Way back in the day, before everybody and their grandmother owned an iPhone, I was an assistant manager at a certain mall clothing store that sells overpriced jeans and t-shirts with the store name scrawled all across the front. I was working over thirty hours a week, I made more than minimum wage (barely), I had a key to the store, AND I got to take HALF HOUR lunch breaks. I thought I was living the life. I WAS SO COOL. Of course, I didn’t have enough money to pay rent, so I lived on my friends’ couches and all of my student loan lenders agreed that my income was so pitiful that they made my minimum payment $0. (True story, the government STILL thinks I don’t make enough money to pay my loans.)
So what didn’t come with my awesome job? Benefits. I didn’t have health insurance or paid time off. If I ever told my manager that I needed a certain afternoon or evening off (you know, to take my GREs or something) she gave me the whole day off. At first I thought she was being nice, but then I realized that meant I was getting less hours. If I called out sick, my manager would just sigh and say something along the lines of “Well, I don’t know what we’re going to do without you. I guess I will just work the night shift too” which made me feel guilty and the next thing you know, I’d be at work folding t-shirts while hallucinating due to my fever. That’s not okay.
Luckily, most professional jobs come with some sort of benefits package. These differ from job to job and industry to industry. The specifics won’t be posted in the help wanted add, I know during all my on campus interviews, I met with a representative from HR that was able to tell me what my benefits would include.
So what are some of the benefits of jobs with benefits?
Paid Time Off
Paid time off, commonly called PTO, can include vacation time, sick time, holidays, and personal days. All workplaces handle these things differently. At some places, you have to “earn” your PTO, so you get X amount of days or hours each pay period. At other places, your vacation time may start with the calendar or fiscal year and you get the lump sum all at once. Some companies make employees wait a certain amount of time before they can use any PTO.
Depending on where you work, you might have to work certain holidays. If you’re not salaried, you may get overtime for this (jealous!). If you are, your supervisor might give you a different day off. PDFM U has a holiday calendar. I love going through it and writing DAY OFF all over my calendar. We also have a “floating holiday” that is usually tacked on somewhere to give us a four day weekend. This usually happens in the summer when students aren’t around.
There are more types of insurances out there than I was aware of…medical, dental, vision, life, etc. Some of these your workplace might provide to you free of charge, others you might have to pay into. On top of that, you might get one level of insurance for free but have to pay to get a higher level of coverage or to cover any family members.
Some of my friends are still covered under their parents’ health insurance plans. Others that are married have chosen to use their spouse’s plan. If one of those statements applies to you, you might not need to get health (or some other) type of insurance through your workplace.
I know a lot of people my age tend to think insurance is “stupid” and that they could use the money for something else, but trust me, it’s not! Getting into a minor accident could cost you thousands of dollars if you have to make a trip to the ER and don’t have insurance. Ambulance rides alone can cost over $500. If you’re the sort of person that is worried about paying into your work plan for MAYBE $20 a pay period, you are definitely the sort of person that does not want to be hit with an unexpected medical bill.
I literally know nothing about retirement plans. Health insurance…yeah, I’ve been to a doctor, I get that. But I haven’t retired yet. It’s not even something I’ve started thinking of. When I first started working at PDFM U and had to fill out the paperwork, I had to select the five year period that I thought I might retired during. UMM WHAT? I think I selected 2055 – 2060. That’s a long way off! I got even more confused when the HR rep started telling me about the different options. Nope. Just take my money and put it somewhere so I can have it again when I’m old.
Some companies have a company matching policy in place where if you contribute up to $X to your retirement fund, they will match it. Take advantage of this. Free money. I read somewhere that you should save 10% of your income in your 30s, 15% in your 40s, and 20% in your 50s and beyond. Well, I’m going to start NOW. I figure by the time I’m eligible for social security, it will no longer exist.
Student Affairs Specific
There are some added perks if you work at a college or university. If I wanted to take a class, I could free of charge. If I had a spouse or dependents, they could take a class (or go to college) here for free as well! Some schools have different policies, like discounted tuition, or you have to be working a certain amount of years before you, your spouse, or kids are eligible. Still, that’s a major discount. I know a lot of people working here with hourly tuition (cafeteria workers, custodians) have taken advantage of it so they could move higher up the chain in their departments.
I’ve mentioned before that I’m a “live on” professional, meaning that as part of my job, I have to live on campus. It has it’s advantages and disadvantages, but the nice part is that I didn’t have to worry about finding an apartment on short notice and I don’t have to pay rent.
While colleges might not be known for their fine cuisine, we get discounted meal plans which means I don’t have to worry about how much money I’m spending at lunch. Some schools give their employees free meal plans ranging from a certain amount per month to unlimited. One thing to be cautious about – if your department is giving you an unlimited meal plan, they might be expecting that you eat a lot of meals in the dining hall with students. I’m not sure if that’s something I could get behind.
When you’re getting your first professional job, you’ll probably have a lot of questions about the different benefits packages available. Don’t be afraid to ask! At every school I visited, the HR departments were more than helpful with explaining everything to me. Even as an employee, I sometimes have questions about my insurance coverage that they are more than willing to explain. I’m sure that as I get older, my retirement package is something I’ll have more interest in and once I have kids, I’ll care a bit more about that free tuition.