The Job Benefit We Covet Most Is ... Health Care, of Course

Job perks
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What motivates American workers to get up in the morning, out the door, and into their office cubicles? Glassdoor knows.

Last week, the jobs and career community website published the results of its latest Quarterly Employment Confidence Survey. Among other things, it reveals which fringe benefits American workers value most highly. The item that came in at No. 1 will come as no surprise to most people (and certainly no surprise to President Obama): Once you take salary out of the picture, what we want most is health care coverage.

Fully 76 percent of workers surveyed across the nation agreed that the company medical plan and health insurance is the single most important job perk they get. It's more important to us than paid vacation days, more important than help ensuring a secure retirement, more important than employee discounts, tuition reimbursement, or free coffee in the break room.

Here's how the numbers break down:

Job perks
Job perks

Of course, as the potential costs of Obamacare continue to weigh on some employers' minds, many these days seem more concerned with finding ways to avoid giving health care to their employees, rather than emphasizing this most desirable of fringe benefits.

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Recognizing that -- at least up until it was postponed last week -- the Affordable Care Act would soon require businesses with at least 50 full-time workers on the payroll to provide reasonable health benefits to employees who work more than 30 hours a week, company executives came up with at least a couple of ways to dodge the requirement.

On one hand, they could fire enough workers to dive back beneath the 50-employee threshold. Alternatively, they could cut the hours of part-time workers to fewer than 30, sidestepping the insurance requirement that way.

They do so at their peril, however.

Pay Up, or Your Staff May Ship Out

In addition to telling us what perks employees most want, Glassdoor's survey also contains a more surprising finding: With the job market starting to perk up a bit, employees are beginning to feel they've got a bit more leverage.

Importantly, Glassdoor's survey results note that 43 percent of people currently employed believe that if they quit their jobs, they could find something at least as good elsewhere in six months or less. Shockingly, 39 percent of unemployed workers agree with them -- that six months of hard looking can land them jobs that match their "experience" and desired "compensation level."

Glassdoor notes that this is the single most optimistic report in this regard it's seen since third-quarter 2009. Are workers right about how good the job market is looking? Companies that refuse to pay up for health insurance could soon find out.

The Final Straw

According to Glassdoor, 40 percent of employees are expecting to see their compensation increase in the year to come -- an expectation that could lead to exceptionally hard feelings if they find their benefits cut instead. And consider that 23 percent of all workers surveyed were already planning to look for new jobs when the year began.

About two-thirds of employees already get health care through their employers, the Census Bureau notes. (And a remarkable 98 percent of businesses with 50 or more workers already offer the benefit.) But for those companies that don't provide that perk, higher costs for health care (eventually) and emboldened workers ready to make a stand for higher salaries could mean significantly higher payroll costs in the near future.

This bodes ill for their profits, but good for worker paychecks ... and for their benefits packages, too.

Motley Fool contributor Rich Smith hasn't worked an office job in years... and that alone is "fringe benefit" enough for him.


Originally published