Navigating modern benefits packages as a junior professional

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Businesses the world over are struggling to find and retain finance talent, leading them to explore ever more creative avenues through which to appeal to the elusive ‘right fit’ candidate or star employee. This can really be seen in how benefits packages are evolving.

Robert Half’s 2023 salary guide for Canada found that 90% of companies were adding new and improved perks and benefits to their remuneration offerings.

Work-life balance

Many of these new benefits reflect a growing desire – especially after the strains of the pandemic, as well as the revelation that productivity does not evaporate, nor chaos ensue when people work from home – for better work-life balance.

The Hays UK 2023 Salary and Recruiting Trends Guide found that 41% of finance professionals believe work-life balance is crucial when considering a new role, naming it the most important factor after pay.

A hybrid approach to working is favoured by a large majority of professionals in the sector,’ says Lee Owen, director at Hays specialising in accountancy and finance. ‘While nearly three-quarters of finance employers currently offer hybrid working, it’s the degree of flexibility that employees look for today. Well over half (59%) of finance professionals intend to find a new role that provides more of a mix of hybrid working in the next year. As well as this, 63% would be tempted to change employers if they could decide how many days a week they work in the office.’

Owen’s colleague, David Cawley, regional director of recruitment and workforce solutions specialists at Hays in Australia and New Zealand, notes that Grant Thornton has even become the first in the accountancy industry in Australia to trial a reduced working week: ‘Staff and partners will work nine-day fortnights from March – without any reduction in pay – as part of a six-month pilot.’

Perks of the job

Beyond working patterns, standard packages have come to include far more than they once did, including perks such as additional days off for wellbeing (19%, according to Hays), pension provision above the legal minimum (40%), health insurance or private medical cover (43%) and financial support for professional studies (46%).

Research by Robert Half shows that 30% of professionals would consider leaving their job for a new organisation with better mental health benefits, such as days off for mental wellbeing.

‘The past few years have seen increased stress for everyone, both personally and professionally, and offering expanded mental health benefits – including employee assistance programmes and access to free therapy – can go a long way for recruiting and retention efforts,’ says Cal Jungwirth, director of permanent placement services, finance and accounting at Robert Half Canada.

You also have certain perks specific to regions, such as in the UAE, where Amy Bassindale, accountancy and finance business manager for the Gulf region at Hays, notes that companies might provide air ticket allowance, relocation packages and accommodation allowance for expats.

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As you move up the ladder, professionals start to see even greater care given to benefits, including bonus schemes and car allowances, then at FD/CFO level there is scope for equity and long-term incentive plans to be built into packages.

Beyond the tangible, finance professionals also value purpose, with Hays noting that 83% believe one of the most important considerations when searching for a new job is whether an organisation has a strong sense of purpose.

Benefits for all?

If you’re an ACCA student, this must all sound very appealing, but as potentially a more junior or pre-qualified professional, what are you entitled to?

‘There are likely to be some benefits that professionals earn over time,’ says Owen. ‘However, professionals at all stages of their career should be treated equally and typically can access the majority of benefits after a probationary period.

‘That being said, learning and development opportunities are especially important for lower-level professionals, so junior accountants ought to consider the potential to learn and progress when contemplating a new role and the importance of study support as a benefit in order to further their professional development.’

If you don’t ask…

In today’s candidate-driven market, employees can be open about the benefits that mean the most to them. First, research the benefits a prospective or current employer is offering – is it reflected in the job description? How much has it changed since you originally joined? This will help you to understand a company’s stance on benefits and what others are being offered.

‘You’re entitled to ask benefits-related questions in an interview and I recommend this if there are specific benefits you want to discuss, so you can be clear about your expectations from the get-go,’ says Owen.

‘My advice would be to have confidence and boundaries when it comes to negotiating what you want, but always remain polite and reasonable. Some companies, especially larger oner, offer a “flexi-benefits” package where you can tailor your benefits around your lifestyle and needs at that point in time in your career.’

Another tip is to emphasise what you can offer in return when given the opportunity.

‘It’s a two-way street: they convince you why you should want to work for them, and you demonstrate why you would make a great addition to their business,’ says Owen.

Author: Neil Johnson, journalist

More information

This article was first published in Student Accountant in June 2023Get the SA app now

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