Top Benefits Potential Employees are Looking For

What benefits are prospective employees looking for?Your employee benefits package isn’t a “one-and-done” proposition. The small business landscape is way too dynamic, and there’s way too much at stake to do that. But what do employees really want—and how can you offer it?

The benefits you provide depend on a number of intersecting factors. What benefits do employees want most? is a central question, to be sure. But other realities need to weigh in. Who are your employees and who is your ideal recruit? And, what about the current employment climate, the size and type of your business—and of course, what you can afford?

The thing about benefits is that, regardless of the business you’re in, they’re not “nice-to-haves” but essentials for every business. Employees definitely have expectations, and employment specialists say that in tough times, they rely increasingly on their benefits. Economic uncertainty tends to make everyone just happy to have a job and less demanding in terms of benefits.

But happily, those days appear to be pretty much over. Did you know that the June 2012 ADP Payroll report showed that small business payrolls have reverted to 96.9 percent of their pre-recession levels (as compared with 92.4 percent in larger companies)? According to a MetLife white paper on small business employee benefits,

“…Motivated, committed and productive employees will be a key component for leveraging these encouraging trends, and this will require…a renewed focus on employee hiring and retention on the part of small business owners…”

At a very high level, groups what employees want into four “big picture” categories:

    1. Money. Don’t believe it if you hear that money “doesn’t matter.” It does.


    1. Flexible hours and telecommuting. It’s hard to argue with this one, but some employers still resist.


    1. Bonuses. There are a variety of pay-for-performance strategies that essentially increase salary levels.


    1. Perks. It’s the little unexpected things like gift certificates, parties and picnics, free car washes and (unexpected) time off.

But what about the more traditional notion of benefits? reported on the Glassdoor Quarterly Employment Confidence Survey that ranked the importance of workplace benefits to employees. Medical coverage was important to the vast majority (76 percent). Vacation, holidays, and sick time were also right up there (important to 72 percent), followed by 401(k)/retirement/pension (62 percent). One in five employees (21 percent) said office perks are an important benefit. This includes things like free food and drink, casual dress and a pet-friendly office which, interestingly, coincides with the information above.

Glassdoor said this:

“..[With] employees’ growing sense of confidence about the state of the job market…job seekers will be looking for companies that communicate clearly about the future of the business, the path for career advancement, and their benefit needs…”

Glassdoor calls this “a new normal in this post-recession era…”

So whether you’re building a new benefits program for your business or re-tooling your current one — we strongly suggest two additional must-reads. The first is from The Basics of Employee Benefits, a self-described “primer” that breaks benefit offerings down into what’s required by law, what’s not and what’s good policy. [This is an excerpt from Start Your Own Business, Grow Your Business and “Selecting the Right Retirement Plan” by David Meier—well worth reading in their entirety, too.]

Then there’s the MetLife white paper that takes an in-depth look at what small business employees specifically want in the way of benefits. It’s called, Are You Listening? What Small Business Employees Want from Their Benefits, And How Employers Can Show They’ve Heard. This is a fantastic document that takes a deep dive into how the mindsets and expectations of Gen X, Gen Y and Boomer employees differ and how various benefits are more meaningful to some groups and not others. Work-life balance, for example, is more important to younger workers than older ones.

You’ll definitely want to read about how small business owners overestimate their employees’ loyalty (and have for the past five years) and the disconnect between small business employers and employees regarding the role non-medical, retirement and voluntary benefits play in driving employee loyalty. Don’t skip over this informative piece from MetLife—and DON’T be put off by the length! There are lots of graphics and charts that make this an engaging read. The workplace has entered the new normal, and so have employees—and employee benefits. If you aren’t already, you need to be there, too.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles /

Do you emphasize your benefits when recruiting?

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