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How to Determine What Benefits Your Employees Really Want

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My best friend used to work as a warehouse employee at a very large online retailer.

Her job had a lot of great benefits and perks. The funny thing was that the benefits that actually contributed to her enjoyment of her job were largely accidental—she got tons of exercise and liked her unconventional shift hours. However, the company didn’t plan these perks and didn’t do anything to promote or track them.

And the benefits and perks that they did promote and track were things that my friend and her fellow employees didn’t really care for. At best, they didn’t have any impact, and at worst, they hated and resented them.

This is a clear case of employer to employee disconnect. What the employer thinks the employees want and what the employees actually want can be two different things. And with tons of respect to the fact that HR is a difficult job and staff don’t always understand, there are steps you can take to better understand how to best engage your employees and which benefits will mean the most to them.

What are employee benefits?

Employee benefits are anything offered to employees outside of their wages or salary. Benefits may include vacation and time off packages, healthcare and insurance, housing or transportation assistance, or retirement packages, along with other bonuses and benefits.

Benefits can also come in the form of in-office perks, such as free snacks or an arcade machine (hello, Capterra!) as well as special employee recognition like awards ceremonies and performance rewards.

What benefits do employees appreciate most?

In the case of my friend, her company made certain assumptions about what they thought employees wanted. There are lots of studies that show that employees want recognition for jobs well done, so they ran with that, handing out awards for amount of time worked and levels of productivity.

My friend and her coworkers hated them. They were given certificates that appeared juvenile and made them feel patronized and condescended to.

It’s not exactly the award they received, but it communicates a strong feeling, right?

A quick certificate that has no bearing on benefits or in how an employee is seen by the company or their managers has no teeth. To my friend, it was even a little insulting.

But what could a company offer to avoid insulting the very people they most want to reward? The trick is to know what it is that people actually want.

Well great, if that’s all!

Luckily, there’s lots of research on this topic from multiple sources. Here’s a study done by Fractl that I found through an article in the Harvard Business Report.

Fractl survey

The study showed that by far, the two benefits employees want more than anything else are healthcare coverage and a better work/life balance.

Health insurance

The desire to have better health insurance is something that comes up again and again in similar studies. Healthcare coverage has been, historically, a difficult thing to come by, and many employees rely entirely on their employer to provide insurance. It makes sense that people want the best insurance policy they can find, and if your employee benefits package wants to be competitive, finding and providing the best insurance you can is a key component.

As far as your current and potential employees are concerned, there is no replacement for a strong healthcare package. If that means redirecting budget from fun, attractive benefits such as snacks and employee outings, it’s money better spent.

Work/life balance

The second important thing to note is the multiple points where employee desires boil down to the need for a better work/life balance.

More flexible hours, more vacation time, work from home options, unlimited vacation, paid parental leave, and daycare services all say the same thing: your employees need help fitting their home and work lives together.

Different industries and offices are going to have differing levels of flexibility to provide that help in balancing work and life.

Consider your unique office. Is there physical space for a daycare? If not, could you offer subsidies for a local daycare? If your office is 9-5, does it have to be? Is there any reason why employees couldn’t come and go earlier or later, or do the same exact work from home? Even offering one work from home day out of the week might make a large impact in the happiness and job satisfaction of your employees.

What benefits do your employees want?

The best way to know what your employees want is to survey them—ask them what kinds of benefits they’d like to see. Make sure it’s anonymous and really follow through on what they told you.

And yes, employees really do want benefits. According to a 2015 Glassdoor survey, over 75% of employees want better benefits more than they want a raise.

Implementing your new benefits package

Now we’re on to the easy part! You know what benefits your employees want and you know how to provide them. All that’s left is having a way to track and manage those benefits.

Benefits administration software is an effective way to keep track of different benefits packages (since not everyone in the company is going to have the same package), for you as well as your employees.

And if a limited budget has you worried about losing out on the happy, shiny, fun side of benefits (the little perks like snacks and, yes, even award ceremonies), you should look into low cost ways to show employee appreciation.

You can have it all!

What do your employees benefits packages look like?

Are you a wizard of benefits, unsurprised by the stats, whose employees have exactly what they want? Or are you awkwardly shoving some certificates of achievement into a drawer somewhere? No matter where you are on the spectrum, I hope you learned something, and maybe even found software to help.

Got questions? Comments? Drop me a line below, follow me on Twitter @CapterraHalden, and subscribe to my mailing list for talent management tech and trends every week.

Looking for Talent Management software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Talent Management software solutions.

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About the Author

Halden Ingwersen

Halden Ingwersen writes about HR and eLearning at Capterra. She’s a graduate of Agnes Scott College and a TEDx presenter. You can follow her on Twitter @CapterraHalden, just don’t get her started about her zombie survival plan.

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