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Compensation nation

There is more to employee compensation than what is reflected on a monthly paystub, and that means there are areas open for negotiation when the next review comes around.

When most people think about negotiating compensation, they think of greenbacks, Benjamins, or whatever else they might call that sweet, green, cold hard cash. But there’s more to employee compensation than what’s reflected on a monthly paystub, and that means there are areas open for negotiation when the next review comes around. Here are a couple of good areas to explore before an annual talk about performance and raises:

— Benefits: It’s possible that your company has a standard salary increase based on excellent performance. That’s swell, and lets you know what you can expect year after year. But let’s say that you feel you’ve done, well, better than excellent. With no more funds in the salary kitty, what can be done?

The answer is to negotiate on benefits, in most cases. After proving that you’ve performed at a stellar level, with documentation to back up your claims, you can then see how much flexibility there is in tinkering with your time. When hitting the salary wall, many employees have turned to asking about additional vacation time, or schedule changes.

If you take barely any sick time, your argument is even stronger for more vacation time. Possibly, you could even negotiate for unpaid time or a leave of absence to take that major league ballpark tour you’ve always wanted, or another week in Hawaii.

The fact is that many bosses, especially in the IT world, would love to pay their employees more, but simply can’t. Giving them more options in terms of compensating you through time or a more individualized schedule can fit in with their budget and your plans. Everybody wins.

— Education: As a member of a tech team, you likely have access to a multitude of IT training options, from online courses to full-blown certifications. But what about art history classes, or a second degree? Most companies have budgets for field-specific training, but they may not have instituted tuition plans for courses not directly related to job duties.

When that salary wall looms large, and you’re feeling the itch to study something outside your field, it might be possible to chat about education reimbursement for different kinds of courses, especially if they lead to a degree.

Most likely to be approved are courses that will benefit a company in the long run, even if it doesn’t directly involve technology. Management classes, business courses, or education related to the company’s industry are an easier sell, and could pave the way to other tuition reimbursement options. The key to negotiating for education cash is to think creatively, and consider how such newfound acumen would benefit the company in fresh ways.

For example, a course in public speaking may seem unnecessary for a network administrator who sits in a data center most of the day. But public speaking would be very useful when that admin has to go in front of a boardroom full of executives and explain what kind of changes can be made in network infrastructure, and how those tweaks can save money.

— Severance: In some cases, your Spidey sense may be tingling as the next performance review approaches. Maybe it’s the increasing number of empty desks that’s making you nervous, or the removal of employee perks or parties that’s fueling that uneasy feeling. Whatever it is, the time may be ripe to mention it.

Many people feel that during a review, they can’t ask questions about a company’s health, or inquire about policy changes. But in a post-Enron world filled with compliance regulations like Sarbanes-Oxley, employees need to understand that executives have greater accountability, and part of that has to be shared with a company’s employees.

If you feel that your company is doing badly, seems ripe for acquisition, or may shut down divisions, it may be in your best interest to ask about what kind of severance plan is in place should things go south. It’s possible that a boss or HR rep will balk at such a question, but if things truly are shaky, they should have an answer. This might even open a negotiation about severance levels depending on length of service. For example, if the company is due to close in 18 months, your severance package could get more robust the longer you stay during that hitch.

For severance, benefits, and even salary, it’s important to remember the purpose of negotiation. Talking about what you’d like and setting reasonable expectations creates goals, and it lets you understand your standing within a company. Don’t waste your performance review just talking about your performance–where’s the fun in that?

Send your career-related questions to Elizabeth Millard.

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