Personal Finance

4 ways you’re losing money at work

Key Points
  • Workers lose an average $604 in unused time off.
  • Workplace benefits add an average 28 percent to employer salary, according to Aon Hewitt.
  • 18 percent of workers have eaten a colleague's lunch from the office fridge.
4 ways you're losing money at work
4 ways you're losing money at work

Smart moves at work could leave you with more money in your pocket.

Every dollar of that paycheck counts when you're juggling expenses and competing financial goals. Americans are getting better about saving, but a quarter still don't have any emergency savings, a recent survey found.

If you're in the market for a new job, scrutinize the value of benefits as well as salary: Health care, retirement matches, paid time off and other perks add up to an average 28 percent of employer pay, according to Aon Hewitt. Staying put? Don't forget to look at valuable benefits in the form of discounts and incentives.

Here’s the 411 on how to kick-start your emergency fund
Here’s the 411 on how to kick-start your emergency fund

Here are four unexpected ways you might be leaving money on the table at work and in your job hunt:

1) Letting vacation time go unused

On average, workers use only 54 percent of their eligible vacation time, according to a recent Glassdoor report. (See chart below for a breakdown.)

"Many people are nervous or scared that no one else can do the work when they are out or that they might get behind or that it might impact their chances of getting a promotion," Glassdoor's trends analyst Scott Dobroski told CNBC. "That is not healthy."

It's expensive, too. A recent report from Project: Time Off, which is sponsored by the U.S. Travel Association, estimated that for the average worker, unused vacation days represent a loss of $604. If you just can't take a summer break, at least look to see if those days can be rolled over, banked or paid out.

Read more: U.S. workers forfeit half their vacation time

2) Not reassessing your market value

"Your professional market value is not a fixed number," Rachel Kim, a senior manager of the career advisory board at online lender SoFi, told CNBC. "It is one that has to be adjusted not only with your education, experience and expertise, but also with the context of the market that you're working in and the company you're working for."

In particular, workers switching careers often fail to adjust their market value accordingly, she said. That can hurt them when it comes to talking salary with prospective employers.

Take advantage of tools on career websites such as Glassdoor, LinkedIn and PayScale, which help estimate what your pay will be if you change roles. Don't forget to highlight skills that are valuable in any field, such as communications, teamwork and leadership, said Blair Decembrele, a career expert at LinkedIn.

Read more: How to switch careers and still reach your retirement goals

3) Missing out on 'secret' jobs

Job hopping can lead to a higher salary, but by the time you see a job posting, an enticing opening might be long gone. In fact, about 85 percent of open positions are filled through networking rather than classifieds, according to a report by LinkedIn.

Jose Luis Pelaez | Getty Images

Getting the inside track on job openings before they become public knowledge requires working your current connections, Ivan Misner, the founder of business networking organization, told CNBC. Start with people you know and trust, and quietly put it out there that you're looking. See if they can connect you to a current employee at the company you are interested in.

"Be clear on your own skills and background, as well as research the company you are interested in and the person you are meeting with," he said.

Read more: How to land a job before it's posted

4) Failing to secure your lunch

Nearly 1 in 5 workers has eaten someone else's lunch out of the office fridge, according to a new American Express OPEN survey. That's a double financial drain, with the victim losing out on money spent for groceries to make that packed lunch (an average $6.30, according to Visa data), and then incurring extra costs to buy a replacement takeout meal (an average $11.14).

The solution? Experts suggest keeping lunch at your desk in an insulated cooler bag, or using a lunchbox that can accommodate a small lock to thwart a thief.

"What people tend to try first, if this is an ongoing problem, is that they label their food," Alison Green, author of the "Ask a Manager" blog, told CNBC. "By definition, someone who is stealing your food is breaking the social contract.

"So they are unlikely to be deterred by a note."

Read more: Office lunch theft can be a surprise budget buster