Federal employees don’t always earn the same salary as their peers in the private sector, but they enjoy some excellent benefits. These include the sort of pension plans that are becoming vanishingly rare outside of government jobs.
However, as the current administration emphasizes equity, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has found a problem with federal benefits. Many federal employees do not understand their non-salary benefits. These benefits could help them shrink various wealth gaps and improve social equity. As a result, the OPM intends to better educate employees about their non-salary benefits.
Your salary isn’t all you earn
As the OPM notes on its website, your compensation package is more than your salary. Indeed, the OPM divides your compensation package into three separate categories:
- Compensation – including your salary, student loan repayment and money directed toward relocation, recruitment, retention and performance incentives
- Workplace flexibilities – including time off, sick time, leave and, for those who qualify, the options to adopt flexible schedules or work from home (telework)
- Additional benefits – this is something of a bucket list of 18 different benefits, such as retirement packages, childcare, continuing professional development, health insurance, life insurance and flex accounts
Even at a quick glance, it’s clear that your salary is only part of the picture. A large and important piece, of course, but by no means the only one. And it’s certainly not the only piece that matters. However, many of the benefits available to federal employees are both hard to understand and often hard to access.
Understanding some challenging benefits
While your salary is an obvious benefit for “right now,” many of your federal benefits aim farther down the road. That doesn’t make them any less important. And, as the OPM has noted, understanding these benefits may prove the difference between just getting by later in life and enjoying a comfortable retirement.
- Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) – Your TSP is not a 401(k) but offers the same type of plans and tax benefits, as well as a variety of strategies and contribution levels. You want a solid understanding of your options if you hope to have a well-funded retirement fund.
- Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program (FLTCIP) – When you’re young, you might not give any thought to your old age. However, as our lifespans increase and people spend more time (and money) in long term care programs, your FLTCIP can be worth far more than the young, “invincible” federal workers would dream.
- Disability Retirement – The federal government provides excellent benefits and early retirement options to qualified employees. That said, many employees struggle to complete the paperwork and provide proof of their qualifications.
- Telework – The federal government’s recent push toward more telework could save you hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars. It’s not just a chance to cut down on your commute, but to establish a different work-life balance and, potentially, to do so while living somewhere cheaper and with a higher quality of life. The problem is that not everyone qualifies, and many employees see their telework requests denied.
While the OPM intends to develop better guidance for these, and other, non-salary benefits, the effort will likely take time. That means you may currently need to look elsewhere for that guidance, especially if you need to work through the forms for something like a disability retirement.
Make the most of your whole compensation package
You may be earning a smaller salary as a federal employee than you could make in the private sector, but you’ve likely got better benefits. Of course, it’s up to you to make the most of those benefits. That may mean educating yourself, or it may mean working with someone who can help you walk through the most complicated processes.
However you go about it, you want to take full advantage of your benefits. They exist to help you enjoy a better future.