Employee benefits survey - Top 10 most valued benefits

Holidays and reasonable hours top the list for everyone, but there are interesting differences according to age, sex, region, salary range and parental status.

Perhaps unsurprisingly given that accountants work longer hours than many other professions - and that the UK has long hours compared to many other countries anyway - the length of the working week and annual leave entitlements topped the list.

Respondents were presented with a list of 31 possible benefits and working conditions and invited to rate them as (1) unimportant, (2) neither important nor unimportant, (3) desirable, (4) important and (5) very important.

What is immediately apparent is that virtually all respondents view at least four weeks' annual leave as the single most important benefit - a view which is shared across all respondents. All other benefits are viewed in subtly different ways by the various groupings.

Age and attitude

Respondents within the 20-29 age range view payment of their accountancy institute subs by their employer as 17% more important than all other age ranges, making this their fourth most important benefit. Those aged 60+ view this as their third most important benefit, yet those in the 50-59 years range regard it as the least important benefit of the 10.

Employer's contributions to pension fund is another benefit regarded as of less importance by those in the youngest and oldest age ranges, with those aged 60+ surprisingly viewing contributions as only 'desirable' yet looking on life insurance as their fifth most important benefit.

There's a big difference in attitudes towards five weeks minimum annual leave, as those aged 40-49 regard this as important and their second most important benefit, while those aged 60+ see this as just desirable and seventh in their preferred benefit hierarchy.

Gender differences

Although both men and women view a working week of less than 50 hours within their top three benefits, women rate this benefit as 4.45 on a scale of 1-5 compared with a 4.03 rating by men. Similarly, women rate a maximum 40-hour working week as 4.08 compared with a 3.34 rating by men.

These findings suggest strongly that the maximum 40-hour working week is viewed as desirable/important, but a 50-hour working week meets with increased resistance from employees, though men are slightly more tolerant of a long-hours culture. Both genders agree on the importance of pension provision (fourth most important with 4.09 rating) and medical/life insurance, though males are more inclined to require a bonus at the end of the year, sixth in their hierarchy of preferred benefits.

Rich and poor

Those earning less than £30,000 a year regard pension provision as a lower priority (3.7). This finding is predictable, though it may distress those responsible for remedying the pension deficit within the UK. But it's the second most important benefit for all respondents earning £50,000 and above.

There's also recognition from respondents of the inevitability of longer working hours as one's salary increases, with those earning £70,000 or more viewing a 40-hour working week as the least important of the 10 benefits.

At this point, five weeks' annual leave becomes relatively more important for high earners (4.17 rating)

A 30-minute lunchbreak also reduces in importance as salary increases, as does the importance of employers paying annual accountancy institute subs, reflecting greater disposable income at this level.

Surprisingly, a company bonus is viewed as only very desirable by those at lower income levels (rating 3.4), though this increases in importance as salary increases, rising ultimately to a rating of 3.97 from those earning more than £70,000.

Parents and non-parents

Pension provision is markedly more important to respondents with children, who rate this as the second most important benefit. Life insurance is also more important to parents, rated as between desirable and important (3.48) compared to merely desirable (2.98) for those who do not have children.

Private medical insurance is also viewed in a more favourable light.

A 30-minute lunchtime is much less important to parents, however, perhaps indicating a desire to finish their work as soon as possible and return home to the children rather than work additional hours.

Parents also look upon payment of their annual institute subscription as of low importance (rated the 10th benefit at 3.27) while those without children view this as their sixth preferred benefit.

Regional differences

Respondents in Scotland rate four weeks' annual leave minimum as very important. Indeed, a 4.9 rating for this being the highest single figure across the entire survey, while those in Wales and the West of England rate this as 4.7. All regions view a maximum 50-hour working week as the second most important benefit, with respondents in Scotland viewing a 40-hour week as their fourth most desirable benefit.

Employers north of the border should take note as their staff clearly would prefer a shorter working week or longer holidays though are less concerned with an annual bonus, viewing this as the least important of the 10 benefits.

Respondents in the north of England take the most responsible attitude to pension provision, regarding this as their third most important benefit.

  Benefit Average rating (out of five)
1. At least four weeks' annual leave 4.60
2. Average working week of 50 hours or less 4.19
3. At least five weeks annual leave 4.10
4. Employer contributions to pension 4.08
5. Lunchtime of at least 30 minutes per day 3.70
6. Average working week of 40 hours or less 3.63
7. Employer pays accountancy institute subs 3.57
8. A bonus 3.52
9. Private medical insurance 3.32
10. Life insurance 3.17

Everyone who took part in our survey was entered in a free draw for prizes donated by Robert Half Finance & Accounting. First prize is a state of the art Panasonic Digital Camcorder. The lucky winner is Nigel Penney of Surrey.

The runners up, who each win an Apple i-pod Shuffle, are Neil Skinner, Neil Davies, Ruth James, W Moffat and Simon Walkden. Congratulations to all the winners and thank you to all respondents for taking part.

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