“What do we want? Benefits! When do we want ‘em? Now!” That’s what employees worldwide are saying, based on new survey data from Mercer showing that given the choice, employees tend to select benefits that offer immediate gratification rather than those that potentially deliver value over the long-term.

Polling 10,400 workers in 10 key markets around the world, the consulting firm finds that across multiple markets, salary increases and an extra week of paid time off are among employees’ top three benefit choices.

As employers give employees greater financial freedom to make their own benefit choices, Mercer leaders say companies face a delicate balancing act to encourage workers to strike the right balance between the shorter and longer-term value of the benefits they choose.

“Employers worldwide are asking their employees to make more and more decisions for themselves when it comes to their benefit programs,” says Dave Rahill, president of Mercer’s health and benefits business. “Employees valuing more time off and increased pay in the current stress-filled economic environment may be understandable, but there are other benefits that have the potential to create more income protection through health benefits and income replacement through retirement and savings vehicles. This challenge puts even more pressure on employers to deeply understand and communicate the value of various benefits to their employees so they can make smart choices.”

Those smart choices may well include voluntary offerings — particularly among U.S. employees, who placed a greater focus on long-term planning in this area. Asking specifically about employee-paid benefits, the top three benefits U.S. employees were willing to pay for are disability, life and auto insurance. Also popular are accident and hospital indemnity coverage, while legal assistance and identity theft insurance rank near the bottom.

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