While employees are often offered a variety of benefits, the one they crave most is free time. That’s the result from a survey that asked more than 1,200 employees what benefits were most important. Survey participants were given a list of 15 perks, which did not include insurance or retirement benefits, and asked to rank their top five. More so than onsite gyms, health coaching, or pet friendly offices, employees said their top need was more time away from the office.  The 15 benefits are listed below in order of preference based on the percentage of respondents that ranked it in their top five.

  • Paid family leave: 58%
  • Flexible/remote work options: 55%
  • Professional development: 39%
  • Sabbatical leave: 38%
  • Gym membership or onsite fitness center: 36%
  • Student loan repayment: 35%
  • Onsite healthy snacks: 28%
  • ID theft prevention: 28%
  • Financial planning: 27%
  • Fitness goal incentives: 18%
  • Public transit assistance: 16%
  • Pet insurance: 15%
  • Pet friendly offices 15%
  • Health coaching: 14%
  • Dedicated volunteer hours: 12%

Employees Need Free Time; Employers Are Listening

Three of the top four preferred benefits (paid family leave, flexible/remote work options, and sabbatical leave) relate to employees having more control over their personal time. As employees become busier and struggle to manage personal and work life, having more say in where and when they work becomes an important benefit.

Companies are recognizing the need for employees who are new parents or caregivers to have time off. The survey says the percentage of employers who offered paid maternity leave increased from 26% in 2016 to 35% in 2018. More employers also offered paternity leave, with the percentage of employers offering the benefit increasing from 21% in 2016 to 29% in 2018.

Flexible or remote work options was a close second for the most preferred benefit. According to the survey, 70% of organizations now offer some type of remote work, although it may not be on a full-time basis.

When it comes to granting paid flexible or free time, sabbaticals do not get as much support from employers, although nearly 40% of employees say they’d like it. The survey points out that only 5% of employers offer paid sabbaticals.

Free Time Theme Similar In Other Studies

The desire for free time is not limited to the participants in this survey. In another survey, millennials were asked their top desired perks. Four out of five of their most wanted benefits matched the survey above. Paid family leave (64%), flexible or remote working options (49%), sabbaticals (42%), and professional development (39%) topped the list. However, 55% of millennials said student loan repayment was important, more so than flexible or remote working options.

As new studies and surveys come out, it is helpful to see what themes may exist and to determine if a company’s benefits offerings are competitive. Beyond just looking at the trends, companies should look at their own employees and offer benefits that truly resonate with that population. A primarily millennial employee base, for example, may be influenced by a student loan repayment program. Baby boomers might want paid family leave or sabbatical leave. By understanding employees’ needs, companies can tailor benefit programs that truly support well-being, improve work performance, and increase retention.

Employee Wellness Remains Key Benefit

In addition to free time, the survey suggests that employees also want wellness benefits. Gym memberships (36%), student loan assistance (35%), onsite healthy snacks (28%), and fitness goal incentives (18%) ranked highly among employees.  Employers building competitive benefits packages will need to include a diverse set of wellness benefits to help employees thrive and trust their company cares about their well-being.

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