But now that the economy is improving, companies are concerned about keeping their top performers and attracting new ones. In order to retain their star talent, companies may be sweetening the pot with non-monetary benefits, according to a new Accountemps survey.
When chief financial officers were asked about the perks they plan to offer or are already offering, 29 percent said subsidized training and education topped the list. Twenty-four percent said flexible schedules, telecommuting and mentoring programs.
"On the heels of the recession, perks are a cost-effective way employers can reward and retain staff and attract new employees," says Max Messmer, chairman of Accountemps and author of Human Resources Kit For Dummies. "The most popular incentives are those that aid in career development and give employees some control over their work schedules."
The problem is, many job seekers and employees don't know how to negotiate for such perks -- they're only used to bargaining for money.
"Many job seekers are tied to the notion that monetary compensation from a salary is the only factor to consider. What many fail to see is that there are many other benefits that hold 'monetary value' outside of what's directly reflected on a paycheck," says Tina Chen, vice president of operations for Employco USA, Inc. "Just because a company may not be flexible with salary negotiations doesn't mean that they are not willing to offer other extras in lieu of a higher salary. There are many 'perks' that can make up for the difference to make the workplace more attractive."
Some of these perks include but aren't limited to extra vacation time, flexible scheduling, continuing education benefits or tuition reimbursement. And sometimes, negotiating these perks can actually be better than negotiating for a higher salary, says Bill Driscoll, district president of Robert Half International.
"Because perks typically are less costly, employers may have more flexibility to offer these benefits than a higher salary. Keeping this in mind, candidates may feel more comfortable asking for more perks than they do asking for more money," Driscoll says.
There are several reasons why employers may not be willing to pay you a higher salary, says Jean Baur, senior consultant, Lee Hecht Harrison and author of Eliminated! Now What? Finding Your Way from Job-Loss Crisis to Career Resilience.
"It really has to do with company structure. A hiring manager can't bring in a middle manager at a higher salary than the senior managers, so asking for a sign-on bonus or additional vacation days may be more successful," she says. "It's often a lot easier to get an extra week of vacation than it is to raise the base salary by $10,000."
Additionally, there are instances when the worker's performance or skill sets don't merit a pay increase, says Driscoll.
"Most employers want to make sure that salaries correspond to the employees' skill set and direct output versus meeting a 'demanded salary,'" adds Chen. "As more employers are becoming cognizant of hiring costs they want to make sure employees are delivering the level of work that is required and can exceed expectations. Employees have to prove that they are worth the asking price, so unless the employers feel they have seen exceptional work chances are higher salaries will not be considered."
Here are eight tips to help you negotiate for perks in lieu of a higher salary:
1. Be prepared for the discussion. "Research current trends related to perks in your area and industry, and understand the types the employer is most likely to offer," Driscoll says.
2. Cover your position. "If you are negotiating for more vacation time, have a plan as to how your work will be covered in your absence," Chen says. "This will alleviate the headache of your employer having to scramble to fill the gap and make the absence less visible."
3. Present a business case. "Employees must be able to show how the perk they seek will help them meet not just their personal objectives but also benefit the company," Driscoll says. "For example, by attending a seminar on a new industry software application, you can help your colleagues get up to speed on the new technology more quickly."
4. Stay employer focused. "Before you ask for an item that will be beneficial to you, ask yourself how it will benefit the employer," says Chen. If you're asking for flex time so you can drop off and pick up your kids at school and would like to work 7:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. instead of 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m, for example, try something like "Working 7:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. will also allow me to take the early phone calls that come through the reception desk, which generally go into the voicemail box. I can also accept the early packages that are delivered instead of having them being left at the front door where they can easily be stolen,'" Chen says.
5. Don't be demanding. Remember you're asking for, not entitled to, more vacation or a sign-on bonus, Baur says. "Prioritize what's more important to you: is it money, flexibility, time off or health benefits -- then only ask for one or two things. This is not the time for a laundry list as that could make the employer not want to hire you. If you negotiate in a positive way and limit your requests, you won't lose the offer."
6. Prepare a back-up plan. "Negotiating requires flexibility and employees should have a second option in mind in case their first choice is denied," says Driscoll. "If your employer doesn't allow you to telecommute, for instance, you may be able to work from a satellite office closer to your home."
7. Be knowledgeable. Continuing education is not only beneficial for your personal growth but also to the company, Chen says. "If you want the company to pay for a course or seminar that you would like to attend consider adding the following: 'I am really interested in attending this workers' compensation seminar on claim management. I feel by polishing up in this area I would be able to process the claims more effectively and minimize our exposure to pay on these claims.'"
8. Remain professional. "No matter the response to your request, stay positive, and always try to end the discussion on a positive note. If your request is denied, ask your manager if there are specific steps you can take to earn the perk in the future," says Driscoll.