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Negotiating non-monetary benefits in a tough economy

February 25, 2011

Also posted at OhMyGov

Today’s economy is making the workplace a perilous place for many. Even those with good employment may find themselves anxious about potential job cuts or living without expected promotions or pay increases. And gone are the days with the federal government was the lone refuge of those hoping for regular (if not steep) advances in salary. President Obama and Congress pushed forward a two-year federal government pay freeze that, while largely symbolic, signals that expectations for any advancement – even in the federal workforce – aren’t a given.

Fortunately, not all benefits are monetary and whether you’re in government or the private sector there may be some you can take advantage of even in this fledgling economy.

1. Telework. I’ve already discussed my love of telework so it should be no surprise that I consider it one of the biggest perks any employee can vie for. As a mom, working from home has meant I never miss out on a milestone in my son’s life. And regardless of your stage in life there are benefits I think we all can agree on – including wearing pajamas to work.

2. Flexible schedules. Never been a morning person? Maybe now is the time to ask your employer if you can work that 10-6 PM schedule you’ve always dreamed of. Never take lunch? Maybe your employer will agree and let you leave work 30 minutes early. Flexible schedules can be a real advantage especially if you live in an area where traffic can make a regular commute a nightmare.

3. Casual Fridays (or Tuesdays). Casual dress doesn’t work in every office (and can clearly go too far), but it can definitely be a workplace perk and save money on that dry cleaning bill which is increasingly pinching your stretched budget. I’m personally a fan of Hawaiian shirt Friday in any office environment (it’s also a popular look just about any day of the week for the Pentagon’s military retired government contractor set).

4. Mentoring programs and community service. This may be a tough sell in an office where fewer employees are doing more work, but the productivity and morale benefits may win over early skeptics. The better you feel about the work you’re doing – regardless of the salary you’re making – will make you look forward to coming to work and give you an appreciation for your colleagues. So consider implementing internal mentoring programs that pair younger employees with more experienced staff. Or look for ways you can get involved in community service with organizations that could benefit from your expertise, and ask you’re employer’s permission in dedicating limited office hours to the task.

4. More parties. May sound silly, but I’m the kind of girl who thinks a little laughter is the best medicine. Maintaining a pleasant and positive office environment is always a good idea and formalizing a little revelry into the company schedule isn’t all bad. Consider monthly potlucks, lunches, or even happy hours. No one does this better than Capitol Hill, where a young staffer set, long hours and low wages mean that filling the office fridge with libations and breaking out a drink when the hours get long is a definite workplace perk.

5. Education. With budgets tapped your agency may not be willing to send you to Georgetown for your master’s, but they might be willing to designate time for online training or pay your way to a conference you (and your office or agency) would benefit from. Look into free training opportunities that are already available, as well. As a Department of Army civilian, for instance, I was able to take advantage of Rosetta Stone language courses and a number of other online training programs and courses, right from my workplace PC.

6. Agency or office employee swap. This is done in both the federal and private sectors, and can be a great way to get another perspective and some very useful professional development. In most cases your current employer pays your salary and you simply swap desks and experiences with another employee. It’s a great professional development advantage for you and can provide benefits for your agency or office, as well.

Considering the rough employment climate some of you may be thinking you’re pushing your luck asking for any favors from your employer. I argue that if your work is valued and you’ve proven yourself, your employer will embrace your desire to find benefits outside of the compensation you may otherwise be expecting. Think outside of the box, consider what workplace changes would make you happier and more productive and sit down and discuss them with your supervisor. Even if a pay increase isn’t on the table due to a hiring freeze or other circumstances, that doesn’t mean other perks shouldn’t be considered.

Have a workplace perk I haven’t considered here? Let me know in the comments section!

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