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The COVID-19 pandemic that started with catastrophic job losses has produced the best conditions in ages for finding work with better pay and benefits.

Canada has not seen the mass quitting and career switching going on in the United States right now as part of a trend called the Great Resignation or the Big Quit. But employers here are having trouble filling positions as economic lockdowns ease. For job seekers, and existing employees, this scarcity of workers presents an opportunity to ask for things that improve your finances and more.

“The employee-employer social contract has really changed in this new world,” said Melanie Jeannotte, CEO of Gallagher Benefits & HR Consulting Canada. “So employers are having to up their game.”

Here’s a game plan for workers in white-collar jobs from Ms. Jeannotte. She said there are three things to consider in evaluating a new job: compensation, benefits and the path to career advancement. On compensation, a survey done by Gallagher found roughly one-third of companies are offering pay above salary ranges and a similar percentage are offering sign-on and retention bonuses, which are meant to reward employees outside their usual salary.

Ms. Jeannotte said bonuses have some appeal to employers because they avoid the long-term financial commitment of a pay raise. Can’t get the starting salary or raise you want? Try asking for a sign-on or retention bonus.

Employee savings programs are also a key point of comparison for job seekers. Ms. Jeannotte said employers are increasingly offering non-registered savings plans. Instead of putting money into a pension plan for retirement, employers match employee contributions to a non-registered savings plan that can be used for a variety of goals.

“You have the flexibility to use that money if you’re contemplating buying a new home, further education or other priorities,” she said. “When you’re younger, the paternalistic approach of a pension plan may not be an attractive part of a compensation program for you because it’s just too far out.”

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For retirement savings programs, ask whether an employer offers a defined benefit or defined contribution pension, or a group registered retirement savings plan. DB plans pay retirees specified amounts for life, while DC plans and group RRSPs simply provide a way to invest for retirement. All typically feature employers matching employee contributions in some way.

Career advancement opportunities should also be part of your assessment of a change in employment, Ms. Jeannotte said. Does your prospective employer offer training, career development or leadership programs?

“You want to join an organization where you can see the steps you need to take to grow in your role, which ultimately means greater financial benefits and job satisfaction,” she said.

Assessing benefits means taking in what an employer offers and seeing how much value there is for you. Example: If you rely on a high-cost drug for a medical condition, is that particular medication covered? Might you need fertility benefits?

Some new trends in benefits include telehealth, which connects people to medical professionals using online video conferencing, and increased coverage of mental-health services. “Mental health is front and centre,” Ms. Jeannotte said. “I’d say that for virtually every employer, there’s a lot of worry of the impact of the shadow pandemic, where resiliency expires and we start to lose people into longer-term disability circumstances.”

She said some employers are including mental-health support services in their benefits plans that might not have been covered before, and expanding eligibility. Some have adopted a concierge service to help employees get quick access to the assistance they need.

While you’re looking into benefits, inquire about an employer’s policies in areas such as flexible scheduling, so you can minimize child-care costs, and working at home.

The economic disruptions caused by the pandemic have given employees more leverage to improve their working lives financially and emotionally. Don’t waste the moment by failing to explore what employers are offering.

“Be a good student of what you have and what you want and need in the future, and be able to negotiate to that,” Ms. Jeannotte said. “You need to be well prepared coming into those conversations.”

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