If you take a look at the career sites of today’s hippest companies, you’ll probably see a lot of photos of dogs at work, foosball machines, and employees enjoying free drinks.
What you probably won’t see are the two things today’s employees actually want the most: more flexibility and better healthcare benefits.
Employees’ desires are evolving away from quirky but minor perks toward more robust and meaningful benefits, according to a lot of new research, including our own.
For our new survey, “Talent Intelligence and Management Report 2019-2020,” we at Eightfold.ai conducted 1,500 interviews with the CEOs and CHROs of enterprises in the US and several European countries during the summer of 2019. We also spoke with samples of their employees. What we wanted to understand was the key talent challenges facing organizations today.
As part of the survey, employees were given a list of 18 possible benefits. They were asked to name the five benefits they would find most appealing. Among US workers, a flexible work schedule ranked first, followed by health benefits, such as insurance. Coming in third place was the option to work from home, followed by a longer vacation allocation.
And what did US workers find least appealing? Yoga, sabbaticals, pet-friendly offices, game rooms, and discounted company restaurants — exactly the kind of flashy perks many companies are offering.
(For the record, results were similar overseas. In France, for instance, the flexible-schedule benefit also ranked first. Again, yoga, pets, and game rooms brought up the rear.)
Don’t Ditch the Foosball Table Just Yet
What I’m taking away from this survey is not that it’s time to eliminate the food and games or ban Fido from the office. We have our fair share of all that at Eightfold.ai. One of our new employees even jokingly complained that during the week of onboarding he primarily learned how to put on weight, as a couple dozen cartons of ice cream landed in the kitchen.
No, my sense is that with more dual-income families, a lot of folks are more pressed for time when it comes to balancing work with personal needs like checking in on aging parents or making it to their children’s football games and orchestra recitals. Under these conditions, it’s no wonder more people are looking for flexible schedules.
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As for the emphasis on healthcare, I believe four things are driving this desire:
- Millennials are now the largest workforce generation — and they’re starting to have kids. With families on the way, they view health benefits with new importance.
- The rise in contingent work means more people lack full-time jobs with health benefits. For many families, that means the onus is on one of the spouses to make sure everyone is covered.
- Our jobs and our lives often involve sitting for long hours and traveling (which often involves unhealthy eating). This isn’t necessarily conducive to healthy lifestyles, and workers are starting to feel the results in the form of back pain and other issues.
- American workers are highly stressed out. This is contributing to the development of chronic health problems, even for younger workers.
Designing Benefits Packages That Attract Candidates
Looking beyond these core benefits of flexibility and healthcare, the onus is on company leaders to create appealing benefits packages that are consistent with their organizational values. For example, think of the clothing retailers that give discounts on apparel; the coffee companies that offer big breaks on coffee, tea, and hot chocolate; and the hoteliers that encourage travel.
So what kind of perks fit your company’s culture? Perhaps you should offer PTO for volunteer work, or you can offer matching funds for employees’ charitable contributions, like Google does.
Take REI, the outdoors recreation retailer. Through its “Yay Days” program, the company “supports outdoor adventures by offering all employees one day off every six months to go outside and play.” REI sees these miniature vacations as “a chance to get inspired by the outdoors.”
Netflix, meanwhile, focuses on that most desirable of benefits, flexibility. Regarding vacation and flexibility, the company says, “We don’t have any rules or forms around how many weeks per year. Frankly, we intermix work and personal time quite a bit, doing email at odd hours, taking off a weekday afternoon, etc. … Of course, to be great, most of us have to put in considerable effort, but hard work and long hours is not how we measure or talk about a person’s contribution.”
The biggest takeaway here is that the more companies understand the evolving desires of today’s workforce, the better they will fare when competing for talent. Don’t simply offer perks that seem cool — offer perks that make sense for your company and give employees what they actually want.
Ashutosh Garg is CEO and cofounder of Eightfold.ai.