When it comes to employee benefits, perks like free snacks in the break room might do a lot for employee morale, but nothing beats a generous health plan for keeping workers happy.
Nearly 80% of U.S. workers would rather have better health insurance than a pay raise, according to Glassdoor.com, a jobs and recruiting site.
But when handed an explanation of benefits booklet every year during open enrollment, it is hard for most employees to tell if they are getting a good deal or not.
"The best indicator of whether you have a good or bad plan is talking to your friends and people who work at companies that compete with yours. Sometimes you find, wow, my grass is a little greener than I thought it was," says Rusty Rueff, Glassdoor's career and workplace expert.
Here are some other ways to tell if you are getting a great deal:
What's My Cost?
Everyone wants to know right off what will be coming out of their paychecks, but that is not the most important number to focus on, says Hall Kesmodel, consultant for Sequoia, an employee benefits firm headquartered in San Mateo, California.
To know if your employer is generous or not, you need to know what percentage you pay and what percentage your employer pays.
Most employee benefits packets will have a percentage number somewhere in the materials, or you can ask your human resources department. The average single employee pays 18% of a health plan's costs, according to Kaiser Family Foundation research.
In very competitive sectors like Silicon Valley's tech industry, Kesmodel sees well-funded start-ups with 300 or 400 employees asking employees to cover just 10% of healthcare costs. In a few cases, employers cover the whole amount, even for family coverage.
Another clue is the pricing tiers available. Generally, the more choices, the more cost savings the employer is giving to employees.
Some companies offer a family rate, but they may charge less to add just your kids without a spouse. "They're giving a break to people to cover your spouse elsewhere," says Tracy Watts, a senior partner at Mercer, a benefits consultant.
At generous companies, there is also typically also no surcharge or exclusion for working spouses who could get their own plans, which is becoming more prevalent nationwide, says Kesmodel.
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What's My Deductible?
A low deductible is not the only marker of a good plan, says Jennifer Benz, who runs her own benefits firm based in San Francisco. The average healthcare deductible nationally for a single employee is $1,318, according to Kaiser, which has been pushed to that level because about 24% of employees are now in high-deductible health plans, which have deductibles over $1,500 per year.
In the best high-deductible plans, Benz says the company will contribute enough into a Health Savings Account to make the out-of-pocket costs for the employee equivalent to having a $250 individual deductible.
But then the money in that HSA is portable if the employee changes jobs and can be saved for retirement, tax-free. For young, healthy workers, this can build to a considerable nest egg in just a few years.
"People think they are less valuable, but they might be more valuable," Benz says.
Coverage of infertility treatments is a common perk in Silicon Valley, says Benz. Some larger firms, which foot the cost of the healthcare bills themselves, go beyond the typical $3,000 to $5,000 to offer $15,000 worth of coverage, which is enough to cover a round of in-vitro fertilization.
There is also a lot more that companies can offer under the banner of "wellness." For example, Netflix set one bar with unlimited parental leave.
Workplace yoga classes have become almost standard, too. Kesmodel has seen companies hand out Fitbits to all employees in conjunction with a wellness challenge.
Other perks: onsite acupuncture, life coaches and breastmilk shipping for traveling moms, according to Glassdoor.
The idea is not necessarily to prevent diabetes and heart disease to save dollars years down the line, but instead to make people happy now.
"Employees are there a year or two, they are young, it's not going to impact the company now," says Kesmodel. "But what it will impact is whether that employee is vibrant and productive today."