What employees want most (and it’s not money!)

Silicon Valley startups might grab headlines with their ping-pong tables, free lunches, and nap stations, but these aren’t necessarily the perks employees want most — or those that make a difference in their job satisfaction, engagement, and, ultimately, retention. Nor, surprisingly, is a bigger paycheck.

What they want more than anything, notes a recent SHRM survey, is respect. Not just for themselves, but for employees at all levels. This not only helps build positive attitudes companywide, but also creates loyalty, motivating employees to perform at their best.

Benefits, of course, are also important, with good health insurance (not surprisingly) at the top of the list. In fact, notes Glassdoor, many consider this more important than raises. This is largely due to the cost of premiums, which in 2016 averaged $6,435 per year per person (for employee-sponsored health insurance) and 18,142 for a family.

As numerous other surveys have shown, flexibility is also a big plus when it comes to job satisfaction and engagement. As a result, the way we work has undergone significant transformation, with more companies now offering remote or work-from-home arrangements and non-traditional schedules.

This, which has essentially become the new normal, often benefits all parties involved. Not only do employees value it, so do cost conscious employers, as fewer on-site employees means reduced overhead. It’s also a perk they can offer that typically costs nothing.

Another highly valued offering is additional PTO. Like flexible working arrangements, this is widely regarded as essential to a good work-life balance. Some employers, like technology company MammothHR, have responded to requests for this by allowing unlimited time off.

Interestingly, though, once Mammoth adopted this policy, employees ended up taking the same number of vacation days as they previously had. As CEO Nathan Christensen noted in an article for Fast Company, the greatest value of this initiative turned out to be the message it sent: “unlimited vacation policies convey trust, making employees–not their managers or HR directors–responsible for making sure their tasks and projects still get done regardless of the time they take away from the office.”

Going forward, the key to continuing employee engagement and retention includes not only the above – trust, respect, flexibility and decent health insurance — but also anticipating employees’ future needs, and preparing to provide these sooner rather than later.