Jan 23, 2013
An international report by Mercer revealed that Canadian workers would rather receive more time off than any other benefit – including being paid more to do their jobs.
Canadians were the only country in the survey — which included 10,400 employees worldwide — who said they valued time off over more money. Of the 1,033 Canadians surveyed, 20% picked an additional week of paid time off as their top choice for an additional workplace benefit, followed in second place by a $500 salary increase (chosen by 18%).
Workers in all other countries – including the United States, Britain, France, China and Brazil – selected a salary increase as the most preferred benefit.
“In Canada, generally speaking, organizations are running fairly lean, people are generally working pretty hard so, in some respects, it’s worker fatigue speaking,” said Brian Lindenberg, senior partner at Mercer in Calgary.
Lindenberg said many workers worldwide selected options that have a short-term benefit over longer-term benefits like improved pension contributions. In Canada, an additional $500 employer contribution to a retirement savings plan was the third most popular option at 15%.
“Canadian employees have shown that they value more time off and increased pay in the current stress-filled economic environment, which is understandable. But there are other benefits that have the potential to create more income protection through health benefits and income replacement through retirement and savings vehicles,” Lindberg said.
Mercer said these findings suggest organizations need to do more to communicate the long-term value of various benefits to employees.
The survey also found differences in employee preferences depending on industry, age/life stage and position. Younger workers between 25 and 44 and workers with young children were most likely to pick additional time off as their preferred benefit, while people earning under $20,000 and workers over 45 were more likely to choose a salary increase.
Workers were also asked which benefits that they would be most willing to purchase themselves if their companies offered them on their website or provided a discount. The differences in global choices were often related to different healthcare and insurance systems in various countries.
In Canada, for example, employees were most interested in automobile and homeowner insurance followed in third place by critical injury insurance, which are all normally benefits workers in Canada have to pay for themselves. Mercer said the results should be interesting to employers because many do not currently offer or facilitate group homeowner or automobile coverage. If an organization can partner with a large home and auto insurance company that provides preferred rates they may be able to add value to their employees for little additional cost.
U.S. workers chose disability and life insurance as the top benefits they’d be most willing to purchase themselves if the company offered them, while supplemental retirement income and housing allowances were most popular in China.
Across all 10 countries in the survey, workers also expressed concerns about their preparedness for retirement. In Canada, 68% said they are either “fairly” or “very” concerned about having sufficient funds available when they retire. The greatest concerns were in China, where 81% of workers surveyed were concerned about their retirement incomes, while 74% of US workers were worried and workers in Spain were comparatively the least concerned at 61%.
What this means for employers
Family composition has changed a great deal over the past few decades. So too must employee benefits.
Lindenberg explained that employers should strive to understand the demographics present in their current (and future) workforce, and what benefits will resonate with them most. “Lots of people in their 20s have pets and the chances are high they may not have kids, so the pets are their kids. And what would be valued to them? An opportunity to take care of their dependants through pet insurance.”
Employers should also consider how attractive their benefits package is to new employees. It’s an area of increasing importance and one that can sometimes make or break an employee accepting a new position. (In a 2011 survey, more than one-half (55%) of the respondents believed offering competitive health benefits was a crucial element in attracting and retaining top talent.)
If you want to find out what benefits your employees are looking for, just ask. A survey could reveal a great deal of unexpected but valuable information. Experts warn, however, that you must be prepared to implement some of the changes suggested otherwise the survey could do more harm than good by giving the impression that you asked for ideas but aren’t going to do anything with them.
How to get the message across
While it’s important to offer different options, employers have to ensure workers fully understand the benefit choices available and the consequences of making those choices, said Lindenberg. For example, younger workers may need to be reminded about the importance of certain health benefits even if, at the time, they feel invincible.
To communicate the many benefits available, employers need to make sure they are providing information in a variety of ways including both on-line and paper-based means to meet the needs of all demographics in the workforce, explained Lindenberg.
Employees may also forget what benefits are available, so employers should make an effort to remind them. For example, sending out email reminders or offering lunch-and-learns.
If employers aren’t already thinking about ways to be more creative and innovative with their benefits, experts recommend they start thinking about this sooner rather than later, before they find themselves outdated.
What do you think? Should employers need to be more open-minded about the benefits offered? How could benefits be more innovative? What kind of benefits would mean the most to you?