Americans Favor Workplace Benefits 4 to 1 over Extra Salary: AICPA Survey

November 28, 2018

  • Only 3 in 10 Americans are very confident they’re using benefits to their fullest potential. 
  • 401(k) match, health insurance and paid time off top list of desired workplace benefits.
  • Open enrollment period ends Dec 15, it’s a perfect time to revisit benefit allocation and get up to speed.
  • New AICPA Employee Benefits Report offers guidance.

NEW YORK (November 28, 2018) – When it comes to finding the perfect job, a newly published American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) survey of 2,026 U.S. adults, among whom 1,115 were employed, suggests it’s about a lot more than the money. And with three in ten employed adults (29 percent) considering switching jobs in the next year, employers need to be ready to show them the benefits.

Benefits Valued More Than Increased Salary

Employed adults estimate, on average, their benefits represent 40 percent of their total compensation, according to the survey conducted online by The Harris Poll for the AICPA in April 2018. However, per the Bureau of Labor Statistics, benefits actually average 31.7 percent of a total compensation package. Americans are actually overestimating the value of the benefits available to them. But they clearly see value in workplace perks-- by a 4 to 1 margin (80 percent vs. 20 percent), they would choose a job with benefits over an identical job that offered 30 percent more salary but no benefits.

“A robust benefits package is often a large chunk of total compensation, but it’s the employees’ job to make sure they’re taking advantage of it to improve their financial positions and quality of life,” said Greg Anton, CPA, chairman of the AICPA’s National CPA Financial Literacy Commission. “Beyond the dollar value of having good benefits, employees gain peace of mind knowing that if they can take a vacation without losing a week’s pay or if they need to see a doctor, they won’t be responsible for the entire cost.”

The entrepreneurial dream is still alive. In fact, a majority of employed adults (63 percent) are confident the freedom of being their own boss would be worth more than the job security that comes with working for an employer. What’s more, 1 in 5 (18 percent) said they are likely to start or continue their own business in the next year. Millennials were the most confident (Millennial: 80 percent, Generation X: 60 percent, Baby Boomer: 40 percent) that being their own boss would be worth more than the job security they’d be giving up and also the most likely to start or continue their own business in the next year (M: 23 percent, GX: 18 percent, BB: 10 percent).

Americans Acknowledge They’re Likely Not Optimizing Their Benefits

Nearly 9 in 10 employed adults (88 percent) are confident they understood all the benefits available to them when they accepted their current job. Similarly, 86 percent are confident they have kept up-to-date with changes to those benefits, and 86 percent are also confident they know where to get information about how to use their benefits. Surprisingly though, only 28 percent are very confident they are using their benefits to their fullest potential.

“Despite overestimating the value of their benefits as part of their total compensation, it is concerning that Americans are not taking full advantage of them,” added Anton. “Imagine how employees would react if they were not 100 percent confident they could get to all the money in their paycheck. Leaving benefits underutilized should be treated the same way. Americans need to take time to truly understand their benefits and make sure they’re not leaving any money on the table.”

What Benefits Americans Value Most

When asked which three workplace benefits would help them reach their financial goals, more than half of Americans cited 401(k) match (56 percent) or health insurance (56 percent), while around a third cited paid time off (33 percent) or a pension (31 percent). Additionally, about 1 in 5 (21 percent) cited flexible working hours, and fifteen percent cited working remotely.

As seen in generational breakdown below, Baby Boomers put a significantly higher priority on health insurance and having a 401(k) match than the younger generations. Notably, of all benefits listed, the desire to have a pension saw the largest discrepancy amongst generations. More than half of Baby Boomers (54 percent) prioritized including it in their top three, compared to only 16 percent of Millennials.

Workplace benefits chart generational breakdown

Millennials, now the largest generation in the workforce, put a higher priority than both GenX and Baby Boomers on benefits that are most commonly associated with work-life balance such as paid time off, flexible work hours, and working remotely. Employers competing for this talent should consider this shifting scope of desired benefits if they want to attract the best employees.

AICPA Employee Benefits Report Offers Guidance

The full results of the AICPA survey on employee benefits, along with further analysis on the topic, are published in the AICPA’s 2018 Employee Benefit Report which is available on the AICPA’s 360 Degrees of Financial Literacy website. Also available are various free resources including information about what questions to ask when evaluating benefits as well as calculators to help budget for the future. 

Survey Methodology

This Harris Poll was conducted online within the United States on behalf of AICPA between April 24 and 26, 2018, among 2,026 adults aged 18 or older, among whom 1,115 identified as employed full-time or part-time. Figures were weighted where necessary to bring them in line with the U.S. population.