The extensive array of benefits offered by the federal government to its employees is among the top reasons so many people want Uncle Sam to be their boss. Not surprisingly, health insurance and retirement benefits get the most attention. But federal workers have access to many other perks that often go unused—perks that can save you money and improve your quality of life. Your ability to use some of these benefits may depend on details like your length of service and individual supervisor, but in general, here are some “hidden” advantages of federal employment.
The government offers great flexibility to employees who want or need to take some time off to care for family members or perform acts of service. Most people are aware that they can take time off for the birth or adoption of a child, when they or a family member is ill, after the death of a family member, to attend to military duties, etc. But policies also accommodate volunteerism in a number of ways, including granting leave for employees who choose to donate an organ or bone marrow. And for workers who regularly engage in volunteer activities during normal work hours, you may be granted:
- Alternate work arrangements like compressed schedules or flexible hours
- The opportunity to accumulate credit hours by working overtime and then “exchanging” these hours for time off to volunteer
- Part-time work
- Job sharing
- Excused absences
- Time off without pay
Supervisors are encouraged to work with their employees to make these quality-of-life leave opportunities possible, but they also have to balance how the elective leaves impact other employees and the office’s overall productivity.
Like some private companies, the government recognizes that workers are happiest and most productive if there’s a good balance between their personal and professional lives. To encourage health and happiness, federal employees can:
• Request alternate work schedules/locations
Similar to the possibilities above for volunteer-oriented employees (job sharing, compressed schedules, part-time hours), it’s possible for any employee to request alternate schedules in order to escape rush-hour traffic, pick up children after school or simply have a weekday morning set aside for running errands. Telework is also an increasingly popular request. Whether you’re in a remote backup site or simply want to work from home, the government’s telework website makes it possible.
• Receive counseling services
Stress and trauma from home almost always affect an individual’s work life, so it’s actually in the agency’s best interest to offer counseling sessions through the Employee Assistance Programs (EAP). If the short-term service isn’t enough, employees can get referrals for long-term help in dealing with substance abuse, violence or mental illness.
• Take advantage of free workplace health services
Many agencies employ or periodically bring in medical personnel to provide immunizations (like the seasonal flu shot), exams like mammography and general health assessments such as blood pressure checks, vision and hearing tests and diabetes screenings. Employees may also have access to education about smoking cessation, fitness and nutrition tips and preventing or managing high cholesterol, hypertension and cancer.
• Get help with childcare
Some lower income federal employees may need help with daycare expenses, and under the childcare subsidy, you may be able to receive financial help. Other ways the government makes it easier to be a parent include on-site childcare and resources to help people find qualified daycare providers and before- and after-school care. Resources are also available for employees caring for parents or spouses.
Development and Education
The opportunity for development and continuing education is beneficial for both employee and employer. The employer reaps the rewards of a highly trained staff, and workers can keep up with new trends while advancing their careers. The government provides many education-related perks, though only if the development is directly related to current or anticipated future job duties. You may be eligible for the following assistance:
• Courses toward a degree
If an MBA or the completion of an undergraduate degree would be beneficial to your position, the government may pay some or all of your expenses, including tuition, books, other materials and travel. The same is true of certifications and licensing.
• Meetings, conferences and seminars
All travel and fees are typically paid if the event is deemed suitable for your development.
• Continuing education for skill maintenance
People in professions like the medical field, engineering and information technology must take classes fairly regularly to maintain and enhance their skills. The government pays for that.
• Retraining due to downsizing
If your agency is restructured or your position is downsized for any reason, you can request retraining and/or career transition assistance in order to get another job.
Federal workers may also receive help with their existing student loans. Individuals who apply for a hard-to-fill job or agencies that want to ensure a top performer won’t look elsewhere for employment may be on the receiving end of an offer to pay off federally guaranteed student loans.
Long Term Care Insurance
Most of us will need long term care at some point in our lives, but it can be difficult to get affordable coverage. That’s why the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program (FLTCIP) can be a valuable benefit for employees and their spouses or partners. There are pre-packaged plans, or you can customize a plan according to variables such as daily benefit amount, benefit period and of course how much premium you want to pay. Another bonus to getting coverage through the government is that you typically answer far fewer health questions on the application.
The long list of benefits available to federal employees extends far beyond health and retirement to include virtually all aspects of both personal and professional lives. The key to getting the most out of all of the perks you may be entitled to is knowing your options and speaking to your supervisor about accessing the ones that apply to you.