A survey by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) finds what many have thought to be the case for a few years now: Employee benefits are becoming more and more a tool for attracting and keeping talented employees. The 2016 Strategic Benefits survey bases its findings on a random sampling of more than 700 HR professionals, who report that employees value health care as the most important part of their benefits package.

With a tougher job market, some organizations have already begun positioning themselves as a better choice for prospective workers. As part of their corporate image, they want both current and potential employees to know them as a company that is employee-focused and one that offers great employee benefits.

Benefits a Factor in Accepting a Job

Almost 20 percent of the HR representatives who took the SHRM survey reported that they had made recent changes in their benefits packages to help retain employees. A majority of the changes were made in health benefits. More than a third also made changes to their flexible work arrangements, as well as retirement plans.

These findings agree with another study by the Harvard Business Review. This study quotes a Glassdoor survey of members, 60 percent of whom said a major factor in accepting employment is the benefits package and perks offered. Glassdoor is a job site whose members review companies and their policies and practices. The survey also reports that 80 percent of workers said they would take additional benefits over a raise in salary.

Here’s a look at how respondents ranked benefits and perks, beginning with most important programs at the top:

  • Health, vision and dental insurance
  • Flexible work hours
  • Paid vacation time
  • Ability to work from home
  • Unlimited vacation time
  • Help with student loans and tuition
  • Paid maternity leave
  • Free gym membership
  • Free day-care services

Company Costs

The HRM benefits survey also included questions about corporate wellness initiatives, including whether employees used these programs, the company’s return on investment and whether they were considered effective in lowering health care costs and improving employee health in general.

About two-thirds of HR employees said their company offered wellness programs or services to workers. Of that number, another two-thirds said their health initiatives were somewhat or very effective in reducing the cost of health care overall and 72 percent said they improved employees’ physical health.

Labor Shortage Brought Benefits to Workers

The idea of providing health benefits to attract workers is not a new idea. In fact, a tight labor market is a reason many U.S. companies began offering health benefits to employees for the first time. Workers were in short supply during World War II, when many went to war at the same time demand for manufactured goods increased.

Wage controls set by the federal government were meant to create an even playing field for all businesses who competed for workers. When they couldn’t offer more money, companies began offering fringe benefits, such as health insurance and sick leave. Since that time, it has become more and more common for businesses to offer benefits of some type.

Incredible Perks

Companies such as Google and Twitter are known for offering not only great salaries but also for employee benefits such as chef-prepared meals, catered meals, chair massages, yoga classes and more. College scholarship programs for children of employees and even vacation expenses are additional perks offered by some businesses.

Not every company can match such incredible perks, but making the most of what your company can offer is key in attracting employees in today’s job market. Benefits consultants who work with a variety of companies are a good resource for developing the kind of benefits that employees want.