Long-term benefits are a high priority to Gen Z and baby boomer workers

The Ernst & Young survey found that one-third of the workforce is not taking full advantage of its benefits, and employees prioritize mental health days over traditional vacation days and time off.

Benefits List Concept

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Today's multigenerational workforce is more interested in long-term benefits like 401(k) plans than short-term benefits--but it may not be using all of them offered, a new study found. This sentiment was shared by two-thirds (67%) of Gen Z workers and 76% of college students, according to Ernst & Young's Better You survey.

SEE: The driving force behind IT salaries in Global Knowledge's report (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Even baby boomers, who are in the later stages of their career, are more interested in long-term benefits (78%) than immediately available offerings like personal fitness memberships, the study found.

Despite the interest in long-term benefits, nearly one-third (29%) of the employed workforce respondents said they are not taking full advantage of their company's benefits offerings, with 37% of this group admitting they are not sure they even understand all of the benefits available, the study said.

Over one-third (36%) of female respondents who are not taking full advantage of their benefits said this is because the benefits offered to them do not meet their needs, the study said.

Nearly one-third (29%) of the overall workforce does not use all of their company's allotted paid time off (PTO) days. Two in five (38%) of millennials who do not take all of their allotted PTO days said it is because they want to demonstrate their dedication to their careers. Among those who are offered PTO, if offered unlimited annual PTO, half of adult employees say they would take between 1 and 10 days, the study found.

SEE: IT pro's roadmap to working remotely (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

"There is a clear disconnect between the number of employees who believe they are taking full advantage of their benefits, and those who are actually doing it," said Carolyn Slaski, vice chair of talent for EY Americas, in a statement. "It is imperative that companies break down barriers of benefits to provide employees with the access and understanding of their needs."

Attitudes toward mental health, mindfulness

The study also found that mental health days are a priority over traditional vacation days and time off, among employees and college students alike. While almost one-third (29%) of employed adults do not use all of their company's allotted PTO, 40% have taken a mental health day, the study said.

Two-thirds (67%) of female college students have taken a mental health day, compared with 46% of male college students, the study found.

Two-thirds (63%) of working adults said they would feel comfortable speaking about their emotional, psychological or social well-being at work, while only 29% of college students have used their college's mental health services and benefits, according to the study.

Not surprisingly, while a competitive salary and generous health care benefits package matter the most to employees, the study found that belonging to a workplace that supports mindfulness is important for 87% of adults. Nine in 10 (89%) of millennials, 91% of Gen Z workers and 77% of baby boomers said they agree.

SEE: The tech pro's guide to video conferencing (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Health care benefits are top of mind for younger generations, the study found. Employed members of Gen Z prioritize generous health care benefits (47%) first, even over a competitive salary. Nearly 20% of Gen Z workers prioritize mental health and addiction support as a workplace benefit that matters most.

"As mental health and mindfulness continue to take the workplace by storm, ensuring that benefits are constantly evolving to meet the needs of employees is key to recruiting and retaining top talent," said Wendy Edgar, director of human resources for EY Americas, in a statement. "It is now more important than ever to foster a flexible work environment that is attuned to the needs of individuals from different generations and backgrounds."

Continuous learning is important

Another key finding of the study was that employed adults--even those who have recently graduated college--don't want learning to end at the classroom. Just over half of employed adults (52%) said they are taking advantage of their company's professional development opportunities, while 57% of Gen Z workers are, according to the survey.

More than four in five (86%) of employed adults' companies offer professional development programs and opportunities. Among respondents whose companies offer professional development programs and opportunities, these programs include:

  • Skills-based training/credentials programs for learning future-focused skills (52%)
  • Conference/workshop attendance (38%)
  • Formal/continuing education (35%)

SEE: The driving force behind IT salaries in Global Knowledge's report (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

The top offerings college students want from their future employer include:

  • Skills-based training/credentials programs for learning future-focused skills (54%)
  • Formal/continuing education (17%)
  • Mentorship programs (12%)

Nearly three in five (57%) of Gen Z workers and 54% of millennials said they are taking advantage of professional development opportunities, while only 39% of baby boomers said they are, the study said.

If their role was changing in the face of disruption, 64% of adult employees would take an opportunity offered by their company to be retrained for another role rather than accepting a severance package, according to the study.

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