Certain benefits are going to get more love from employees than others.
That’s normal, and contingent on a variety of factors. An employee’s country of residence greatly impacts what benefits they find most attractive. So does the employee’s mode of work — on-site, hybrid, remote. Some benefits are uniquely popular within specific organizations.
With all that in mind, we set out to identify what aspects of reward employees everywhere love best.
Below, we’ll look into each of those benefits, and the factors that make them so attractive.
The Benefits Employees Across the Board Love
According to all of the surveys, data and reporting we’ve seen, these are the three benefits that employees value most:
- Flexible work hours. In 2022, Katherine Bindley and Chip Cutter at The Wall Street Journal reported on one survey of 10,000 workers that found 95 percent wanted flexibility in choosing when they worked.
- A safety net for if and when they get sick. In the United States, two-thirds of workers cite employer-covered healthcare as the most important workplace benefit, according to a 2023 survey by Talker Research. Protection against illness isn’t just an American perk, though. In the U.K., two-thirds of workers say paid sick leave is their most important benefit, according to a survey by payroll software company Ciphr.
- A way to earn money beyond their salaries. People love performance bonuses, company equity and overtime pay options. In fact, in a 2022 survey of U.K. workers, respondents cited overtime as the most important work benefit, Nosa Omoigui at HR Magazine writes. (Number 2 on that list? Flexible working hours.)
There are important social and economic contexts underpinning these findings. Let’s dig into those to get a sense for why workers have a preference for certain benefit programs.
Workers Everywhere Seek Help With Rising Costs of Living
Inflation, commodity scarcity, and the threat of economic recession. Those have been among the biggest global headlines the last couple of years, and employees everywhere appear to be feeling the financial pressure.
And so they’re looking for safety nets.
In the United States, benefit managers are starting to see employees paying more attention to long-term financial planning. In 2022, SHRM’s annual employee benefits survey found that 82 percent of HR professionals identified retirement and savings as a benefit that’s important to employees. The year before, that number was 55 percent.
Research from Morgan Stanley at Work finds that 93 percent of employees prioritize retirement planning. In fact, more than half of respondents (52 percent) say access to a financial advisor would be their top choice among retirement-planning benefits. Interestingly, that’s out of step with what HR leaders reported in the same survey. Only 40 percent of HR respondents cited access to a financial advisor.
In countries where governments play a bigger role in providing such safety nets, the sense of financial insecurity is still notable. In the U.K., a handful of employers are experimenting with a new type of benefit called a living pension, which helps workers set aside money each month, with contributions also coming from their employers.
That program, from the Living Wage Foundation, “was introduced following research among 3,000 people who saved into a pension in the past year,” Zoe Wickens at Employee Benefits reports. “It revealed that 56% felt like they would never be able to retire, while 37% were not confident they were saving enough to meet basic needs in retirement.”
Meanwhile, in the EU, one in three workers has expressed an interest in leaving their jobs in the near term (three to six months), citing inadequate total compensation as the No. 1 reason for doing so, McKinsey researchers Vincent Bérubé, Dana Maor, Marino Mugayar-Baldocchi, and Angelika Reich report.
“People stay in a job for the opposite reasons than they leave it: because they are rewarded adequately, their needs for advancement and skill building are met, and they see a future for themselves,” Bérubé et al. write.
Opening the Scope of Healthcare Coverage
Workers everywhere value affordable access to healthcare.
In the U.S., employer-provided coverage is how healthcare is made affordable to millions of people. Reflecting the findings cited above from Talker Research, Dana Miranda and Cassie Bottorff at Forbes Advisor cite a recent survey that found two-thirds (67 percent) of employees in the U.S. believe employer-covered healthcare is the most important benefit an employer can offer.
Data from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce corroborate those findings. A survey by the Chamber’s Protecting Americans’ Coverage Together coalition “found that the American workforce ranks health insurance as the most important benefit that employers have to offer, with other benefits such as retirement savings, paid time off, and life insurance ranked significantly less important to employees.”
But today people are beginning to take a broader view of their health and therefore have a broader understanding of what constitutes healthcare coverage.
This is what gives the benefits conversation a global perspective. In countries where access to healthcare falls within the public sphere, mental and dental care provision often get excluded from that coverage. Workers in those countries might have to pay for that kind of care out of pocket.
This is a concern for employers and employees alike. In a 2018 paper for the journal Preventing Chronic Disease, researchers Uma Kelekar and Shillpa Naavaal found that people who couldn’t afford access to dental care were more likely to miss work at some point during the year due to unplanned dental procedures. In other words, there is a strong business case to be made for providing dental coverage as a benefit.
The same goes for mental health coverage, which has seen real attention among employers in the last few years, but blind spots remain. Case in point: In 2021, McKinsey researchers Erica Coe, Jenny Cordina, Kana Enomoto, Alex Mandel and Jeris Stueland found that a majority of employers (71 percent) reported feeling as though they were supporting the mental health of their frontline employees “well or very well.” Only 27 percent of those frontline employee respondents agreed.
“There is continued opportunity for employers to support workforce mental health by taking five actions: make mental wellness a priority, enhance available mental health support, communicate available mental health support, create an inclusive work culture, and measure and meet the need,” Coe et al. write.
What Benefits Do Your Own Employees Love? Ask Them
While it’s possible to paint with some pretty broad strokes here, benefits are ultimately personal. Two colleagues in similar roles at the same company might value very different types of reward.
That’s why asking employees directly is the best way to know which benefits they, personally, find valuable. Our total digital rewards platform gives benefit managers tools to solicit employee feedback on their preferences, and about what is (or isn’t) working in their total reward package.
You can collect this feedback at any time — i.e. not once per year during an annual review. That way, the individual benefit programs you offer can be responsive to the always-evolving economic contexts we all must deal with. As cost-of-living pressures rise, benefits can be adjusted accordingly. As aspects of health come more into focus, healthcare coverage benefits can be adjusted accordingly.
To learn more, request a demo today.
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