Employment isn’t always just about money. There are a lot of so-called “soft factors” that influence your well-being at work much more than your pay does. These hidden perks can make or break your job.
Most of us need a regular 9-to-5 job for our livelihood. If we’re skilled, qualified, experienced, and certified enough, we can make demands to our (future) employers. The first demand people usually have is their salary.
However, a lot of people forget that there’s much more to an enjoyable job other than the money coming into their bank account each month — especially when applying for a new one.
Hidden Perks and Benefits
According to Herzberg’s two-factor theory, there are two major factors a workplace can offer. Hygiene and Motivation. Hygiene factors keep the complaints low, motivation factors keep the engagement and interest up. For high hygiene, the basic conditions and needs must be met — like pay and job security. For high motivation, it’s important that work done does not simply feel like occupational therapy and that there’s some meaning to it.
Deriving it further from Herzberg, certain measures and aspects you can’t put in cold, hard numbers can be considered as “soft factors”. These can be both hygienic as well as motivational in nature. From my point of view, these are the ones making or breaking your job.
You don’t hate Mondays, you hate your job.
We are never content with everything and that makes us strive for more. And when we’re talking about our 9-to-5 job, we can always explicitly name what we really hate about it. Most of the time, it isn’t that we earn too little. Sure, the pay could be better — we always want to earn more money, but that isn’t what keeps us up all night usually.
Admittedly, being able to write and think about freely changing jobs and going for new opportunities is a position of (often unacknowledged) privilege. Just as not everyone can be financially independent, not everyone can work in a comfortable job where they themselves can make demands or quit without immediate repercussions. But if you can, you might want to consider more than your yearly salary as a job-deciding factor.
1. Job Security and Job Stability
First and foremost, you can’t put a price on peace of mind. And nothing offers better peace of mind than being able to plan ahead for months or even years with your current employment. It can be a huge relief to know that you’ll be able to pay your bills reliably for years to come if you’ve found a stable job.
Typical arguments are that a “hire and fire” policy allows for a flexible labor market — at the expense of the individual worker’s mental health. Regularly worrying about being able to put food on your table and constantly needing to keep new opportunities open, even if you don’t want to, is detrimental to your well-being.
Your job is stable and secure when you can expect to have that occupation for at least ten years. This is a time span where it’s absolutely worthwhile to settle down, make long-lasting friendships, start a family, or even think about buying a house. Admittedly, it’s very hard to come by nowadays but it’s absolutely worthwhile.
It’s good being able to settle down at your own pace. A stable job and becoming a tenured employee is a must in our modern and turbulent times.
2. Friendly and Helpful Working Atmosphere
Next to having a stable job, you will inevitably interact with your colleagues at least twice a day. The smaller your company or team is, the tighter the connection and interaction can get.
Not everyone can get along with everyone, misunderstandings can happen. Conflicts and rivalry are human nature, and yet they are something to be overcome for the common good. It is important how you and your colleagues deal with arising and potential hostility. Even if the pay is good, you would and should never work in a workplace where harassment and bullying are daily occurrences.
A cooperative colleagueship is an important factor in one’s mental well-being. If you are looking forward to seeing your colleagues on Monday because you genuinely like them, you are at the right place.
3. Competent Management and Creative Freedoms
It’s often said that people quit managers, not jobs. Management should be clear and concise, giving you ample freedom to do your work but also give you a clear direction and description of what’s expected from you.
An erratic or micro-managing manager is often more interfering with one’s work rather than helpful. This is detrimental to the employee’s morale. Instead, having not only understanding colleagues but also understanding management can prevent a lot of potential conflicts.
You cannot really put a number on how accepting and competent your management is, neither can you put your working atmosphere on a measurable scale. The only way to really get a grasp on these two issues is to talk with some employees beforehand and during the interview to assess their opinions about their job and their behavior towards you.
4. Short Commutes
Commutes are often unavoidable. And yet, they are stressful time-wasters best kept at a minimum. It might be nice to live in a comfy and calm suburb on the weekend but if you’re traveling two hours to work and two hours from work each day, you’ll spend at least twenty hours commuting per week. Reduce that to thirty-five minutes each day and you’re down to a weekly commute of just three hours per week.
It’s not only the time you are losing while traveling from and to work, it’s also an increase in fuel cost as well as stress. We all want to get to work fast and home again fast. But every minor delay makes this commute even more stressful because we feel like we are losing more and more time. This can be avoided by living close to your work.
If you have the choice, think about taking a job that has a much smaller total commute each day.
5. Retirement Plans, Health Insurance, and Paid-Time-Off (PTO)
Especially in the United States, if a company offers retirement plans, health insurance as well as sufficient paid-time-off, they are directly showing their interest in the long-term well-being of their employees.
Really, these are a no-brainer to have. A decent retirement plan allows for a carefree retirement with enough money coming in each month to comfortably live once retired. Health insurance might cost a bit more but pays off well once the first injury or illness hits, which will inevitably happen after some time. And, of course, the more time can be freely spent away from work whilst being fully paid, the better.
Especially for the US Americans, this includes things like a 401(k), dental insurance, and health insurance, and a minimum paid-time-off of at least 24, if not 30, days, which should all be negotiated for.
6. Canteens and Cafeterias
When I applied for my current position, I deliberately chose a position that has a canteen. This has been one of the best decisions in my life. (I like food, don’t judge me.) While I can still eat breakfast at home before work, I could as well commute to work a bit earlier, get my breakfast and coffee there, and start to work immediately after. After a while, I wouldn’t have to worry about my lunch either. I’ll just go to the canteen and get some warm, and each day differing, meal there. Without a worry, without a hassle, I have both eaten breakfast and lunch without putting a lot of thought, organizing, or cleaning into it myself.
There is the German saying “Ohne Mampf kein Kampf” roughly meaning “No fight without a bite”; and having something warm and prepared to eat at your place of work alongside your regular lunch break is a huge boost to your mental as well as physical well-being. Honestly, this is such an amazing thing to have, it would be worth its own story and I would not know how to work full-time without a canteen or cafeteria.
7. Home-Office and Remote Work
Another benefit that has become evident during the coronavirus pandemic is the ability to work from home. Now, if you want to become a train conductor, chances are high that this is not possible for you. But if your work is primarily done in front of a computer screen, whether that’d be graphic design, programming, or accounting, it should be possible to work at least one day per week from home — if you feel like it.
Working remotely allows you to potentially spend more time with your family at home, save your daily commute time and car mileage as well as allow you to be productive in a different way by doing chores if the workload is currently low.
Now, admittedly, nobody (especially not your boss) should know that you did your laundry during working hours — after all, you were technically paid to be staring at a screen while nothing is happening — but it’s an open secret we all do our leftover chores to keep ourselves busy if work isn’t doing that right now.
The time saved on chores you (technically) did during work hours and the commute you didn’t have to do equates to more free time after you clock out. All while productivity isn’t decreasing.
From my personal experience, however, I can also warn you that, if you are ever working from home, it could very well happen that you might overwork yourself and work untracked or unpaid overtime. Especially as a computer scientist, I can acclaim that it’s really hard to let go of fixing certain problems or finishing your work whilst deep in your workflow. It needs a certain level of trust from your employer to accept that you’ve been busy one day till 8 pm and thus start your next day at 11 am.
8. Flexible and Part-Time Work
Closely tied to the ability to work from home, being a double-edged sword, the ability to have a flexible work schedule can both allow for a much more personalized approach to one’s work whilst also opening up the potential for unpaid overtime.
Of course, unpaid overtime is to be avoided. For that, you or your company can use some form of timekeeping software that tracks when you clock in and when you clock out. By all means, if you do not have anything to keep track of your time, write your working hours down in a simple Excel sheet.
Apart from the ability to start later in the day or quit earlier (flexible time), you could also opt for part-time work where you spend fewer hours each month in total at your workplace. You trade more free time against a lower income.
For example, if you earn enough money to live comfortably, why not reduce your weekly working hours to 40 instead of 50 hours? Or 35 instead of 40 hours per week? Just by cutting your working hours by 2 hours per week, you’ll end up having 8 hours of extra free time each month. That’s basically one day less at work.
Reducing your overall working hours or using flexible times — and working roughly the same amount of hours — can also be used to steadily accrue overtime hours to exchange later for a whole free day instead of just leaving half an hour earlier each day (if your boss allows that). This could grant you an extra day off or some leverage if you have to leave earlier one day or another to, for example, fix your car or spend a few more hours with your family.
9. Further Education and Training Abilities
Apart from that, employees should grow with their company. Your employer doesn’t have to waive your student loan debts or pay a whole university education but most certainly should allow you to take extra training courses, visit seminars, and attend certain work-related get-togethers that (not only) help the company but also your own experience and résumé.
It could start small, for example, by being allowed to travel with a colleague to his promising seminar, you could also make new connections, network a bit, and learn what they were originally planning to teach your colleague.
Next to that, especially in the world of computer science, certifications are often worth more than your regular formal education. If you can get them, go get them. If your employer pays you to get them, even better.
Having a “Bachelor of Science in Computer Science” might be good to have, but having a “Cisco Security Certification as Network Security Engineer” might be better.
What’s even better is that with further education, you can not only demand a higher wage but also make yourself indispensable, further securing your job. And if you get fired for whatever reason, you most certainly have something to show for it. All done during your regular working hours, paid by your (potentially former) employer.
Employers, on the other hand, should offer these benefits with the hopes and promises that more of them will come, inevitably bonding the employee closer to the company — out of mutual benefit. You get education and certifications, they get a highly trained, specialized, and skilled worker. Tit for tat.
10. Balance Between Workload and Purpose
Furthermore, your work needs to strike a perfect balance between workload and purpose. Your work should feel important, should fill you with joy and a sense of meaning — knowing that you do something that matters — but still not overburden and exhaust you. It should neither risk a burn-out nor a bore-out.
One example would be the job offer to push a single grey button at your desk exactly every fifteen minutes for eight hours a day for over a year. This requires your utmost attention and you cannot get distracted in that time period in between button pushes. All you’ve been told is that this button is important, you don’t know what really happens when you push it. You would be paid handsomely in the upper six digits.
But how long can you really keep this up? Your work may be important and yet you do not see or know the true meaning of it — except being paid well, of course. Without this meaning, it’s just a boring button to push regularly. This gets boring very quickly. Despite all pay and conditions, we humans want to do something meaningful. Whether that’s helping people, building a house, composing a new song, or making others smile — it has to have some sort of meaning to us. Without it, and if the work is demanding too little, we “bore out”.
11. Union Membership
And lastly, not being discouraged from collective bargaining rights and unionization is also key in further improving current working conditions and wages. A lot of larger corporations regularly rally against unions, claiming their fees wouldn’t be beneficial. But I dare to disagree strongly.
Joining unions and supporting employee organizations gives every individual employed a much higher bargaining power; this bargaining isn’t even limited to higher wages or longer paid-time-off but could also be used to increase workplace safety as well as achieving a better work-life balance in general.
More often than not, you typically do not have absolute freedom when looking for a new job. Something’s always limiting your choice. Whether that’s your commute, your background, or solely job availability at the moment. It’s no shame in sticking with a job you do not like, as food on the table is simply important.
It’s becoming exceedingly rare to pick up a job at age 20 and keep it until you retire. And as long as fortune does not strike you, you’re probably going to have to work some job. Why not try to make it as enjoyable and balanced as it can be? Money is important but the other benefits (or lack thereof) typically make or break it for you.
If you are able to look for a new job and want to change your current occupation, it’s best to not only look for the potential salary but also look at the other benefits that might make a less well-paid job much more enjoyable and fruitful in the long run.
Honestly, your working conditions are a huge influence on your general well-being as your work does not only influence your disposable income but also how dignified you as a human being feel. You’re spending dozens of hours each week occupied with it. Treat them as important as they are.