Dilemma of the Month: Are Perks and Benefits Negotiable With Salary?

Back Q&A Dec 10, 2019 By Suzanne Lucas
We are planning to make a job offer to a very strong candidate. Of course, salary is negotiable, but what about other things that a candidate wants to negotiate — especially those things listed in our employee handbook, such as vacation time, benefits, telecommuting privileges, dress code, etc.? And what about parking or where the cubicle or office would be?

In theory, everything is negotiable. In practice, the salary is the easiest thing to negotiate. Social taboos around salary discussion make it easy — it’s unlikely people will find out that the new hire earns more than they do. (Of course, it’s illegal for you to forbid discussion, but most people don’t share their salaries with coworkers.) I’m a fan of salary transparency, but I understand that most of the world isn’t. So, it’s pretty easy to negotiate up a couple of thousand dollars, but that other stuff? That’s visible.

There’s always someone in the office counting the number of vacation days each person takes, which makes extra paid vacation days a tricky thing to offer. The dress code needs to be the same for all similar functions. Warehouse people need to wear closed-toed shoes and office staff doesn’t, but you don’t negotiate with Jane that she can wear T-shirts with political slogans while the rest of the staff has to wear button-down shirts.

Before we talk about negotiations, there are two critical questions.

What would happen if other employees found out the new hire has this exception?

If you’re hiring a new CEO, the sky’s the limit. Everyone knows that CEOs get fantastic perks like parking places, better vacation time and even better health care. Heck, the term “corner office” is a colloquialism for senior management. No one will push back if this is the case.

If you’re hiring an entry-level person and offering more vacation than their manager, you’ll never hear the end of it. OK, you probably will hear the end of it — when everyone else quits.

Telecommuting is dependent on the job. Offering that as a perk makes sense for some positions but not for others. People will understand the maintenance folks need to be where the equipment is, while the finance person can work from home three days a week.

People with similar jobs will ask why they don’t get that perk. “John has worked remotely for six years and has a proven track record doing that, so we will continue to let him do that,” is a reasonable response. “Because he asked” is not a reasonable response unless you are willing to say yes to everyone who asks.

Why doesn’t this benefit or perk already exist for all of your employees?

When you hire people, you need to offer market rates for salaries and benefits. Those things are never static. If it’s challenging to land a new hire with only 10 days of paid time off, you need to start offering 15 days, and give it to everyone.

How fair is your workplace regarding benefits and perks for employees?
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It may be too expensive, you say, to do such a thing. But if you treat your new hires better than your current employees, your current employees will leave. You may think you will save money by giving these perks only to the new people, but you won’t. If your current employees quit, you’ll have to replace them offering the latest salaries with the fancier perks. And don’t forget about the costs of recruiting and training! You’ll lose money in the long run. 

Employees who want and are capable of working from home should have that option. If your health insurance stinks, look to improve it for everyone, not just the new hires. Things like parking spaces and premium office space are different — you don’t want to hire a valet so everyone can pull up right in front of the building.  

There are plenty of reasons to give someone a better parking space; certainly if they have a disability, but that’s not a perk, it’s a reasonable accommodation. Another logical reason to prioritize parking is if the new employee has to work later or come in earlier than everyone else. If it’s dark and spooky when the new employee will come in at 4:30 a.m., then the employee gets the closest parking space.

But you’ve thought through this and still want to offer extra perks to the candidate. Why? What makes this candidate more deserving than your current employees? Is this candidate willing to do a trade-off — a smaller salary for the ability to work from home, for instance? If not, what you’ll end up with is a disgruntled staff and an entitled new hire. This is not the best solution.

So, either tell new candidates, “This is what we have to offer,” or change your policies to create a better environment for everyone. That makes you a better employer, and better employers find better candidates. There’s no downside. 

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