By: Giselle General
As the end of the year is approaching, I double-checked my Health Spending Account (HSA) which is part of my benefits as an employee of a nonprofit organization. I’m pleased to see that for this year, I have used up about 75% of the total allocated funds for a wide range of services and products for my health and wellbeing. I bought hand braces for my hands to deal with my carpal tunnel and nerve issues, and for physiotherapy appointments early in the year.
Then when the pandemic happened, I tried to book a few online appointments with my psychologist which worked really well! At the earliest opportunity I booked massage therapy appointments again, almost once a month, because my furniture for my working at home arrangement is okay but not ideal, causing issues with my arms and shoulders from poor posture. Filing a claim to get reimbursed is a smooth and easy process thank goodness.
Living in two different parts of the worlds, for almost half my life in each country, has given me an opportunity to observe the vast differences when it comes for companies compensating and caring for employees.
I grew up in a remote village that was dominated by a single industry, mining precious metals. Workers of the company were given benefits such as a home, with utilities included, free schooling for the kids (elementary and high school) and a medical clinic. These incentives makes sense, because working for the company requires living in that location all the time. This is why when I was younger, thinking of these items as expenses didn’t occur to me. There are also trucks and buses that transport the employees to and from the mines and other facilities and then to waiting sheds that are a few steps away from their home. I knew that these were additional perks in addition to the salary that the workers picked up twice a month.
It wasn’t until my parents passed away (which included my father, the employee of the company) that I realized that there was a specific exchange taking place here. As my grandma and I settled into the store we owned and integrated our living quarters there, I became aware of other bills that people have to pay, such as electricity and water. I was permitted to continue to go to school that was meant for the children of the mining company’s employees. This is because we are still part of the community as an independent business owner, but there were some additional administrative school fees I have to pay.
In my recent visits of the Philippines, I’m learning that more of my relatives are working for call centres. It’s a growing industry over there. Many of them were thrilled of what they will be given such as higher-than-average wages, and health benefits to cover hospital expenses and prescriptions. Having a fund to tap on to pay for medication is a huge deal because it’s not common. Regular medication or treatments for illnesses such as hypertension, diabetes, or kidney troubles is financially burdensome.
Another type of employee benefit I observed in the Philippines is recreational trips, and company-wide outings. It seems like the attitude of ‘work hard, play hard’ is commonplace for companies with demanding responsibilities. A cousin who is a year younger than me told me stories of very busy periods at their work, where they practically sleep in the office for a week straight in order to meet a deadline, as in with sleeping mats and dinners provided by the company! I thought to myself, once it hits 10 PM, how productive are their workers really, when having to work for the rest of the night? But it looks like that’s the way it works there. And then, after this grueling time period, a weekend is scheduled for the entire company to have a trip in a resort to have fun in the beach, with picnics, swimming and more. For companies that employ majority younger adults, who are motivated by adventure and have the stamina to pull all-nighters, it seems to be a workable arrangement.
Being an employee here in Canada was a learning curve for me. I admit I was reluctant to maximize my benefits as I don’t completely understand what that entailed. The first time I tried to sort out the details of using my work benefits to go to the dentist, and I realized that I don’t have to pay a single penny after the procedure, was shocking to me. For so long, growing up, I felt fearful to seek dental care, to the point that two of my adult teeth were damaged so badly they have to be extracted and I wear partial dentures ever since. This has motivated me to have a predictable and positive dental health moving forward.
After moving into our house where my husband connected me to the dental clinic he used since he was a child, my dental appointments are regular. One year I had to have a major procedure, taking all four of my wisdom teeth, with my work benefits and my husband’s benefits, I didn’t have to pay a cent for the procedure and the prescription painkillers. It’s incredible!
Retirement contributions was another learning curve for me too. I remember being told that after passing my probation period that my paycheque is going to have another rows of numbers in the document, explaining the amount that will be docked out of my pay for RRSP contributions and how much my employer is adding as well. I remember in the personal finance forums online that this is a common topic when it comes to employee benefits.
Finally, I gradually got into using benefits for paramedical procedures. The first time I went to therapy for my mental health, it was free of charge because I obtained services from an nonprofit specifically helping people like me – sexual assault survivors. At first, there was only insurance company we use to claim expenses for these procedures, until it was separated and we had a Health Spending Account, which covers expenses for a wide range of things such as physiotherapy, massage, psychologist, and a lot more.
Coordinating benefits packages and coverage between my husband’s and mine took a bit of initial work but now it’s very seamless. I felt really good about being able to partially pay for my husband’s eyeglasses, as he needed a prescription starting last year. As a couple we now tap into each other’s benefit packages when we officially became common-law a few years ago.
With all the current conversation due to the current pandemic, these conversations are at the forefront of many working people. One’s paycheck usually goes to major expenses and if there are any benefits it helps ease the financial burden on some of those purchases that meaningful but never prioritized.
It goes without saying that I feel fortunate to still be employed at this time, and even more blessed and priviledge to not only benefit from these work benefits, but to also acknowledge the wide range of options that are out there.