Most people find job interviews about as comfortable as a sandpaper straightjacket.
Unfortunately, if you're successful, the next step can be even more nerve-racking -
asking for the compensation you deserve.
the temptation to focus on cold hard cash is almost irresistible, compensation can and
should encompass much more than just salary or wages.
Single parents need to scrutinize their benefits packages
closely, because, not only will you save time and money, the benefits offered by a
prospective employer speak volumes about the corporate culture, company priorities, and
whether they value single parents as employees.
Therefore, before you start negotiating with your next
employer, you should have a clear picture of your needs - paying special attention to
schedule flexibility and child care requirements. In other words, don't go into
negotiations without a comprehensive list of demands. Even if a prospective employer can't
pay as much as you want, you may be offered benefits (such as subsidized, on-site child
care) which compensate for the income difference by saving you time and stress.
Of course, your basic requirements - a decent wage, health
insurance, and a little flexibility in the work schedule - must be met before you can even
consider accepting an offer of employment. But there are a myriad of benefits available
and, if our list of "Companies Going the Extra Mile" is any indication, the lot
of single parents is steadily improving.
Employers are finding that few employees are as loyal,
dedicated and driven to succeed as those motivated by the awesome responsibility of
raising a child alone.
"MUST HAVE" BENEFITS FOR THE SINGLE PARENT
HEALTH INSURANCE- Young, healthy and
childless employees may be able to get by for a while without a medical plan, but single
parents do not have the luxury of being a little irresponsible. Health insurance, for you
and your child or children, provides a financial safety net that you will desperately need
if Fate sends you an accident or a chronic or life-threatening illness.
While catastrophic medical coverage is a
"must-have," many employers are enrolled in HMOs or PPOs which usually cover
preventive health care in addition to emergencies and hospitalization. Others offer
employees a variety of medical coverage options to choose from,
In any case, don't make assumptions about an employer's
health plan. It is important to know exactly what the plan does and does not cover, as
well as what portion of the premiums you'll be expected to pay. If there is an unusually
high deductible, ask if the company makes contributions to employee Medical Savings
Accounts (MSAs). These are investment accounts into which either the employer or the
employee (but not both in the same year) make tax-deductible contributions. The money in
an MSA will cover eligible medical expenses which the health plan does not (get the skinny
on MSAs from the IRS at http://www.irs.ustreas.gov and link to Publication 525).
Whether you're offered a no deductible PPO paid for entirely
by the employer or a high deductible plan with only half of the premium paid by the
employer, health care expenses should be factored into your salary requirements. (TIP:
Never divulge salary requirements to an employer until you've been offered the position
and salary negotiations have begun. Know the going rate for someone with your
qualifications, know exactly what you need and be prepared to walk if you don't get it.
Don't be tempted by anxiety and money pressure into selling yourself short. You'll regret
it later, if you do.)
Retirement planning is a must for everyone, be it in the form of a 401(K) or a traditional
pension plan. Single parents in particular must plan for the future, since they have to be
the sole provider for both their children and themselves.
Eligibility for retirement programs may vary but typically,
employees become eligible after their first year with the company. If your employer does
not offer a retirement plan, look into starting an Individual Retirement Account.
However, if your employer offers a 401(k), you should enroll
in it, since most employers will contribute an additional 50¢ for each dollar the
employee contributes (up to 6% of the employee's annual income). Additionally, the 401(k)
allows contributions of up to $10,000 a year tax-deferred, versus $2,000 for an IRA.
Real forward-thinkers may want to open an IRA in addition to
the 401(k) - which would allow them to squirrel away a combined total of up to $12,000
tax-deferred per year. An Education IRA for your child's college expenses allows you to
contribute an additional $500 a year (per child), tax-deferred.
No matter whether your employer offers a retirement plan or
you go it alone, a little research goes a long way towards fattening up that nest egg.
Financial advisors, the Internet, and publications like Kiplinger's and Money Magazine (at
newsstands and online at http://www.kiplinger.com and http://www.money.com, respectively)
are great sources of information.
VACATION AND SICK LEAVE -
The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) requires employers to allow employees up
to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year for personal illness, the illness of an immediate
family member or for the birth or adoption of a child. The FMLA is applicable to employees
who work a minimum of 1,250 hours during the year and are employed for at least one year
by a company with 50 or more employees.
Through the FMLA, the federal government has given employees
some leverage to deal with inflexible leave policies. But while it helps employees keep
their jobs when emergencies strike, the FMLA offers no financial help for those who must
put it to use.
The amount of paid leave an employer offers will give you a
good feel for the corporate culture and attitudes towards family. An allowance of fewer
than 10 days paid leave per year suggests a lack of flexibility and an environment wholly
unsympathetic, if not downright hostile, to the responsibilities of single parents.
It also means a loss of income when - not if - situations
like childcare emergencies arise, which demand time away from work. While that income loss
may be difficult to estimate, it can still be used as leverage in salary negotiations.
SEPARATING THE WHEAT FROM THE CHAFF
LIFE AND DISABILITY INSURANCE -
Since many employers do not include life and disability insurance in their benefits
packages, it may not occur to you when negotiating for benefits. However, it is critical
to your children's welfare and survival in the event of your death or unemployment due to
Of the employers who do offer disability insurance, most
offer only short-term, since it is more affordable and is the most likely scenario for
their employees. If your employer does not offer life or disability insurance, or not
enough for your peace of mind, it is extremely important that you go ahead and purchase
what you need, then figure the cost into your salary requirements.
BONUSES, PROFIT SHARING, AND
STOCK OPTIONS- Bonuses are typically awarded based on the individual
employee's performance and many employers have established guidelines which define what is
bonus-worthy. Income from profit-sharing and stock options is performance-based, but it is
based on the success of the entire company rather than the individual.
Either way, the presence of any of these incentives generally
bespeaks a "share the wealth" philosophy which makes employees feel a little
less like wage serfs and more like mini-owners who have a real stake in the health and
future of their company.
TUITION REIMBURSEMENT -
Many employers recognize that a well-trained staff is a key factor in remaining
competitive in the modern marketplace. Some firms even require employees to complete a
certain number of college credit hours per year in order to keep pace with the advances in
their field. Companies like these offer full or partial tuition reimbursement as part of
their benefits packages. Thanks to this type of company investment in employees, they
become more knowledgeable and, as a result, more valuable, not only to their current
employer, but also to future employers.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: BEYOND THE BASICS
CHILD CARE -
This is probably a greater source of stress and guilt than anything Mom could ever dish
out. Luckily, increasing numbers of employers are beginning to realize that making
affordable child care available helps attract quality employees and makes them stick
around longer. Employees with reliable child care are usually far more productive than
those who have to run around on their own to find providers and then worry about them.
The Rolls-Royce of child care benefits is the on-site child
care center. It's a luxury that allows parents to see their children during the day, to be
nearby in case of an emergency, and to avoid time-consuming drop-off/pick-up detours
during their daily commutes. If the center's staff are also considered company employees
with full benefits, the turnover rate is likely to be relatively low, further increasing
the comfort level for both parent and child.
Unfortunately, most on-site centers aren't expansive enough
to accommodate every employee, so ask if there is a waiting list. If there is, this
particular benefit may be of no benefit to you.
Some employers actually subsidize child care for employees
who are on the waiting list, while others have arrangements with local centers to give
company employees first dibs when new slots open up for enrollment, sometimes even
discounting tuition. If there is a waiting list at the on-site center, ask if any similar
provisions are in place.
Many companies simply can't afford to maintain an on-site
center, so they compensate with subsidies, reimbursement, dependent-care spending
accounts, emergency-care resources, or referral services. Employer subsidies and
reimbursement for child-care expenses can drastically help ease your financial burden.
The dependent-care spending account has one distinct
advantage of its own: the income you redirect into the account is usually exempt from
Social Security and federal income taxes (check out the IRS's Publication 15A at
http://www.irs.ustreas.gov for specifics).
Every single parent's worst nightmare involves the
reliability of their child care. Even with dependable providers, urgent situations can
arise which render them unavailable. Emergency child care gives parents a backup plan,
allowing them to go to work knowing that their child is in capable hands. While it won't
directly cut your expenses, the emergency child-care benefit will definitely save you some
Here's a typical situation: you are offered a position in a
company with no child care benefits, no retirement plan, no profit sharing, no life or
disability insurance, and no tuition reimbursement. Why waste any more time with these
The answer might well be that they are willing to offer you
one of the most precious and scarce resources for single parents - time. If your job
allows you to break out of the strict 9-to-5 mold, then you may be a prime candidate for a
flexible work schedule. Flextime, job sharing, telecommuting, or even part-time schedules
are often far better suited to the lifestyles of single parents than the conventional work
employees to redistribute the 40 hour work week to fit their needs (employees are usually
given 2 or 3 alternative schedules to choose from). If you can arrange to work a 10-hour
day 4 days a week, for instance, you'll have an extra day to spend with your child or
catch up on all those nagging chores that never seem to get done during a traditional work
enables pairs of employees who do the same work and have complementary scheduling needs to
split the responsibilities of one position and (theoretically) work half the hours the job
would require if only one person held it.
like job sharing, also allows the employee to work fewer hours, although the pay and
benefits are most often too low to sustain life.
have what many consider to be an ideal situation: they can work full-time from home
without any loss of pay or benefits. They avoid stressful daily commutes and can work in
their pajamas with no fear of the inevitable bad hair day. However, working from your home
doesn't mean you won't need child care, because unless you have eight arms and a spare
brain, you won't be able to devote quality time to both your child and your job
However attractive these flexible schedules may be, they
don't come without costs. Job sharing and part-time work are often subject to the
"creeping clock" phenomenon. As difficult as it is for many of us to stop
working after eight hours, it can be far more difficult to stop after a part-time day of 4
or 5 hours. Whether it's misplaced guilt, the competitive spirit, or just being in the
zone, creeping clock may result in full-time work
for part-time pay.
Additionally, just as the income and benefits of part-timers
are prorated relative to full-time pay, part-timers and those who job share may have
proportionately lower chances of career advancement. Even full-timers who telecommute may
wind up getting left behind when it comes time for promotions, passed over for others who
are there every day at the office. The old adage, "Out of sight, out of mind"
holds true in many cases, because there is often a faulty perception on the part of
co-workers and bosses that those who work from home (or less than full-time schedules) are
not as dedicated as their colleagues who schlep to the office every day.
You may be able to head off many of these doubts simply by
putting in one full day at the office per week, or finding other ways to remind your boss
that you do, indeed exist. In any event, weigh your priorities carefully before you jump
into an alternative scheduling arrangement. If time is more valuable to you than money or
career advancement, then flexible scheduling may be the solution.
THAT EXTRA SOMETHING...
Whether it's an on-site dry cleaner or a pianist in the
cafeteria, lots of companies will do whatever it takes to keep turnover low. Sometimes
that means a company credit union, sometimes it's a free widget with every paycheck.
Some of the more common perks include free parking, a casual
dress code, and free counseling and referral services. If you like to get "pumped
up" for a day at the office, keep in mind that some companies actually provide
on-site recreation centers (you were hoping for an on-site Starbuck's perhaps?).
For the socially conscious, there are even companies that
offer employees paid leave to do volunteer work for various non-profit organizations.
Other perks include summer jobs and college scholarships to children of employees.
Everyone's benefit plan is different, so be thorough in your evaluation of them and don't
be too rigid in your demands. The time you save by telecommuting, for instance, might just
make up for not getting the three weeks vacation you were hoping for. Not everything is
negotiable and you will probably run into employers who just can't meet your basic needs.
But our "Companies Going the Extra Mile" are proof
that you can have it all... well, all except the on-site Starbuck's (though it's probably
under advisement somewhere).
COMPANIES GOING THE EXTRA MILE
TRW - If
on-site child care is the Rolls-Royce of child care benefits, then the TRW Space &
Electronic Group's center in Redondo Beach, California (cleverly dubbed, the Launching
Pad) is a chauffeur-driven Rolls with gold hubcaps and one of those Grey Poupon guys in
the back seat. The Launching Pad provides the kind of high quality, age-appropriate
education that has earned it accreditation by the National Association for the Education
of Young Children, an honor bestowed upon less than 3% of all centers in the United
Despite being one of the largest on-site child care centers
in the country, the Launching Pad boasts a low caregiver-to-child ratio. Hours are
flexible, and parents are welcome to visit their children at any time. There's also a
full-time cook and, for an extra fee, ballet lessons, music instruction, Superkids
athletics and computer classes - what more could a little overachiever want? Find out more
about the Launching Pad and TRW's other family-friendly benefits at www.trw.com.
Another firm believer in convenient, quality child care, Motorola provides on-site centers
at many of its locations. They also have a child-care network in development (using
home-based licensed care-givers) which would provide employees with even more child-care
Motorola has also taken into account some of the most common
occasions for lack of child care - summer vacation and illness. School-age children of
employees who are out of school for the summer may attend Motorola's summer camps offered
in conjunction with their Museum of Electronics. For sick children, Motorola has
implemented a Mildly Ill Child Care Program. The program allows the parent to go to work
while a licensed caregiver stays home with the sick child.
Aside from their progressive child-care policies, Motorola's
culture of flexibility makes it especially single-parent friendly. For more information
about working at Motorola, visit their website at www.motorola.com.
On-site child care isn't the only way Patagonia has proven its commitment to families. For
parents whose children are not enrolled at the on-site center, Patagonia maintains a
family-care network of trained, in-home care providers with many in close proximity to
Patagonia's offices. And school-age children can take advantage of Patagonia's accredited
kindergarten and the "Kid's Club" after-school program - there's even a Kid's
Club shuttle to pick them up from school.
But family isn't Patagonia's only commitment. Founded by
surfers and climbers, Patagonia is famous for its environmentalism, backing up its image
by offering environmental internships where employees are given up to 2 months paid leave
to work for various environmental causes. To learn more about this family-friendly,
planet-friendly company, link to their website: www.patagonia.com.
FANNIE MAE -
Fannie Mae provides home-mortgage funding to help low- to middle-income families realize
the American Dream and become homeowners. Perhaps it's this underlying commitment to
narrow the gap between the haves and have-nots that has made Fannie Mae, like Patagonia, a
champion of volunteerism. That's why Fannie Mae employees can take up to 10 hours per
month paid leave to volunteer in schools or other non-profit organizations.
Other money-saving, time-saving (and sanity-saving) benefits
at Fannie Mae include emergency back-up child care, dependent-care leave, an employee
stock-purchase plan, and an on-site credit union. And when you decide you want to buy a
home, it can't hurt to be on the inside track with the nation's biggest mortgage-financing
institution. Visit Fannie Mae on the web at http://www.fanniemae.com for more information.
XEROX - Just as
Patagonia and Fannie Mae support volunteerism, Xerox also encourages employees to be
community-minded. The Xerox Community Involvement Program invites employees to submit
proposals for funding of community projects. Ten to twenty projects are selected each
year, and most receive between $10,000 and $15,000 in funding from Xerox.
But Xerox's interest in its employees runs every bit as deep
as its involvement in the community. Not only does Xerox take care of employees' immediate
child-care needs (with on-site care, salary redirection for dependent care, and referral
services), they have also initiated a Dependent Care Development Fund to improve and
increase dependent care resources in the community. This fund is used to train child-care
providers, upgrade or purchase the equipment providers need, develop before- and
after-school programs, provide back-up care for dependents (whether children or elders),
and support transportation programs for elder dependents.
And if child care, telecommuting, stock options and extensive
health care options aren't enough, keep in mind that Xerox also offers Lifecycle
Assistance - a $10,000 stipend (up to $2,000 a year) to be used for anything from a down
payment on a house to your child's college tuition. Find out more about employment
opportunities at Xerox at www.xerox.com.
SAS INSTITUTE -
This software company based in Cary, N.C. (just outside Raleigh) boasts a 4% turnover rate
and with good reason - actually, many of them - including: two on-site Montessori-based
child-care centers (and one near-site), an on-site health-care center that charges
employees nothing (that's right - free medical care!), a cafÈ which serves up gourmet
fare and live entertainment (in the form of a pianist, not the R&D Director's
Dixieland kazoo band), a 35,000-square-foot recreation center, wellness classes, an
Employee Volunteer Fund, Flextime, 35-hour work weeks ä what's not to like? Find out how
to join the party at www.sas.com.
These companies, along with many others, are setting the
benefits bar higher, leading the way to better employee relations and job satisfaction.
More importantly, they're proof positive that when you make it easier for employees to
balance their work/life responsibilities, not only do employees thrive but so do their