In a slowing economy, many companies tighten their purse strings by slowing their spending and even freezing their hiring process. However, even when many corporations are cutting back, it doesn't mean that existing employees must forgo annual increases in compensation. To the contrary, there are ways to increase "pay" without actually bumping up take-home salary. Let's run over a few items that employees or would-be employees can negotiate for.

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Perhaps you've always wanted to take an extended vacation or study art in Paris. Or perhaps you just want to be able to take your kids to school and pick them up on a regular basis. If this is the case, then you can ask your boss for a sabbatical or a leave of absence (be it paid or unpaid).

To be clear, many companies, particularly those in the Fortune 1000, already offer this perk, but only to employees that have several years of service (usually five years or more) under their belts. That said, many of these same companies are also flexible and will often make exceptions for valued employees.

In order to enhance the possibility that such a request will be granted, it makes sense to plan the leave of absence during a time of year when the workload is lightest. This way, your boss and/or your peers won't feel as overwhelmed about assuming your tasks.

Flex Time
Let's face it, we all live busy lives. In fact, many of us have obligations to organizations such as a local church or school that we often try to squeeze in after a busy work day. And those with large families seem to have even more obligations.

What if you could have the best of both worlds? In other words, suppose you were able to get both your work and your personal business done each day without having to rush? Sounds good, right? Well the good news is that with "flex time", it is possible.

What is flex time? Very simply, the employee agrees to work eight hours per day (or whatever the predetermined length of time may be), but is not required to work the traditional "nine to five" hours. In this way, an employee can avoid the busy morning commute, or take his or her children to school, by working from 10am to 6pm. Or, in order to have a Friday off, an employee might agree to work on a Saturday.

In any case, if an employee is trustworthy and getting his or her job done (and done well), then it is likely that an employer will grant this perk in lieu of a pay raise. Remember, from the employers' perspective, if it doesn't cost any money and it keeps you happy, then it's probably worthwhile.

Because of the relatively high cost of living in and around major metropolitan cities, many people choose to live in more rural areas; however, the downside to living in the suburbs that the commute to work (into the city) is often long and arduous. (For more insight, read Extreme Commuting: Is It For You?)

But maybe it doesn't have to be that way, particularly if they have a job where the majority of the communication and tasks take place on a computer or phone.

Reimbursement for Commuting Costs
Maybe your company won't grant you a pay raise or permit you to telecommute, but it may be willing to reimburse you for out-of-pocket commuting and travel expenses. For example, your employer may agree to reimburse you for gas, parking expenses, or buy your train or bus ticket for you outright.

Think that sounds like chump change compared to a pay raise? Think again. In order for you to buy that $100 bus pass, odds are that you need to earn $125 or $140 in pretax money. In other words, there is actually a benefit over and above the cost of the actual ticket.

Performance Bonus
Many employers are reluctant to give their employees pay raises during difficult times for obvious reasons (mainly, it costs more). But what if, at the end of the year, you could receive a bonus that was directly tied to the company's or your performance over and above a certain benchmark - in other words, unless the company made more money or performed well in a certain aspect, or unless you made more for the company, you will not receive additional compensation. That sounds fair, right?

To that end, perhaps your employer will be willing to give you a performance bonus based upon your or your division's sales (for example). Or maybe that bonus could be tied to some other tangible statistic or benchmark.

Stock Options
If the company that you work for is publicly traded, stock options (as a form of compensation) may be a terrific solution. Why?

Because stock options typically aren't worth anything unless the share price appreciates from the date they were granted, they encourage good employee performance. In addition, because options typically don't vest for several years after the grant date, they also encourage loyalty. (For more insight, read The Controversy Over Option Compensation.)

The Bottom Line
While it may not be possible to obtain a pay raise every single year, there are plenty of other perks that an employee can bargain for that can be just as valuable.

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