En español | When she ran human resource departments for large companies, Lynda Spiegel, 63, got frustrated when people failed to take advantage of their workplace benefits. "You're saying no to free money," she says. Today, as head of her own job search coaching business, New York-based Rising Star Résumés, she gives the same advice to her now-grown children.
Surprisingly, many workers don't sign up for their benefits: The Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) reports that while just over half of workers have access to a retirement plan through work, only 40.8 percent participate in a plan. According to the 2015 Workplace Wellness Trends report by the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans (IFEBP), overall participation rates for many wellness initiatives, including health screenings and flu shots, is less than 50 percent. Even fewer employees participate in fitness programs, wellness seminars and health care coaching when it's available.
Are you guilty of overlooking any of these free or reduced-cost workplace perks?
1. Health insurance for all eligible family members
Two out of three boomers say health insurance is their most important benefit, according to the 2015 EBRI Health and Voluntary Workplace Benefits Survey. The savings can apply to your extended family, too. Adult children can generally remain on a parent's health insurance plan until they are 26. That is true even if they are married and living apart from their parents. (However, you do have to fill out the required paperwork.)
2. Wellness perks
Wellness benefits are becoming more common. The IFEBP trend report found that more than half of employers surveyed devoted parts of their budget to wellness, with health coaching and weight-loss programs among the most popular. About 28 percent of organizations offered wearable tracking devices, such as Fitbits, for free or at a discount.
"If there is a strong wellness angle to a company culture, then they may help you with a gym membership, wearable devices or a weight management program," says Julie Stich, director of research for IFEBP. "Employees often forget to take advantage of them." Likewise, just 16.9 percent of workers who smoke took advantage of available smoking-cessation programs.
"If your company offers a wellness benefit, whether it's a free flu shot or biometric screening, always take advantage of that," says Bruce Elliott, manager of compensation and benefits at the Alexandria, Va.–based Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). Part-time employees and contractors are often invited to participate in wellness programs, too, although the specifics vary by company, he adds.
3. Employee assistance programs
Ranging from concierge services such as restaurant recommendations when traveling to referrals for plumbers or lawyers in your area, employee assistance programs are a catchall for making employees' lives a little easier. They often even include short-term counseling to help workers deal with personal problems. "This is the most overlooked benefit," Elliott says.
4. Pretax spending accounts
These tax-advantaged accounts let you set aside money to pay for health care, dependent care (including for aging parents) and commuting costs. "A lot of people forget about flexible spending benefits," Spiegel says, partly because they don't realize you can put money aside to care for elderly parents as long as they are taken care of by a paid caregiver while you work.
5. Education subsidies
Some employers offer education assistance programs for the children of their employees. And some offer tuition or book expense reimbursement for employees seeking to continue their education, especially if it will help them do their job better, no matter what their age.
6. Matching charitable donations
"If you feel passionately about a cause, sometimes employers will match a charitable gift, so check into that," IFEBP's Stich recommends. Bigger companies are more likely to offer this perk.
7. On-site services
While not universal, some companies offer convenience benefits such as laundry services or grocery shopping delivery, Stich says. For busy workers who spend much of their time on the job, those benefits can make it easier to stay on top of personal errands.
If you are not sure what benefits your employer offers or perhaps are unfamiliar with newly introduced perks, SHRM's Elliott recommends getting in touch with your HR department and asking. Companies often offer an overview of benefits to new employees, but current employees might find it useful to review them, too. That way, you can pick up any money you've been leaving on the table.
Kimberly Palmer is a work and jobs features writer for AARP. She is also the author of the personal finance books Smart Mom, Rich Mom: How to Build Wealth While Raising a Family and The Economy of You: Discover Your Inner Entrepreneur and Recession-Proof Your Life.