This is the most popular employee benefit

Forget onsite gyms, health coaching and pet-friendly offices. The most coveted employee benefits have to do with time away from the workplace.

That’s the conclusion of a new worker poll from benefits provider Unum, which found that the most desired perks have to do with flexible work options and absence management.

Paid family leave tops the list: Among the 1,227 working adults polled, 58% of all workers (and 64% of millennials) want paid family leave from their employers. Flexible and remote work options (55%) and sabbaticals (38%) closely followed.

Those beat out other popular perks including student loan repayment assistance (35%), identity theft protection (28%), pet-friendly workplaces (15%), pet insurance (15%) and health coaching (14%). Professional development was also a top choice, cited by 39% of workers. The Chattanooga, Tennessee-based company gave survey participants a list of 15 perks — that were non-insurance or retirement benefits — and asked the survey participants to choose their top five options.

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“A generous leave policy can lead to higher levels of employee engagement and a competitive edge to recruit and retain top talent,” says Michelle Jackson, assistant vice president of regional market development at Unum.

Paid family leave has been in the spotlight lately as workers clamor for time to spend with a new child or for caregiving responsibilities.

The number of employers offering paid parental leave increased significantly between 2016 and 2018 for every type of parental leave, according to the Society for Human Resource Management’s annual benefits survey, released in June. The percentage of employers offering paid maternity leave increased from 26% in 2016 to 35% in 2018, and paid paternity leave increased from 21% to 29% over the same period. Meanwhile, adoption (20% to 28%), foster child (13% to 21%) and surrogacy (6% to 12%) leave also increased in the last two years.

A number of large employers have added or enhanced paid parental leave programs in the last year. Dollar General, TD Bank and Unum are among the companies that added parental leave benefits for employees, while IBM, TIAA and Walmart are among those that expanded their programs.

According to WorldatWork, 88% of companies think they need to offer paid family leave to be competitive, yet a 2017 Pew Research Center survey found that access to paid family leave varies widely across employers and industries.

However, experts contend, that should be rethought, as offering paid leave can be a win-win for employers, says Trent Burner, SHRM’s vice president of research: They are lower cost than healthcare benefits, but are just as, and in many cases more, impactful for a changing workforce.

“Many organizations are watching this and seeing the trend, and we expect them to jump on board [with expanding paid family leave],” Burner says, adding that he expects the number of employers who offer leave to increase even more over the next year.

Meanwhile, remote and flexible work arrangements are also growing. According to SHRM, more than two-thirds (70%) of organizations now offer some type of telecommuting, either on a full-time, part-time or ad-hoc basis, up from 62% last year 59% in 2014.

Amazon is among those firms. The online retail giant is looking to fill roughly 250 virtual jobs that allow employees to work from home, EBN reported last week. As of Aug. 20, the online retailer’s job site lists 247 virtual — or work-from-home — full-time positions, and two part-time positions. The remote jobs include positions in customer service, human resources, marketing, software development and working on Amazon’s growing list of Alexa and Echo devices.

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