(BPT) - You’ve probably heard the popular adage that “there’s no such thing as a free lunch,” underscoring the idea that it is impossible to get something for nothing. Yet most Americans wouldn’t want a free lunch anyway, recent research shows.
Only one in five (18 percent) American workers prefer free lunches as one of their top three employee benefits of choice, according to the 2015 MassMutual Generations@Work Study. Instead, 47 percent of workers age 18 and older prefer more vacation time, 44 percent opt for better 401(k) matches, and 40 percent like free health care coverage, according to the study.
What benefits workers prefer largely depends upon their gender and generation, the study finds, complicating benefit decisions for employers.
“Given the varied preferences for employee benefits, the takeaway for employers is to offer as broad a menu of benefits as possible. They should also consider offering new or expanded benefits on a voluntary or employee-paid basis,” says Elaine Sarsynski, executive vice president of MassMutual Retirement Services and Worksite Insurance.
Half of all baby boomers surveyed and 48 percent of millennials say their benefit of choice is more vacation days, according to the study. Nearly half of Gen Xers (47 percent) prefer better 401(k) matches, the survey found, with more vacation days coming in a close second (44 percent).
After more time off, boomers express preferences for financial benefits. Forty-three percent of boomers want better 401(k) matches, 38 percent appreciate free health care coverage, and 24 percent want more investment choices for their retirement savings, according to the study. Four in 10 (43 percent) prefer expanded health care benefits.
Breaking with boomers, millennials like flexible work schedules (43 percent) and reimbursements for education and tuition (30 percent). But many Xers join their boomer colleagues in wanting better 401(k) matches, most likely a reflection that few Xers have access to pensions and that many boomers have not saved enough for retirement, according to Sarsynski.
Men’s benefits of choice are more vacation time (50 percent), better 401(k) matches (43 percent) and flexible work schedules (39 percent), MassMutual’s study finds. Women’s preferences are spread between more vacation (44 percent), better 401(k) matches and flexible work schedules (40 percent), expanded health care choices (37 percent) and free gym memberships (31 percent).
Workers should make the most of the benefits their employer currently provides and suggest other benefits that companies might make available on a voluntary basis, Sarsynski said. She recommends workers take inventory of their benefits and prioritize their importance based on personal financial needs:
* Make sure you have health care coverage unless you are already protected by a spouse’s medical plan.
* Protection benefits such as life insurance and disability insurance rank next in importance, especially if you are married, have children or other people depend upon your ability to earn a living.
* Defer as much of your income as you can afford for retirement as early as possible. The sooner you start saving, the longer the power of compound earnings will have to work and boost your savings power. Make sure you contribute enough to your employer’s 401(k) or other retirement plan to qualify for any matching contributions.
* Use your vacation time as it’s important to get a meaningful break from your job.
The research was conducted on MassMutual’s behalf by KRC Research as part of an employee benefits education initiative. The study focused on 1,517 working Americans who were at least age 18 in a wide variety of jobs and industries.