Employed American adults overestimate the value of workplace benefits available to them, according to a survey published Wednesday by the American Institute of CPAs.
Survey participants estimated that their benefits represent 40%, on average, of their total compensation, whereas the Bureau of Labor Statistics puts the average at 31.7% of the total compensation package.
Still, employees see value in the perks they receive. Eighty percent of respondents said they would choose a job with benefits over an identical job that offered 30% more salary but no benefits.
“A robust benefits package is often a large chunk of total compensation, but it’s the employees job to make sure they’re taking advantage of it to improve their financial positions and quality of life,” Greg Anton, chairman of the AICPA’s national CPA financial literacy commission, said in a statement.
“Beyond the dollar value of having good benefits, employees gain peace of mind knowing that if they can take a vacation without losing a week’s pay or if they need to see a doctor, they won’t be responsible for the entire cost.”
The Harris Poll conducted the online survey within the U.S. in late April among 2,026 adults, among whom 1,115 identified as employed full time or part time.
Asked which three workplace benefits would help them reach their financial goals, 56% of respondents cited 401(k) match or health insurance, while 33% said paid time off and 31% a pension. In addition, 21% cited flexible working hours and 15% working remotely.
Baby boomers put a significantly higher priority on health insurance and having a 401(k) match than the younger generations. Indeed, of all benefits listed, the desire for a pension revealed the biggest discrepancy among generations: 54% of boomers included it in their top three, compared with just 16% of millennials.
Millennials for their part, now the largest generation in the workforce, prioritized benefits that are most commonly associated with work-life balance, such as paid time off, flexible work hours and working remotely, more so than their older counterparts.
The AICPA said employers who are competing for this talent should consider the shifting scope of desired benefits if they want to attract the best employees.
Interestingly, millennials listed paid parental leave dead last among the workplace perks they most wanted, cited by 11%.
The survey found that 88% of employed adults were confident that they understood all the benefits available to them when they accepted their current job. Likewise, 86% were confident they had kept current with changes to those benefits, and 86% were also confident they knew where to find information about how to use their benefits.
However, only 28% expressed confidence that they were using their benefits to their fullest potential.
“Despite overestimating the value of their benefits as part of their total compensation, it is concerning that Americans are not taking full advantage of them,” Anton said. “Imagine how employees would react if they were not 100% confident they could get to all the money in their paycheck.”
Underutilizing benefits should be treated the same way, he said. “Americans need to take time to truly understand their benefits and make sure they’re not leaving any money on the table.”
The entrepreneurial dream is still alive, the survey found. Sixty-three percent of employed adults said they were confident the freedom of being their own boss would be worth more than the job security that comes with working for an employer.
Not only that, but 18% said they were likely to start or continue their own business in the next year.
Eighty percent of millennials in the survey expressed confidence that being their own boss would be worth more than the job security they would give up, compared with 60% Gen Xers who expressed such confidence and 40% of boomers. Millennials were also most likely to say they would start or continue their own business in the next year.