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Employee Benefits: What Are the Most Likely to Retain Top Performers?

Every year, a certain number of people go looking for new jobs. They may want higher salaries, increased responsibilities, or simply a better commute.

Many companies, though, want to retain top performers from jumping ship. One of the most often used leadership skills tools is increasing benefits. Indeed, 80% of employees would choose better benefits over a raise.

They are also highly important for job seekers. For 60% of people, benefits and perks are major factors when deciding to accept a job offer.

Which benefits are most likely to retain people – or, for that matter, entice new people into joining?

Health Benefits and Flexible Arrangements Lead the List

According to a recent Harvard Business Review report, the most popular employee benefits are health insurance and other health, dental, and vision benefits. A whopping 88% of employees would give these benefits either heavy or some consideration in choosing a job.

Health insurance costs employers close to $6,500 per year per employee. Sometimes companies can save money by finding a way to switch health cover, but even so it tends to be a sizable expense.

The next most popular group of benefits, however, were those that gave employees more work flexibility or more work-life balance.

Offering flexible hours, for example, is important to 88% of employees in choosing a job.

The ability to work from home is important to 80%.

Unlike increased healthcare benefits, employer expenditures on flexible hours and working from home are not high.

Another flexible-time benefit popular with employees was more vacation time. Eighty percent of employees would give increased vacation time consideration in choosing a job.

More vacation time can cost employers. If employees don’t take all their vacation time, employers have to pay a salary for the unused time.

This is one of the elements leading to the increasing popularity of unlimited vacation time. Digital companies like Netflix popularized this concept. One of the perks for employers is that unlimited vacation time can save employers $1,898 per employee because it removes the potential liability of having to pay for the unused time from the table.

Just 9% of executives think that unlimited vacation time would impact productivity.

How About Food, Coffee, and Other Perks?

Technology firms like Google have become notorious for outsized perks such as free catered meals, yoga, and haircuts. Despite this, however, the HBR data indicates that food and coffee (certainly one of the most common perks!) are one of the least important in the employee worldview.

The reason might be that they don’t contribute directly to the management of the employee’s life in the way that flextime or work-from-home options do.

There is some indication, though, that favored perks can change by sector or age of employees. A 2014 Forbes article, for example, gleaned that tech employees rated their company’s provision of free games very highly. Many tech companies have game rooms for darts and pool as well as electronic games, on the theory that is can provide cross-department bonding.

Free food is also highly popular with younger techies. Again, companies who provide free food, whether it’s pizza or donuts, often use the food as a vehicle to transmit company goals and values. Free pizza on Friday, for example, serves as a congratulatory celebration of the end of the work week.

Better health benefits and more flexibility may help in employee retention overall. Games and food may be especially important in tech companies. Benefits are significant overall in retaining top performers.