Workplace Basics: Understanding Your Benefits

(This is the final post of a three-part series geared to prepare you for the work environment.)

As a new employee, you likely had to attend an orientation session where the benefits offered by your employer were explained. However, sometimes all of this information can be overwhelming to digest in one short meeting.

Here is a brief overview of some important elements of commonly offered benefits. Be sure to check with your Human Resources representative for specific details related to your benefits and the associated policies. And, make sure that you meet all enrollment deadlines–as many deadlines are strict. Once the date has passed, you often have to wait until the next enrollment period to sign up, often sometime between September and November of each year.

For an example, here is a listing of the benefits offered to Sodexo employees.

Paid Time Off (PTO)

Let’s face it, we all love vacation time! But it’s important to understand the types of leave you have available and ensure that you’re requesting time off for the right reasons. PTO can be offered for vacation, sick, holiday and personal days, as well as jury duty, military leave and bereavement leave. Know your company’s policy, know how you accrue your leave and the process for requesting leave. Above all, use your leave with integrity–don’t take a sick day to go shopping.

Medical, Prescription, Vision, and Dental Insurance

You’re young and healthy. So, why do you need medical insurance? This insurance can help prevent large medical bills if you do get sick, have an accident, or need unexpected surgery. Medical and dental bills add up fast. Read your benefits documents carefully to understand your annual deductible amount, any required co-pays at the doctor’s office or for emergency room visits (these are often different amounts), and understand the difference between an in-network and out-of-network doctor. For dental insurance, you want to carefully review your coverage so you know if routine dental visits are covered and learn how much fillings or other dental work will cost you.

Flexible Spending Accounts

Sometimes called a medical spending account, health saving account (HSA), health reimbursement account (HRA), or a medical flexible spending account (FSA), these specially designated accounts help you pay for your medical expenses before taxes. This means that you can designate a portion of your salary to go into this special account before taxes are taken out of your paycheck. Then, when you have a qualified expense, you can request reimbursement for that expense from the account. This can save you hundreds of dollars each year by paying for your qualified medical expenses on a pre-tax basis. Remember to check with an accountant about how this may impact your end of year taxes, too.


While retirement is probably the farthest thing from your mind right now, it’s something that you really need to focus on now so that you’ll have a nest egg large enough to support you in retirement. There are generally two types of retirement offerings–a pension and a savings program called a 401(k) or 403(b).

Pensions–If your company offers a retirement pension, learn the rules associated with this program. For example, do you need to work for the company for a certain amount of time before you are vested? Often, companies will require that you have, for example, five years of service before you leave the company to qualify for pension payments in retirement. If you leave the company sooner, you forfeit this payout in retirement.

401(k) and 403(b)–These tax deferred savings accounts allow you to invest in your retirement by designating a portion of your salary into these special retirement accounts with pre-tax dollars. Many companies offer some type of matching program, so be sure to maximize this match so that you can get the best value from this benefit. For example, if your company will match 50% of all money that you invest in your account up to 6 %, then you may want to consider investing 6 % of your salary–thereby saving a total of 9 % of your salary towards retirement!

Life Insurance

Most employers will offer several options for life insurance coverage. Often, the “basic” plan is an employer-paid benefit that you do not have to pay premiums on and employees are usually automatically enrolled. However, you may be able to opt-in for greater amounts of life insurance coverage along with coverage options for your spouse and/or children. Many companies will also offer Voluntary Accidental Death and Dismemberment policies, too, to provide additional coverage for accidental deaths (i.e. traffic accident, drowning, falls, etc.). No one wants to think about using this benefit, but it’s an important insurance to consider.

Other Benefits

In addition to the benefits listed above, many employers will offer a number of other benefits including employee stock purchase programs, tuition reimbursement, adoption assistance, wellness programs, discount programs, childcare assistance, pet insurance and/or travel discounts–to name a few! Be sure to check with your Human Resources department or search your company’s intranet to learn more about these “extra” benefits that can save you considerable amounts of money.

As a relatively new employee, navigating your benefits package can be a bit overwhelming. But, once you understand your options, there is much that you can gain. As Benjamin Franklin said, “A penny saved is a penny earned.”


Derren is the Manager, Diversity Recruiting for Sodexo which is a leader in integrated food service and facilities management. He is responsible for managing the Sodexo Future Leaders Internship Program as well as executing diversity sourcing initiatives for both campus and targeted experienced hires. With over 14+ years of experience with Sodexo, Derren has had great success as a General Manager in the company’s Health Care Services division as well as in several positions within their Talent Acquisition Group. He’s an active corporate partner with the National Society of Minorities in Hospitality (NSMH). Derren is an AIRS Certified Diversity Recruiter (CDR) and Certified Internet Recruiter (CIR). Follow him on Twitter, friend him on Facebook, or just Network with Us.

Related posts:

  1. Workplace Basics: Business Communication and Etiquette 101
  2. Workplace Basics: The Art and Science of Being Organized
  3. The Benefits of Community Service

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