, and gets done on time. What each case has in common, though, is that it allows the employee a bit more control over their work schedules than employees traditionally have had — which can make running your work life and personal life in tandem a lot easier.
If the employer you’re negotiating with has set office hours or requires coverage at specific times, or if your industry in general isn’t known for its adaptability, flexible scheduling may not be on the table for you; you’ll have to know both the employer’s norms and your industry norms in order to negotiate for it. But if the job is such that flexibility can be arranged, it’s worth bringing up.
6. Health and Wellness Benefits
If the gym isn’t your jam, then this option might be less attractive to you — but if working up a sweat helps you blow off steam, then you might want to see if wellness-based benefits might be on the table: According to Tubman, gym memberships and reimbursements for classes like yoga and taekwondo are among the thing that can be negotiated for in a job offer.
The work-life balance perks here are related to the effects physical activity has on our wellbeing: Studies have shown that there’s a correlation between being physically activity and having a lesser risk of developing depression or anxiety. What’s more, you can reap these benefits with just 20 minutes of exercise a day. A work perk that literally makes you happier and healthier? Heck yes.
7. Work Devices And Related Services
Particularly if you can expect to be working in environments other than the employer’s offices on the regular, having a work-supplied laptop, phone, and/or other devices might be worth asking for. Speaking from experience, having different devices for work and non-work purposes can help keep your professional and personal lives separate — literally: You only perform work-related tasks on devices specifically designated for that purpose, leaving your personal devices for, well, personal use. If you work from home, you have the added bonus of being able to “leave the office,” so to speak, by physically putting away your work computer and switching over to your personal one when the day is over.
However, it’s also becoming more common for employers to have employees use their personal phones for work purposes. If that describes your situation, you probably won’t be able to negotiate for a separate work phone — but you might be able to see if your employer will cover at least part of your monthly phone bill. Sharon Kaslassi, PR Supervisor and Head of Media Relations at PR agency Blonde 2.0, tells Bustle that this potential benefit might come up when you consider position-specific perks to negotiate. “For example, working at an international PR agency requires some to be on the phone a lot and speaking with people in different countries,” she says. “So, asking for your employer to cover the costs of your monthly phone bill could be a nice benefit.”
8. Professional Development
Tubman, Kaslassi, and McElhaney all cite professional development opportunities as benefits that can pay off in major ways later on down the line — even if, like salary, it’s not immediately clear how they can aid in maintaining a balance between your work life and your personal life. As Tubman notes, professional development “may not seem directly related to work-life balance”; however, she says, “If you focus on yourself and your development, that can help you stay balanced both personally and professionally.”
For Kaslassi, employers “covering the cost of educational classes you might take on the evenings or weekends if it helps develop you professionally and within the company” can be a real bonus; if you don’t have to pay out of pocket for these development opportunities yourself, that not only sets you up for better positions later on, but also keeps more of your paycheck in your pocket in the meantime. (Remember that whole thing about the difference between needing a side hustle to pay your bills and being able to spend you free time on other things?)
And, as McElhaney puts it, “Getting a degree or certification helps you not only to do your job better but also adds a title or notation to your resume that can boost your salary later on.”
With so many options out there, how can you narrow the field and figure out what's most valuable for you to negotiate for — and how to do it? The good news is that there are a huge number of easily-accessible resources geared towards just that available.
McElhaney recommends Werk as “a great job searching site that shares important information about flexible work,” particularly for those who currently are parents or thinking about becoming parents in the future. “It can be easy to overlook parental benefits when you're in your 20s, but you want to work for a company that offers good time off if you decide to have children,” she says. She further cites Fairygodboss and Glassdoor as worth checking out as you job-hunt.
Kaslassi and Tubman also offer reminders not to forget good old Google. “Google is your friend,” says Kaslassi. “Talk to people that have already advanced their careers and have negotiated offers in the past for some tactics that have worked well for them. Read lots of articles, practice in the mirror, and just be confident!” Tubman, meanwhile, recommends “[Googling] things that are important to you and see how others have negotiated that into their offer packages.”
Whatever you negotiate for, though, make sure you do one extremely important thing before you start: Get your benefits in writing. It’s not that all companies fail to honor negotiation agreements… but it’s not unheard for it to happen, so it usually pays to have a paper trail in case you need it.
Good luck — you’ve got this!