Looking beyond salary: how understanding employee benefits can help you find your long-term employer

The communications sector is an exciting and dynamic environment to work in, and for this reason it’s a hugely popular career choice for graduates and non-graduates alike. January marks the start of the graduate recruitment drive for many PR firms, and both applicants and the firms themselves will be feeling the pressure.

The war for talent between top firms means that employers are always competing for the best graduate trainees, and must therefore differentiate themselves by offering added, non-wage related benefits to attract the cream of the crop. This is particularly applicable for the communications sector, as the popularity of the industry is often reflected in lower starting salaries in comparison with other established graduate-friendly professions such as law and accountancy.

This may be off-putting for some – particularly those looking to relocate to cities where the cost of living is significantly higher – but it’s important to look beyond salary when making that all important first step onto the employment ladder, and to think about the added value you’re receiving from your employee benefits package. In the communications sector – which tends to see a higher staff churn than other sectors – it may be the difference between finding a first job to break into the industry and finding a company in which you envisage a long-term future.

In the communications sector, over 70 per cent of employees would be more likely to take a job if the employer offered good employee benefits1.  Start off on the right foot when considering your first role, and look out for:

1. Flexible working
With Working from Home Week on the horizon (20th – 26th January 2014), and with new Government legislation coming into effect in April 2014 to extend the right to work flexibly to all employees that have been in post for 26 weeks or more, more businesses are waking up to the fact that they can attract and retain talent by offering an employee benefits package that includes flexible working initiatives. In an industry renowned for working hard, having the option to work flexibly could help you keep a healthy work-life balance.

2. Income protection
Around one in ten people will have to take more than 6 months off work on long-term sick leave during their working lives, but most don’t have a financial back-up plan in place should this happen. In the PR and media industry, only one in ten (10%) of businesses protect their staff against long-term sickness by offering Income Protection as part of their benefits package, which is worryingly low2.  Income Protection pays a regular monthly income if you're unable to work for more than 6 months due to illness or injury, right up until you can return to work or retire. This means you can focus on getting better instead of worrying about financial matters while you’re off sick.

3. Pension
Over the next couple of years employers will have to automatically enrol you onto a pension scheme, which means if you don't want to contribute you will have to opt-out. However, although retirement might seem a long way off, it’s important to start paying into your pension as soon as possible to allow the interest to build up – especially as tax advantages give you 'free money' on top of what you pay in.

4. Private Medical Insurance
Private Medical Insurance is a valuable benefit if you fall ill as it can cover the cost of medical treatment and reduce hospital waiting times.  This also means greater peace of mind as you’ll know that, if you need treatment, it will be covered and carried out as quickly as possible.

5. Employee assistance programmes
Sometimes we all need a bit of support to balance the demands of home and work, especially in a high-pressure career like PR which can involve long hours. Employee Assistance Programmes, which are independent and confidential despite being paid for by your employer, can help by providing counselling and advice on personal, health and workplace issues. These often come as part and parcel of any Group Income Protection policy. They can even help spot the early signs of stress to avoid this developing into a long term illness.

Employee benefits can add significantly to the overall value of your pay packet – typically the equivalent of an additional 20-40% of your salary – so taking the time to understand what’s available to you is important. If you’re not sure what benefits are on offer, your interview is the perfect opportunity to ask your potential employer to ensure you’re clued up from the outset, and to lay the foundations for a long, happy and healthy career.

[1] Capita Employee Benefits, November 2013

[2] Figures taken from ‘Money Talks’ and ‘Modern Workforce’ research by Cass Business School, commissioned by Unum, 2013

Marco Forato, CMO at Unum



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