A recent survey shows that both employed and unemployed job seekers look beyond the money, to the benefits.

“What Matters Most:  Attracting Talent in the Recovering Economy” was released mid-July by Unum, a company providing financial protection benefits, and conducted by Monster.com. While unemployment still stands at 9.2%, 82% of surveyed employed and unemployed workers felt that being offered financial protection benefits showed their employers cared about their well-being, which was rated over a high base salary or a results-based bonus program.

“Given the economic recession of the past few years, this could be especially true for those who may not have had adequate protection when they were laid off,” says John Kmiec, Jr., a research associate in human capital development at The University of Southern Mississippi. He also acknowledged that the group that earned less than $50,000 and long-term unemployed people might not have cared as much about voluntary benefits; however, the survey did not break those numbers down.

“When I reflect on the legislative landscape, the COBRA ARRA expired earlier this year, job seekers were previously subsidized on their health benefits, but now many are having to pay the sting of 102% of COBRA premiums,” says Karrie Andes, senior benefits manager at PGi, a telecommunications company. “That can be a heavy burden to bear financially. Job seekers want to not only go to an employer with outstanding benefits, but want to know they are not just another indispensible asset – they want a company who does thorough planning and needs their talent for years to come.”

The bottom line is that people still need jobs, but beyond that, potential employees want to have a financial safety net.

“We think it’s a trend. We’ve seen that employees--how much they value benefits--is increasing,” says Barbara Nash, vice president of corporate research at Unum. “They’re learning more about it than they have in the past; they’re seeing that benefits are an important part of what they get from their employer.”

Age plays a role in the needs of job seekers, according to Kmiec. Fifty percent of respondents were between the ages of 35 and 55, which might have influenced the answers and the desires of potential employees.

“At 53 with a military retirement, grown children and a great second career, my needs are very different from when I was a 19-year-old single person just entering the Air Force,” Kmiec says. “So, there are generational and other differences, as there have always been, regarding motivational factors at work.”

Significantly, 74% of those surveyed rated a good benefits package as being “very important,” which historically, has been equated to monetary value if the benefits are actually used.

“The monetary value of a benefit isn’t realized until it is used by the employee. This ties to the employees’ perception of the benefit’s worth,” Kmiec says. “Since many benefits are only occasionally used, it is important that employees know what they feel is important, and that employers are clearly communicating the value of the entire compensation package (pay and benefits) to their employees.”

Unum also surveyed HR executives, of which 21% represented larger companies with 2,000 or more employees and 39% with fewer than 100 employees. About two-thirds of HR leaders said that employees and prospective employees are more aware of benefits, are asking more questions and take benefits less than a few years ago.

“They contribute a large chunk of the benefits budget and a truly caring HR department will insist this benefit be available,” Andes says.

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