With unemployment levels at historic lows, employers are working hard to find and keep top talent. Sixty-eight percent of businesses report difficulty with recruiting. The Society for Human Resource Management reveals companies are using employee benefits as a critical competitive strategy for recruiting and retention. When surveyed, 29% of job seekers share they want better benefits. Additionally, 32% of seekers who choose to stay at their current employer report benefits as the reason why they stayed.

What Benefits Are Candidates Asking For?

With these facts in mind, employers are looking for the benefits that motivate employees and new hires. The most frequently cited benefits employees want are health care, financial wellness, total-self wellness programs, family care benefits, and flexible scheduling. These are not all-inclusive but cover what employees say is most important to them.

Health care

Increasing health care costs are challenging businesses and workers alike. In the last decade, employee annual family costs for premiums, and out-of-pocket costs increased by $3,109. Employer costs rose $5,151. Health care costs are more than double wage increases. Families delay seeking health care because of the expenses.

The National Business Group on Health states 36% of large employers are connecting health care strategies to workforce management in 2020. This represents a 9% increase over 2019 as work to align plans with recruiting and retention strategies.

In choosing overall benefit offerings, companies consider social factors affecting health. Examples are financial conditions, education, affordable housing, and transportation. Benefit plans that ease strain on workers in these areas also reduces the need for costly health care.

Financial Wellness

David Reich, National President of HUB Retirement and Private Wealth Management, calls financial stress the “quiet crisis” in the workplace. Human Resources Today shares that 80% of workers live paycheck to paycheck. Sixty percent of those workers call it their most significant stressor.

Benefits employees want the most, help relieve financial stress. Workers continually report being concerned with having enough savings to retire. People are choosing to work later in life for fear of running out of money. Increasingly, workers are looking to employers for help. So, retirement plans are one long-standing benefit employees still want. Plans that include retirement planning coaching are becoming more valuable to workers who feel vulnerable.

Retirement planning isn’t the only need workers face. Family budget planning is another benefit employees increasingly value. According to Financial Health Network, 47% of Americans say their spending equals or exceeds household income. And a staggering 93% said they were unable to pay all their bills on time in the last 12 months.

Financial stress negatively affects people’s health. These effects aggravate finances when the employees then face more health care costs.

School fees and student loan payment help are more benefits workers want from employers. Seventy percent of all college graduates begin their careers with more than $37,000 in school-related debt. The impact of this debt is a heavy strain on families. Help relieving that strain is a huge benefit.

Total-Self Wellness

Total-self wellness programs help employees with mental and behavioral health. These programs help workers with work-life balance. Sixty-nine percent of employers who offer these benefits track employee satisfaction on a monthly or quarterly basis. Employees at these companies consistently report higher satisfaction with overall employer-provided benefit plans.

Facilitating mental health care is essential in a wellness program. About one-quarter of all workers today are diagnosed with depression, and half of these workers will lose ten or more work-days annually. Mindfulness training options like yoga and meditation, help mitigate the impact of stress on workers. Supporting employee participation in these programs helps relieve their stress. They can also increase office productivity when employees focus better.

Fitness and nutrition programs are also valuable. However, employers need to be careful that benefit options cover a diverse employee population. Not all employees want a gym membership. Choices that include other healthy lifestyle options support employees more. These options may include yoga classes, athletic gear, or massage costs.

Some employers make contributions to health savings accounts for participating employees. By offering multiple healthy lifestyle options, employers enable maximum participation. Choices make the program more valuable to employees.

Family Care

Family care benefits are another set of options that support employees. According to Employee Benefit News, 66% of all families today are dual working households. Work from home policies, flexible scheduling, and paid time off for child care are some of the most desired benefits. Family care options enable parents to be part of important family events, attend school functions, and take care of their sick children.

Other significant family planning benefits include parental leave for newborns and adoption. Fertility aid is another area where employees often appreciate the support. Benefits here may consist of policies that help men or women having difficulty conceiving.

When considering family care program benefits, it’s important to remember that parents aren’t the only employees who need help. More workers are becoming caregivers to elderly parents and severely ill or injured family members. Policies should allow spouses or children to care for these family members. Employee resource and support group participation is another valuable benefit an employer can endorse.

Flexible Scheduling and Paid Time Off

Scheduling policies like work from home, flexible scheduling, and paid time off aren’t explicitly focused on above. However, these policies are part of each of the benefits explored. They should be another focus for employers. The Harvard Business Review article, “Motivating People: The Most Desirable Employee Benefits,” ranks 17 benefits employees use when evaluating a new position. Four of the top five ranked benefits relate directly to flexible scheduling options and paid time off.

One trend, and growing policy concern, is unlimited paid time off. Workers say they like unlimited time, but companies who offer this policy are discovering employees are taking less time off — the reasons why aren’t clear. Sometimes employees don’t feel comfortable taking the time because of perceived office conflicts. Sometimes without an expected number of days off, the employee doesn’t feel the need to take any. Companies that offer unlimited paid-time-off should review employee participation to ensure that employees are taking vacations.

Least Desired

It’s essential to make sure the benefits you offer cover as many employees as possible. On the other hand, options may include diverse choices to ensure employees have benefits that help them. Benefits that appear to limit participants to a select few employees create feelings of unfairness and become counterproductive. Not all employees will want or be able to take part in all benefit offerings, but employers should offer enough diverse options that all employees find value in the total program.

In the effort to offer benefits, employees will appreciate, sometimes, employers miss the mark. Some perks don’t seem to help employee lifestyles or finances. Ping-Pong tables, juice bars, massage chairs, on-site gyms, and dry cleaning are a few popular options that may not gain enough employee support. This isn’t saying employers shouldn’t offer these benefits. But employees won’t experience as much value from them if the rest of the benefits package does not address foundational needs.


Unemployment rates aren’t expected to change soon. Offering a robust employee benefits option can make a big difference in recruiting and retention. Healthcare, retirement plans, total-self wellness programs, family care plans, and paid time off give employees incentives that answer needs and make their lives easier. A recent story from Gallup reveals that employees are willing to change jobs for these benefits. Nontraditional perks can be nice, but employees will look for other options without the other benefits.