Benefits tech platform conceptWorkers estimate that their benefits represent 40 percentof their total compensation, when in fact data show that benefitsactually average about 32 percent of a total compensation package.(Image: Shutterstock)

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In case you needed more evidence, a new survey underscores the importance ofbenefits in recruiting and retaining employees and suggeststhat there's room for improvement in helping employees fully takeadvantage of their benefits package.

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The survey, conducted by The Harris Poll for the AmericanInstitute of CPAs (AICPA), found 80 percent of respondents wouldchoose a job with benefits over an identical job with 30 percentmore salary but no benefits.

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Related: Are you prepared for job candidates to ask, “Whyshould I work here?”

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“A robust benefits package is often a large chunk of totalcompensation, but it's the employees' job to make sure they'retaking advantage of it to improve their financial positions andquality of life,” said Greg Anton, CPA, chairman of the AICPA'sNational CPA Financial Literacy Commission. “Beyond the dollarvalue of having good benefits, employees gain peace of mind knowingthat if they can take a vacation without losing a week's pay or ifthey need to see a doctor, they won't be responsible for the entirecost.”

Finding the true value of benefits

The AICPA report suggests that workers overestimate the value oftheir current benefits package. The survey found that respondentsestimated that their benefits represent 40 percent of their totalcompensation, when in fact Bureau of Labor Statistics data showthat benefits actually average about 32 percent of a totalcompensation package.

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Another interesting finding is that although employees areconfident they understand the benefits available to them (88)percent, only 28 percent are very confident they are using theirbenefits to the fullest potential.

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“Despite overestimating the value of their benefits as part oftheir total compensation, it is concerning that Americans are nottaking full advantage of them,” said Anton. “Imagine how employeeswould react if they were not 100 percent confident they could getto all the money in their paycheck. Leaving benefits underutilizedshould be treated the same way. Americans need to take time totruly understand their benefits and make sure they're not leavingany money on the table.”

Health plans, 401ks remain most popular benefits

The survey asked workers which three employee benefits wouldbest help them reach their financial goals, and both healthinsurance and 401k retirement plans were listed as a top threebenefit by 56 percent of respondents. Just over 30 percent includedpaid time off or pension plan as a top-three benefit. Twenty-onepercent listed flexible working hours, and 15 percent said theability to work remotely was a top benefit.

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In addition, student loan forgiveness (15 percent) andtuition reimbursement (11 percent) were also mentioned as importantbenefits, along with additional skills training (14 percent). Paidparental leave was listed as a top benefit by 7 percent ofrespondents.

Younger workers more likely to be entrepreneurial

A majority of people surveyed said the freedom of being theirown boss would be worth more than the job security that comes withworking for an employer. However, it's probably not surprising thatthe older a worker gets, the less they are willing to tackle thatchallenge.

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In the survey, Millennials were the most confident aboutstarting their own business, at 80 percent. Sixty percent ofGeneration X respondents found the idea attractive; only 40 percentof Baby Boomers did. When asked if they planed to start or continuetheir own business in the next year, 23 percent of Millennials saidyes, 18 percent of Generation X responded affirmatively, and 10percent of Boomers were ready to take the leap.

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Different generations have differentopinions on which workplace benefits will help them reach theirfinancial goals.

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The AICPA report quoted Neal Stern, CPA, as saying that althoughmany find the idea of being your own boss appealing, there are somedownsides to consider: “Being your own boss means looking only toyourself for the income you'll need to meet your obligations andsave for your goals,” he said. He added that this means asking sometough questions. “Do you have enough set aside to cover yourexpenses during a potentially lean start-up period and weather theups-and-downs that new businesses often face? And, do you have a'Plan B' in the event that your expectations aren't realized withina reasonable time frame?”

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The research by AICPA also showed that younger workers see thepossibility of several employers in their future: on average, theypredicted they would have 4.5 employers over their career. Thestudy said younger workers tend to see themselves as having manyoptions when it comes to future employment. This suggests thatcompetitive benefits packages will continue to be a key toattracting and retaining workers.

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