This is the most important benefit for job seekers

Want to make sure you’re recruiting and retaining the best talent? Better make sure you have a comprehensive healthcare plan offering in place.

That’s the finding of a new survey out from health savings account company Lively, which found that nearly 40% of employees chose healthcare as the most important benefit when thinking of switching jobs or staying at a job. Overall, 73% placed the table-stakes benefit in their top three priorities.

Healthcare even beat out competitive salary, 401(k)s, bonuses, student loan repayment benefits, unlimited time off, childcare benefits and several other competitive benefits, according to the survey of more than 1,000 employees.

RELATED: More benefits coverage

The results come as employers continue to beef up their benefit offerings in a hot job market and focus on enviable perks that get – and keep – employees in the door. Student loan repayment benefits, for instance, are becoming a bigger demand from employees saddled with student debt, and employers are beginning to respond. The number of companies offering the perk doubled in the last year to 8% from 4%, according to the Society for Human Resource Management.

But despite a call for more unique perks, the Lively survey indicates traditional benefits – healthcare first and retirement second – remain most important for workers.

“This doesn’t mean that student loan repayment offerings aren’t valuable – far from it,” says Shobin Uralil, Lively’s co-founder and chief operating officer. “But they are just an added benefit on top of your healthcare offering.

“While the benefits narrative has shifted from more financial benefits like healthcare and retirement to more convenience-based benefits like catered lunches and on-site amenities, employees are still primarily focused on their financial needs,” he says. “This hasn’t changed – and is unlikely to change – for the U.S. workforce. Free lunches really don’t matter if you can’t afford healthcare coverage and costs.”

Continually rising costs are one reason healthcare benefits remain in the spotlight. In fact, new research from the Integrated Benefits Institute underscored the effect out-of-pocket costs are having on employees. IBI found that one-third of workers go without needed care because they can’t afford it, which can increase their sick days by almost 70%.

“What a lot of employers are learning is that cost-sharing is a blunt instrument,” Brian Gifford, IBI’s research director, told HRE this week. “If they roll out cost-sharing strategies without knowing how it affects the affordability of care for employees, they’re gambling that there won’t be more serious issues driving higher-cost care and lost productivity down the road.”

Meanwhile, three in four Americans are surprised by how high their medical bills are when they receive them, according to Lively.

“As healthcare costs have increased, employees want choice and control over their healthcare decisions,” says Uralil, adding that employers should find new ways to package healthcare coverage options. Such options as coupling a high-deductible health plan with a health savings account can give their employees choice, increase savings options and decrease out-of-pocket costs, he says.

“Employers that create benefits packages will not only help employees financially but improve benefits-offering perceptions and ultimately employee recruitment and retention,” he says.

Avatar photo
Kathryn Mayer
Kathryn Mayer is HRE’s former benefits editor and chair of the Health & Benefits Leadership Conference. She has covered benefits for the better part of a decade, and her stories have won multiple awards, including a Jesse H. Neal Award and honors from the American Society of Business Publication Editors and the National Federation of Press Women. She holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Denver.