Employee Benefits Guide for Creatives
Employee benefits extend far beyond just health insurance and paid time off. Some of these benefits are required by law while others vary from company to company. Generally speaking, benefits are given to full-time staff members and not to freelancers, part-time employees, or independent contractors.
What employee benefits can creatives expect when they’re offered a job? The company should be very clear about which benefits it’s offering to potential new hires either during the interview process.
In addition to researching local regulations in your area, you can read this thorough guide to employee benefits so you know what options might be out there. Some of them might be priorities for you during your next job hunt.
What Are Employee Benefits?
Anything a company gives an employee as compensation that isn’t money can be considered a benefit. Sometimes these benefits are required according to local or federal labor regulations and other times the company wants to offer competitive benefits packages to attract the best creative talent.
Not all employees are offered the same benefits packages at all levels of the company. C-suite executives, for example, can look forward to better benefits just as they expect to make higher salaries than entry-level workers.
Some of the biggest companies are well-known for providing insanely good benefits for their employees. It might be a great health plan, retirement savings, time off, remote working, or tuition reimbursement. One sure trend is that people who love their jobs tend to do so because of the culture, their coworkers, and the benefits.
Who Gets Employee Benefits?
Broadly speaking, full-time employees are the ones who receive benefits. Independent contractors and freelancers aren’t officially on the payroll the same way that full-time employees are and so they don’t get the same coverage.
That might sound harsh, but it’s to give both parties more freedom. Freelancers get hired for jobs that don’t require full-time employment. For example, a mechanic’s garage might hire a web designer to build the website, but they don’t need to have the web designer around all the time so it wouldn’t make much sense to put them on the permanent staff.
Occasionally, a company will offer benefits to part-time workers. When this is the case, it’s usually something like an Employee Assistance Program with limited benefits rather than the full health plan that is given to full-time employees.
Types of Employee Benefits and Perks
Employee benefits come in four broad categories: health insurance, disability insurance, retirement plans, life insurance, and paid time off. All of these full-time benefits can be offered differently. There’s no one way to present an insurance plan and in fact, they vary quite a lot, sometimes even within the same company.
In addition to these detailed full-time benefits, employees may also have perks, which are smaller and less defined benefits. Some businesses have a gym in the building or a cafeteria. Others may give company cars or gas cars to sales staff.
Many people become attached to some of these types of employee benefits and perks so much that they stay at the job longer. This is especially true with health insurance.
Most Common Types of Employee Benefits
Let’s take a closer look at the types of full-time benefits you’re most likely to hear or read about during a job application or interview.
- Health Insurance
There’s no doubt that this benefit belongs at the top of the list. In the USA, employees very frequently rely on their employer for health insurance. Other countries that have readily available public health plans still have people who clamor for the superior private health plans furnished by employers.
Health insurance is a tough benefit. You’d be hard-pressed to find a company that wouldn’t give a top-rate health insurance plan to its employees since they know what a good retention strategy it would be to offer one. However, it can be rather expensive to provide health insurance to a workforce of any size, so a company’s offering can sometimes be fairly lackluster.
- Disability & Workers Comp
These two full-time benefits are typically regulated by the government. Both cover similar events for the employee, but they aren’t the same. Workers comp is a program that covers injuries on the job, including medical bills and often time spent off work in recovery. Disability covers any injury, whether it’s on the job or not.
Typically, the reimbursement from disability or workers comp is a percentage of the employee’s normal pay. In the USA, the laws governing both of these programs vary by state. Not every type of company is required to provide disability or workers comp and in some places may not offer either, even to full-time employees.
- Family & Medical Leave
Life happens sometimes. If employees need to take an extended leave of absence to care for a new child or because of a personal or medical reason, family and medical leave are what cover it. Like disability and workers comp, what companies provide for medical or family leave varies greatly and in some cases may not be an included benefit at all.
Although the laws surrounding this benefit are different from place to place, some companies offer maternity and paternity leave to their full-time employees anyway. This is especially true when long-term employees start families. With the advent of remote work, allowing people to work from home when they need to is getting easier all the time.
- Annual Paid Holidays
The Bureau of Labor Statistics says full-time employees in the US average 7 – 8 paid holiday days per year. However, we should put this number into some context. In most companies, full-time employees accrue more paid vacation days the longer they stay working with the company.
For example, some companies will give employees an extra holiday day off per year each year they continue working. This is meant to retain talent and reward people who have worked longer with more vacation days.
Generally, you can take these paid holidays anytime you want. They should be in addition to national and state holidays where businesses and banks close.
- Dental & Vision Insurance
Theories and opinions abound as to why vision and dental are separate from the rest of medical insurance plans in the USA. Some claim that the risk of these conditions and procedures is less risky and therefore doesn’t require insurance. Others say advanced dentistry is too new, or that simply getting an eye exam and glasses is inexpensive enough already.
Whatever the reason, vision and dental insurance are offered as separate benefits from health insurance. Generally speaking, it’s rarer to find companies that offer full dental and vision alongside health insurance than a company that provides health insurance alone.
- College Debt Assistance
Businesses have found some pretty creative ways to provide college payment assistance to their employees. In some cases, they’ll hire teenagers part-time and allow them to start a college fund out of their paychecks, which the company will then match.
For older full-time employees, the company could offer a similar structure for paying back loans. They could also reimburse payments made by the employee rather than matching or creating an account for tuition payments.
With the amount of college debt constantly growing, this is one of the most valued full-time benefits for some employees. However, it’s overlooked by many companies who don’t think to offer it.
- Severance Pay
A severance package or severance pay kicks in when the company has to lay off workers. In some cases, this won’t be offered outright at the beginning of the application or onboarding process. After all, the company wouldn’t hire someone new if it foresaw layoffs in the near future.
The severance pay could be a flat amount or a percentage of the former salary. The company may also allow the employee and the employee’s family to remain on their health insurance for a certain length of time following the layoff.
In the USA, companies of a certain time are required to let laid-off employees remain on their health insurance for up to or exceeding 18 months because of a law called the Consolidated Omni-Budget Reconciliation Act, or COBRA.
- Hazard Pay
In situations where the employee is working under conditions that are considerably more difficult or dangerous than normal and the regular safety equipment won’t fully mitigate the risks inherent to the work, companies may pay their employees hazard pay. The unprecedented events of 2020 notwithstanding, most people should know if they’re likely to merit hazard pay when they apply for the jobs.
Creatives aren’t as likely to receive hazard pay as, say, coal miners or rescue workers. That doesn’t mean it can’t happen, though. Much like the severance package, companies may not mention hazard pay at the beginning of the hiring or onboarding process.
There’s no shortage of ways companies sometimes beef up their benefits packages with fringe benefits. It could be something small, like an employee discount at a grocery store. It could also be much larger, like stock options for an upper-level manager.
If you’ve ever heard professionals speak about “golden handcuffs,” they were likely speaking about the combination of their benefits and fringe benefits. The expression is meant to illustrate that the benefits on offer are too good to give up, thus encouraging the employee to stay at the company rather than looking for work elsewhere.
Here are a few of the most common fringe benefits companies might offer their employees:
- Company Cars & Gas Cards
For employees such as sales staff who have to travel frequently around a region, the company will pay for a car, insurance, and gas. You can imagine that salespeople who drive throughout the day every single day would see a significant pay reduction if they were forced to use part of their salary to pay for the gas, insurance, or automobile maintenance.
Usually, there are restrictions on these vehicles and gas cards. Some businesses treat the gas card like an expense report, meaning they’ll audit the charges to make sure they fit the sales teams’ itineraries.
If employees drive a company car for long enough, some businesses will allow them to buy it at a greatly reduced rate. It’s sort of like buying a used car, except you have a much better idea of its maintenance history.
Before the advent of remote work, companies were more likely to offer child care either on-site or with a local daycare center. These days, companies are far more likely to give employees the chance to work from home so that they can be with the kids themselves.
For creatives who do most of their work on the computer, this is a fair solution. Once the kids are in school, creatives may even be able to complete tasks before the end of the school day and then be ready to see their kids without hassling with a commute. They could even pick the kids up from school.
- Stock Options
This will primarily be a fringe benefit for higher-level employees, although some smaller publicly traded businesses may offer this to a larger number of their staff. A stock option is a bit different from giving employees stock outright – the option is just the chance to buy or sell and the employee could still decide not to.
If this is one of the fringe benefits on offer, you should take care to do your research about stock options. They aren’t incredibly difficult to understand, but things can get pretty technical and you’ll want to know how to make the most out of this investment if you have it.
- Retirement Plans
Most people have at least heard of a 401k, but that doesn’t mean they’re simple to understand. The concept is simple: you keep paying a bit of your paychecks into an account. Once you retire, you start receiving a small stipend from that account to keep you afloat without working.
In some cases, the company will match your contributions so that the account goes more quickly. The rules surrounding these contributions may be a bit confusing, as is transferring the 401k if you move to a new company.
Other retirement plans include the IRA, or individual retirement account. With an IRA, you can sometimes deduct taxes based on what you contribute to your retirement account. If the 401k isn’t an offered benefit at a company, check out the IRA.
A pension is a different kind of retirement account that is funded by the employee, unlike the 401k which is funded principally by the employee. The company factors in various things when it determines contributions to pensions, such as the number of years you’ve worked at the company, your age, and the salary you make.
Pensions are less common than 401k plans these days, but for many people, that’s preferable because they can control the contributions to their retirement plans with a 401k in a way that they cannot do with company contributions to a pension plan.
- Remote Work & WFH
Salary and health insurance are primary motivators for people who work. But a great number of them say the second most important benefit is flexibility with their hours or their location. Remote work is becoming more common all the time and many people are looking forward to becoming permanently remote workers.
For creatives, the work isn’t much different at home if you have the right computer. Software that allows teams to stay in touch makes brainstorming and even user research easy from a remote position. It can reduce distractions and give you a better work-life balance if you organize everything correctly.
There are many types of employee benefits. Some companies may have a great package that includes paid time off, vacation days, remote work opportunities, and a stellar health plan. However, it’s just as likely that there will only be a few of these great benefits on offer.
Fringe benefits can make up for the lack of some of the more traditional benefits. For example, employees who save money by driving a company car or from employer contributions to college tuition payments might be able to use that money to purchase a health insurance plan.
Whether it’s the retirement plan or the number of days you can work from home each year, the benefits promised by any potential job heavily impact the decision to accept the job or not. With the information in this guide, you should at least know what to look for in an ideal employee benefits package and make the most informed decision possible.