The Loop

Most Popular Employee Benefits

Filed under: Benefits

According to a recent survey by, sixty percent of workers say that perks and benefits are a major factor when considering a job offer. Interestingly, the survey revealed that eighty percent would choose additional benefits over a pay raise.

However, the perennial question on employers' minds is 'what benefits are most the most desired by our employees? Not surprisingly, health insurance is nearly always at the top of the list. While healthcare coverage is the most expensive benefit to provide, annually averaging $6,435 per employee or $18,142 for family coverage, work-life balance benefits slide in at a close second.

The following are some of the most desirable benefits among today's workers.

Flex Work
One survey found that eighty-eight percent of respondents would give serious consideration to a job that offered flexible hours, while eighty percent favored a position that would let them work from home. Fortunately, work-life balance benefits tend to be relatively low-cost for employers. In particular, the work-from-home option offers a win-win scenario in which employers can save money via reduced overhead costs while workers can claim numerous tax deductions, not to mention savings on a professional wardrobe and transportation costs.

Parents tend to be the ones who value flexible hours over salary, although the millennial generation has fashioned an interest in this benefit as well. Work-life benefits can be particularly attractive for hard-to-reach talent pools such as highly-skilled women returning to the workforce or experienced, older workers looking to phase into retirement.

Unlimited Time-off
A recent survey found that two-thirds of respondents would consider a lower-paying job that offered unlimited vacation. While that may seem like a risky and expensive benefit, it can be a good fit for certain industries. For one thing, it tells job candidates that the company trusts them to manage their time and workload, and rewards them for that effort. Interestingly, some companies that have begun offering this benefit report that while productivity has increased, it sees few employees taking more vacation time than usual.

Extra paid-time off (PTO) tends to take the form of half or whole days off either for a specific event (e.g., child's play at school; doctor's appointment) or when the worker just finished a big project and can afford to take a bit of time for himself. Giving employees the ability to take extra time without having to come up with some excuse (e.g., "mental health day") can go a long way to promoting good will and loyalty.

With that said, some companies may want to offer unlimited vacation with certain "guardrails". This could include a requirement for core hours, but allowing individuals to decide the time they arrive and leave the office. Other flexible guidelines for indefinite PTO might include:

• Workers willing to take a conference call on a PTO day
• Certain PTO "black-out" dates during a major product launch or other company initiative
• Setting up criteria for who can take time off and when, so that everyone isn't out at the same time (e.g., must be scheduled in advance; subject to denial)
• Reward high performers with first choice of vacation dates
• Offer special consideration to workers who agree to work certain days that most people want off (this can be especially important for a small business)
• Maintain a shared vacation calendar so that workers assume some of the burden of eliminating conflicts before they ask for time off
• Cross-train within departments so that employees can trade back-up duties to handle workloads that may arise on their day off

Bear in mind that unlimited time off can help address the liability of workers who don't take vacation in order to receive additional pay. It is estimated that American workers accrue a total of $224 billion dollars' worth of unused vacation a year, which often must be paid out when they leave the company. In contrast, when employees get paid for every day of the year whether they work or not, companies average savings of $1,898 per employee.

If it isn't feasible to offer unlimited time off, consider other high-value days to grant vacation, such as the day after Thanksgiving and/or Christmas Eve. According to a recent CEB survey, about forty-two percent of employers allow workers to take off Friday afternoons during the summer months. When you consider those are likely to be low-productivity hours anyway, it's a high-value perk that may well be worth the cost.

One more thing about boundless vacation: Less than two percent of companies currently offer it. Among industries competing for highly coveted job candidates, the unlimited vacation benefit can give an employer a competitive edge.

Education Assistance
One of the biggest burdens in this country is the enormous debt college students bear once they enter the workforce. This is the first time in history that a huge swath of college students start out their career deep in debt – which makes it all the more difficult to achieve personal and financial success. In fact, financial worries can cause stress that impacts their professional growth and productivity.

As such, this particular demographic is attracted to employers that offer student loan and tuition assistance. In fact, nearly half of young professionals say this benefit could tempt them to accept a lower-paying job. It is an enticing lure for companies that conduct substantial campus recruiting. The education assistance benefit also enjoys a competitive edge. Presently, only three percent of companies offer student loan assistance while more than half (52 percent) provide graduate educational assistance. Moreover, education assistance provides workers with a tax break of up to $5,250 a year.

Retirement Plan
While the retirement plan is an all-time perennial favorite benefit, what has become increasingly evident is that employees need help managing their finances. This includes everything from selecting funds for their 401(k) plan to understanding how those choices should align with other investment allocations they hold. It also may encompass learning how to manage a household budget and save for long-term goals such as a house and children's college tuitions.

As this issue continues to advance to the forefront, more employers are providing financial education resources for their workers. Younger workers tend to appreciate more consultative help while mature employees value a high company 401(k) match.

Workforce Demographics
One of the key considerations when building out a benefit package is to carefully consider the company's workforce. For example, do they tend to be young and well educated? Older and retirement focused? Harried, multi-tasking moms? Weekend warrior fitness enthusiasts?

Employers may have the most success recruiting and retaining a skilled, loyal workforce when they match benefits to their worker demographics. Stratify the employee population into various categories, such as by age, education, income, career level (e.g., entry; mid-career; management; executive) to help identify which benefits would be most desirable.

For larger companies, it may be possible to lay out a buffet of à la carte benefits. This lets employees partake at will, offering a bit of something of interest for everyone – from discounted home loans and childcare subsidies to gym memberships and pet insurance.

If you need help, the best source of feedback is employees themselves. Conduct an enterprise-wide survey to gauge interest in various types of benefits, with the option for write-in suggestions. You never know where the next big benefit idea will come from – but in all likelihood, it'll come from someone in the workforce.

And finally, after you spend a lot of time, money, and effort to create a strong benefit package, don't wait until you hire a candidate to reveal it. Feature unique benefits in your posted job descriptions and recruitment materials, and highlight them in job interviews. It's easy enough to find out if potential job candidates value the benefits your company offers – just ask.

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