What benefit do Canadians value the most?

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Canadians value their vacation time above all other benefits.

In a global survey by Mercer of 10,400 workers, Canada was the only country surveyed that chose additional paid time off as their most preferred benefit.

The second choice? A salary increase. All other non-Canadian workers chose salary increase as their number one choice.

The survey, called Making Smart Benefit Choices, sought to measure the perceived value employees place on various employer- and employee-paid benefits.

"Employers worldwide are asking their employees to make more and more decisions for themselves when it comes to their benefit programs," says Brian Lindenberg, senior partner Mercer's health and benefits business.

"Canadian employees have shown that they value more time off and increased pay in the current stress-filled economic environment, which is 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," he says.

Paying out of pocket

The survey also asked employees to rank the kind of benefits they are willing to pay for themselves, often referred to as "voluntary" or "flexible" benefits. These benefits are usually paid for by the employee out of pocket or through an employer's flexible benefits plan.

In Canada—in which a wider range of health benefits are provided publicly—benefits that provide additional insurance are the most popular. Respondents say they are willing to pay out of pocket for critical illness insurance as well as home and auto insurance.

"More and more employers are under pressure to offer a broader range of benefits to their employees," says Lindenberg. "Reasons range from gaps in the Canadian health care system to competing firms making creative and innovative benefits available. However, it is increasingly difficult for employers to simply add core benefits with the costs of these benefits outpacing inflation. Voluntary or flexible benefit offerings can often bridge this gap while empowering employees to chose benefits that match their particular needs and lifestyles."

Retirement readiness

Canadian employees are also concerned about retirement readiness with 68% feeling very or fairly concerned about retirement. This concern is well founded: 70% of Canadians are saving 10% or less of their total compensation towards retirement.

"Employers need to enhance the perceived value of the benefits they offer to employees to ensure the investments they make in these programs generate more strategic, long-term advantages," said Sarah Fitzmaurice, principal in Mercer's retirement, risk and finance business. "In this respect, the survey results illustrating the high levels of anxiety that exist around retirement readiness are particularly important. Employers taking simple steps to help employees understand and plan for their retirement needs can expect a return in the form of enhanced engagement, loyalty and motivation."

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