The Benefits of a Public-Sector Job

December 13, 2018

When interviewing for a new job, there’s one question that just about every prospective hire has but is often unsure when or how to ask: What’s the pay?

This magic number is the one that will determine, for the next few years, your ability to cover your bills and do (or be forced to forego) the disposable income activities that provide the work-life balance we all seek.

But there’s another figure—more of a collection of assets than a specific number—that may go even further in determining your ultimate happiness in a new job, and that’s the benefits structure. Whether it’s the health care plan, professional development programs, or the retirement savings options, these unsung extras can often contribute far more to your long-term prosperity than that regular paycheck ever could. And given the politically charged and economically strained atmosphere around employment “extras” such as health care and 401(k) programs, any sudden drop in these offerings can spell dire times for your bottom line.

If you’re truly interested in a broad compensation package, the public sector is the way to go. Yes, it’s not without its own eternal struggles, but according to a report published in October, public-sector jobs offer more prevalent and comprehensive benefit packages than do private-sector positions almost across the board. Whether you want solid retirement benefits, general financial advice, career training—or even if you’re trying to quit smoking—the public sector is where you want to be.

To reach these conclusions, Governing Magazine compared 300 benefits that private companies and governmental groups of all sizes provide. The researchers found particularly large benefit gaps in graduate educational assistance (62% of public organizations versus 45% of private ones), on-site professional development (83% versus 64%), anti-smoking programs (61% versus 37%), and even on-site fitness centers (41% versus 21%). The authors added that governmental organizations have historically done a poor job of using these benefits as a recruitment and retention tool, but that’s beginning to change—especially at the local level.

The reporters did acknowledge that the private sector comes out ahead in perks such as telecommuting options, casual dress codes, salary bonuses, and free food, all of which can be appealing to young professionals. But if you’re playing the long game with your career and want to contribute to the greater good in the process, the public sector has more rewards than you may have expected.