The importance of seeing eye to eye

Employers, employees don’t always agree when it comes to preferred perks
By Dianne Hunnam-Jones
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 05/15/2015

These days, nearly every company offers perks and other non-monetary benefits to employees. Businesses know incentives can improve the morale and, consequently, the retention of top performers. Offering the most desired perks can make a company more attractive to potential new hires as well. 

But many managers may be undervaluing the perks employees really want, according to research from Accountemps. A pair of related surveys about workplace incentives given separately to CFOs and employees who work in an office environment in Canada revealed managers and workers aren’t exactly seeing eye to eye when it comes to non-monetary benefits.

When asked which job-related perk they thought employees were most interested in receiving, 41 per cent of the CFOs said better health-care benefits, while 26 per cent cited scheduling flexibility and 17 per cent said more vacation days.

However, employees ranked more time off at the top of their wish list (35 per cent), with more scheduling flexibility in second place (17 per cent) and better health-care benefits in a tie for third with more training or professional development opportunities (16 per cent). 

Why the disconnect?

So, how could the two sets of survey results be so different? It’s possible managers considered better health-care benefits the most sought-after perk because they’re generally the most expensive one a company provides, so they’re also of the highest value to an employee.

And it’s not that employees aren’t hoping for better health-care benefits — the survey indicates these are still important to many people in the workforce. However, additional time off gives workers something almost everyone strives for these days: better work-life balance. 

The second-highest-ranked perk, more scheduling flexibility, also points to the idea employees are looking for ways to better manage their jobs with family, friends and other personal obligations.

Cost-effective solutions

Despite the disconnect, there is a silver lining for managers. While the process of changing a company’s health-care benefits package can be lengthy, expensive and challenging, providing some of the other perks preferred by employees can be a fairly straightforward and even cost-effective endeavour.

Re-evaluating a firm’s vacation policy, for instance, is usually less daunting than revisiting health-care benefits. There are, of course, some costs associated with providing additional time off, such as the potential for lost productivity and having to pay out employees for unused vacation time when they leave the company. 

But the advantages — reduced chance of employee burnout and staff turnover, for example — could outweigh those costs.

Vacations allow workers to relax and recharge in a world where many people feel overwhelmed and stressed. When staff take time off, they often return to the office with a renewed sense of enthusiasm and energy for their jobs.

Similarly, the second perk on employees’ wish lists, schedule flexibility, often represents a win-win for businesses and employees. Allowing remote work arrangements can increase productivity and decrease the amount companies have to spend on office space; it also boosts morale by providing workers with more control over their work schedules and helping them save money on transportation.

Moreover, instituting telecommuting and flexible scheduling options is relatively inexpensive and easy to implement compared to better health-care benefits.

One other incentive that ranked as high in the employee survey as better health-care benefits: more training or professional development opportunities. 

This perk barely registered on the manager survey, ranking in fifth place with two per cent of the responses. 

Yet it’s another perk that can yield benefits that outweigh the costs: Employees who have a chance to develop or refine their skills through company-subsidized training can help increase productivity and innovation in the workplace. 

In addition, paying for professional development shows workers the company cares about their needs, which can improve employee loyalty.

Bridging the gap

If the survey results contained one lesson for managers, it’s this: Don’t assume you know what workers want. If you assume and then fail to offer the perks your staff covet, your efforts to motivate them could fall short.

Instead, communicate with your teams to find out which workplace perks are most meaningful to them, and use the information to re-evaluate the current benefits package. 

Perhaps the best way to find out what employees really want is to initiate an anonymous survey. Employees will feel more comfortable saying exactly what tops their wish list if they don’t have to identify themselves — no one wants to appear greedy or ungrateful.

Any kind of communication about preferred perks is better than none, so if a survey isn’t an option, use one-on-one meetings or performance reviews to ask staff what they want. Listen and take notes, and try to reserve your judgment or opinion so workers are more likely to give honest feedback.

Whatever method you choose, make sure to evaluate the firm’s incentives often — even once a year, if you can. Attitudes can shift over time and what your employees want this year might fall down the list a few notches next year. 

Not every company may be in a position to provide large salary raises or bonuses. But it’s still important to offer top performers a reason to stay — and to give the top candidates for job openings a reason to come onboard. 

Perks can serve that purpose, providing a powerful attraction for current and potential employees.

Dianne Hunnam-Jones is the Toronto-based district president at Accountemps, a Robert Half company and staffing firm for temporary accounting, finance and bookkeeping professionals. For more information, follow Accountemps at

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