Next to wages, insurance is probably the most important perk to workers. In fact, for some employees, health insurance is more important than pay.

But workers also want other, non-insurance perks as well. Some companies boast that they offer ping-pong tables and pet-friendly offices, but these benefits aren’t really that popular. So, what do workers really want? Well, it tends to vary by generation.

A study by Unum reveals that, overall, the top three non-insurance perks are as follows:

1. Generous paid time off (35%)
2. Flexible/remote working options (27%)
3. Paid family leave (24%)

Rounding out the top 10:

4. Fitness or healthy lifestyle incentives (19%)
5. Financial planning resources (18%)
6. Professional development (17%)
7. Employee assistance program (17%)
8. ID theft protection (15%)
9. Gym membership or on-site fitness center (12%)
10. On-site healthy food options (10%)

Rob Hecker, vice president of Global Total Rewards at Unum, says he’s not surprised by the top three perks, especially when considering how the pandemic has affected the work environment. “The sudden shift to virtual work caused a lot of anxiety with workers, and providing more flexible working conditions is a great way to relieve some of their stress.”

(And Hecker says Unum’s workforce has been just as productive with increased flexibility in hours and locations.)

For three years in a row, paid time off has been the most-wanted perk in the annual survey. “The pandemic has reinforced for employees the value of stepping away from work to recharge mentally and physically, or to perhaps care for someone who’s become ill.”

And he says employees are recognizing more and more the value of paid family leave. “Even before the pandemic, 1 in 6 workers were providing caregiving duties, and maintaining performance and attendance at work is one of the biggest challenges for these individuals.” Whether it’s caring for a sick family member or bonding with a new child, Hecker says companies can help alleviate work pressures while providing a steady income for these employees.

Generational Preferences

The top perks vary among generations. For example, almost half (47%) of baby boomers and Gen X list generous paid time off as the top perk, compared to just over a quarter (26%) of millennials. But among Gen Z, it’s not even in the top three — in fact, generous paid time off is in the fifth spot with 17%.

Flexible remote/work options placed second on the list among baby boomers and millennials, and third for Gen X. However, it’s not in the top five among Gen Z.

One benefit that is consistent across generations is paid family leave. It placed second among Gen X and Gen Z, and third among baby boomers and millennials.

Financial planning resources was fourth among baby boomers and millennials, but not in the top five for Gen X and Gen Z.

Fitness/healthy lifestyle incentives made the top five for every group but baby boomers.

Only Gen X listed professional development among the top five, while only Gen Z included student loan repayment benefits.

Interestingly, the top perk among Gen Z was identity theft protection, and baby boomers listed it as the fifth most desirable perk.

The Gen Z Factor

“In many aspects, Gen Z preferences most resemble the boomer generation,” Hecker explains. “They experienced the impact the financial crisis had on their parents and tend to be focused on financial stability.”

And it’s no surprise that Gen Z would consider student loan repayment benefits a desirable perk. “Student debt now tops an estimated $1.6 trillion in the U.S. and studies suggest rising debt hurts people’s overall well-being,” Hecker says. “Student loan repayment benefits are designed to help reduce financial stress and anxiety.” Hecker says 30% of his company’s workforce has student loan debt, and the company introduced a Student Debt Relief Program. “In 2019, it paid $528,000 on behalf of the 428 employees who signed up for the program.”

Fitness/healthy lifestyle incentives also rank higher among Gen Z. “This is indicative of a generation just entering the workforce who care about their emotional and physical well-being.”

And he’s not surprised that identity theft detection would be the single most important benefit to Gen Z. “They’ve grown up in a connected world where shopping, communicating with friends and family, and entertainment can all be done online or through an app.” Since their world is digital, protecting it is important.