8 benefits employees wish employers would offer

Forget the foosball table in the break room and the gourmet snacks in the kitchen. What employees really want from their employers is much more basic – and in many cases centers around being treated like trustworthy adults capable of getting their work done without so much oversight.

Here are eight of the benefits employees most want from their employers.

1. Being able to use vacation time without guilt. Too many employees don’t take all the vacation time they earn, either because they can’t get time off approved or because their manager and workplace culture signal – subtly or not so subtly – that if they take time off, they’ll be seen as a slacker. As a result, employees often discover that the vacation package that looked so generous when they were being hired is just a mirage.

2. Being able to use sick time without having to prove you’re sick. Instead of treating employees as adults, some companies require employees to present proof of illness when they need to take a sick day. Having to go to the doctor’s office when you have a cold just so that you can get a doctor’s note to show your employer is insulting – and it also drives up health care costs by pushing people into doctors’ offices when they really just need rest and Tylenol. It also encourages people to come to work sick, since sometimes that’s easier than getting a doctor’s appointment just to obtain a note.

3. Being allowed to telecommute when the work allows it. While many companies are ramping up their use of telecommuting, plenty still won’t consider it at all, even for employees whose jobs could easily be done from home. Companies that allow telecommuting – particularly when a staff member is slightly under the weather but can still work or when someone needs to wait at home for a repair person or delivery – go a long way toward earning employees’ loyalty.

4. Professional development and training. As the economy has pushed companies to try to do more than less, budgets for training and development have taken a major hit. As a result, employees are often expected to produce results without getting much (or any) training … and in many cases, you can forget about professional development opportunities like outside classes and workshops.

5. Flexible schedules. Forget the old 9-5 standard schedule. Increasingly, workers are looking for flexible schedules that will allow them to more easily juggle work and home – and some employers are responding by allowing good workers to work untraditional schedules like 7-3 or 8-4 so they can be at home with kids in the afternoon or go to school in the early evening. Allowing workers to choose their own schedules, within reason and as long as their work is being performed at a high level, is a key way to attract and retain strong performers – who are often at a place in their careers where they’d pick flexibility over a raise or promotion.

6. Meaningful roles with real responsibility. Employees who are able to have a real impact on the organization’s success and who “own” their areas and its successes or failures are more likely to feel satisfied with their work – and to stay focused on the challenges in front of them rather than seeking out new challenges somewhere else.

7. Open appreciation. Employers often underestimate the impact of simply making sure that great employees regularly hear that they’re valued. Managers who let good employees know that they see their accomplishments and value what they’re contributing are more likely to have employees who stay.

8. Good management. Nothing drives employees away faster than bad management behaviors, like yelling, creating a climate of fear, or letting serious problems go unresolved. Managers have a pervasive impact on employees’ day-to-day work environment, and an employee’s relationship with her direct supervisor is one of the factors that most strongly influences job satisfaction. And no matter how much a staff member likes her job or her company, if she has a bad relationship with her manager, it will seep into her quality of life every day and eventually drive her in search of something else.

I originally published this at U.S. News & World Report.

{ 61 comments… read them below }

  1. Mike C.*

    Holy s***, this is a great article! My company is really good about several of these.

    4. Professional development is a huge deal. When you invest in your employees, they become more loyal to the business and they become more valuable. I hear managers complain, “but if we train them, they’ll just leave”, but that’s garbage. Sure, they’ll leave if you’re treating them badly, but not just because you’ve trained them. My company pays for all sorts of courses and even college credits, and it gives folks a reason to stick around.

    6. Employee involvement is a great way to bring about ownership, pride and loyalty to a workplace. You don’t hire children, do you? They know their jobs well, give them a chance to make, suggest and plan out improvements, and then give them credit for their successes. I see it hear all the time, and it helps us become safer and more efficient. The next time you feel the need to cut wages and benefits, give your employees a shot at reducing costs and see what they come up with. You just might be able to save that money without the hit in morale.

    1. Jen*

      Years ago I worked for a small professional association and while my boss was very nice and let me join professional development organizations, others would not. And this was before the economy tanked. It was kind of crazy that the professional meeting planners were not allowed to join the association for professional meeting planners or attend their sessions. Nutty.

      1. Jamie*

        How short sighted. My company pays for these dues, because the access to training and members only material is usually worth way more than the yearly fees.

        And sure, it impresses all who visit my house to see my monthly copy of IIA magazine on my coffee table…but the reason they do it is because it’s a very real benefit to the company and they understand that my networking with other people helps keep me fresh.

        Or you know, they could ground me to my room and forbid me to play with the other auditors because they might be a bad influence on me…but that’s where trust comes in. :)

  2. Jamie*

    This needs to be required reading for all PTB everywhere.

    (Although I’d also add my personal must haves like the correct gear/budget to do my job properly, work environment which allows for productivity (quiet and areas for collaboration, etc.), a comfy chair that swivels and rocks back, reserved parking space near the building, and at least two co-workers who you genuinely like as people and can make you laugh on a regular basis.)

    Oh, and systemic respect, nay…reverence and awe…given to internal auditors. :)

    1. Jessa*

      As a former call centre management member I’d settle for being able to give my team chairs that WORK all the time. I realise that the most abused piece of furniture in any place you answer phones are the chairs, but geez, how about not buying the 99 buck specials at the close out sale. It besides the actual phone is probably the most important thing the employee gets. They have to be in it from 8-10 hours a day. Why on earth does every call centre known to man cheap out on them?

      I would be more than willing to PIP an employee who wrecked the really decent chair they were provided by screwing around in it. I understand there are stupid employees, but that goes back to the “how about not punishing the entire company because you’re not willing to discipline one unruly employee.”

      1. RJ*

        I’ve never understood why our senior directors and VPs have expensive Aeron chairs in their offices when they spend 75% of their day in conference rooms and call center employees have $99 chairs that they have to sit in 98% of the day.

        1. Chinook*

          This was the one thing the accounting did right for their AAs – they insisted we get the same fancy desk chairs as the partners and the accountants would get lower quality ones if they were out at clients. When the accountants complained, it was pointed out that the AAs spent 8-10 hours a day sitting and they didn’t.

    2. Anonymous*

      I decided today that my company needs at least one “expectant mother” parking spot near the building. Once I give birth, they can convert it to a dedicated spot for me. :)

  3. Jessa*

    Especially the vacation time thing. I’ve done a lot of work in call centres, managed an answering service, etc. And trying to schedule leave? It’s impossible. You get so many days, but they never want you to actually TAKE them. Same when I worked in an office.

    And it was all down to “not enough people to cover the work.” If you don’t have enough employees to have them off, then don’t bother telling people they have vacation time. And it doesn’t matter if you have 5 employees or 5000, if you don’t have enough coverage to let them all take the entirety of their leave without jumping through insane hoops (and I’m not talking about the fight over who gets Christmas or something,) I’m talking about who gets a week in the middle of January where there are no holidays in it, then you have a problem that needs addressing.

    And the problem is NOT the fact that people need vacation, the problem is that you don’t have enough trained people. OR that you’re not (if you’re in a call centre) communicating clearly that the employees need to take the time off at non peak times and here’s the dates, so start scheduling your time off now.

    Because well you have to tell them this, you can’t just tell them they have leave and then when they wait til July to ask for it tell them they can’t have it. If you mean for them to use it between January and May, you need to tell them that. And then don’t give them a guilt trip when they do so.

    1. JoAnna*

      And the sick time. My husband works in a call center environment and has scads of sick time but doesn’t have the ability to take it. If he calls in sick more than three times in a six-month period, he gets penalized. He’s had to work with a kidney stone before because he couldn’t risk getting another “incident” on his record.

    2. Girasol*

      Oh, yes! I read articles about how if I worked smarter not harder I could have better work/life balance, get more vacation, and not take work with me when I get time off. They don’t get it, and AAM does. Skipping vacation and coming in sick are things you do, not because you’re inefficient or you think the place revolves around you, but because that’s what Good Employees do, and you want to be one when the next layoff goes through.

  4. Bryce*

    Another thing people tell me they wish their employers would offer is transparency: Few things turn people off more than the “mushroom treatment” (being kept in the dark) , especially when it comes to things like the company’s financial health, job security and organizational changes. If an organization is in trouble, financially or otherwise, employees would rather hear about it from their managers first before hearing about it in the news. If layoffs might happen, employees would rather hear it straight up so that they can prepare to take action instead of being caught off guard.

    1. Kimberlee, Esq.*

      While this would be nice in an ideal world, sometimes it is just not good business. For instance, if you think layoffs MIGHT happen, but aren’t sure, telling your employees is a great way to ensure all your best people immediately jump ship, thus creating a level of instability that would not only help ensure layoffs DO happen, but will probably make them even worse.

      Information is great, but employees aren’t usually concerned for the health of the business, they are concerned with their own livelihoods. It’s not the responsibility of the business to ensure individual livelihoods over the strength and continued viability of the business as a whole.

      1. Bryce*

        Obviously, transparency is “within reason.” I’m referring to it in a general sense, but that was the only example that comes to mind.

    2. Clever Name*

      I work for an open books company, and it’s really cool. Pretty much the only thing that everyone doesn’t have access to is salaries. Everything else is available for everyone to see, and we go over it monthly. I can look in our timekeeping/accounting system and tell how much money is in our bank account, how much money we got as paid invoices last month, and even how much revenue each employee has brought in. It’s really empowering.

  5. Ruffingit*

    Loved this. I’d add this one though: Supply appropriate equipment. I once worked for a company that produced software and their computers were ancient. They had broken power plugs all over the place so if you went to try to find one to charge the computer (because the original plug was long gone for some reason), you found only broken ones. The computers were ancient and crashed constantly. The router continually stopped working and had to be re-set by climbing on a ladder in the supply room. It was ridiculous especially considering that all work was done on computers via Internet.

    1. Jessa*

      This. I don’t even want to talk about playing “let’s swap out cords/adapters/control boxes for the headsets” every single day to find enough that worked properly so the employees can hear and speak on the phone which is 99% of their JOB dammit.

      That should probably be the number one thing on the list. If your people use computers give them working ones, if they sit in chairs give them good ones, if they talk on phones, give them clear lines.

    2. ChristineSW*

      OMG yes!!! My problem was always computer and/or software programs that were sloooooooooowwwwww. At one job, the specialized software–where much of the information processing took place–was often ridiculously slow; if I had a lot of data to enter, it would make me want to tear out my hair. The customer service people hated it too.

      1. quietone*

        A long time ago I had a summer job doing data entry for a prison heath clinic. Their new system was so slow that it was more efficient for them to manually record the notes and then have me enter them later. Each time I clicked “save” the system froze for about 5 mins (yes I counted).

    3. Mike C.*

      At the lab I used to work it, the building wasn’t originally a lab, it was an office building (I think for insurance). That means it had electrical and HVAC systems meant for an office, not a lab.

      Now, since it was food safety/testing, all the lab areas where floor to ceiling refrigerators, freezers and incubators, all of which had to stay within a narrow temperature band to ensure samples were kept fresh and tests could be performed correctly. The other issue is that all of these give off a ton on heat which was offset by the A/C system.

      Well during the summer the normal fix-it guy was gone for a week and the A/C system broke. So when the temps started to rise, all of the equipment started to work overtime cooling things down, which meant they gave off more heat and so on. We called the owner about an A/C repair person, but he said no, wait out the week. I closed down half of our equipment easily for being out of range. Not to mention we had the health of the folks working in the labs to worry about.

    4. Elizabeth West*

      Or supplies.

      At Exjob, I kept running out of supplies and we had vendor problems, which meant I could not fulfill sample / literature orders to the many remote salespeople who were pushing our products. I asked and asked and asked, and suggested, and no one had any other suggestions, information, or anything. No one cared. The sales reps would call up their inside guys and complain, and I couldn’t do a thing about it. Sooooo frustrating. I had already started looking before they eliminated my job, but I definitely would have mentioned it at an exit interview if I had been able to quit.

    5. Clever Name*

      This. I once worked at a company where our department had “no budget” for office supplies. Somehow, there was still a budget for travel, so folks were told to pick up pens/notepads they have in hotel rooms. It was really lame.

      My current company is really good about supplying the equipment we need to do our jobs. If a shovel breaks, or looks like it’s about to break, you get a new one. Need a certain type of pen for use in the field, have the admin order it. It’s great. It’s really a small thing, but it’s nice not to feel nickled-and-dimed for things that enable us to do our jobs.

  6. Katie the Fed*

    In my dream workplace, I could take a 3-12 month leave of absence (for non-medical reasons, just because I feel like it) and fulfill my lifetime dream of traveling, writing a novel, whatever. I want a year of retirement in advance, basically. But I want a way to do it without losing my job.


    1. UK HR Bod*

      My current role doesn’t offer this, but my previous one offered employees who had a certain amount of service the opportunity to take a sabbatical (unpaid). Not normally longer than3 months, but you could negotiate. There were two types – the one where you went off to do something related (say volunteering in a linked field), and the one where you just went off. Still, a friend who works for a regulatory body got to take a year.

      1. Katie the Fed*

        That would be amazing. I know some law firms started to offer employees the opportunity to take a year or so off as a money-saving measure in the last few years. Seems like a win-win. Organization can save on personal costs without having to fire/hire, and employee can recharge, explore a dream, etc.

  7. Holly*

    I actually long for the 9-5. I do 8-5 now. Except I actually get at the office at 7, so it’s 7-5. With a half hour lunch.

    My company kind of sucks, but for more reasons than just the schedule.

    1. Jennifer*

      I don’t know of anywhere in my state that has “9-5.” NOWHERE does that. It’s 8-5 with unpaid lunch, period. Unless you’re doing 7-4 with unpaid lunch, but those jobs are rare (and in my experience, the timing was terrible).

  8. ChristineSW*

    Terrific article! Love #4 especially. I will also echo others who wish for working, up-to-date computer systems. I know these may not always be cost-effective, but I think it can be done if you think out of the box.

    1. Ruffingit*

      What amazed me about the company I was at that had the crappy computers is that they offered two Microsoft Surface tablets and one desktop computer as door prizes at the Christmas party. They totally could have afforded to upgrade their crap computers in the office, but they just refused. It wasn’t anything fancy that was needed either, we’re talking basic Dell laptops off the shelf and bang, you’re in business. But no, they just wouldn’t do it.

  9. rlm*

    This is a fantastic list. I have been giving my managers feedback regarding several of these items (meaningful roles/responsibilities, professional development, open appreciation). I can’t wait to share this :)

  10. ThursdaysGeek*

    A benefit I long for is the respect and expectation that if I have worked for you and have been professional, that you will expect I would continue to be professional if you have to lay me off. Perhaps you can’t treat all employees that way, perhaps some should be laid off and walked out the door. But it is so demoralizing to know that as soon as I am laid off that you think you can no longer trust me to be professional. You know me, and have worked with me: allowing me to close up my work, hand it off to others, document processes, say my goodbyes — all of that would show that you respect me, and would make me consider you to be professional.

    Better yet, since some would feel awkward, allow us to choose whether to work some, none, or all of the 2 week notice. Many, perhaps most would prefer to gather their things and go. But giving us the respect and trust to choose would go a long way to making layoffs more humane and would make me provide respect back to the company. Most of us don’t become untrustworthy and unprofessional just because we are laid off, and you’re treating us all badly just to protect yourselves from the outliers.

    1. WorkIt*

      My former employer recently laid off a team of five while one member was at a dentist appointment. They wouldn’t even let her back in the office to collect her things. Also, she had six or seven days of vacation scheduled the following week (which took months to accumulate) and lost it all. No severance. No vacation pay out. They’re a not so great company.

    2. Elizabeth West*

      And don’t let people work half a day and then lay them off when they come back from lunch, and then hang over their desks while they put their things into a box, and hustle them out like they might blow up their computer, all because YOU decided to chuck their position. Sheesh.

      1. voluptuousfire*

        YES! Warning is always a good thing. My last job I was laid off and they told me two hours into the shift that my position was eliminated.

    3. Jane Doe*

      Yes. My former employer had us escorted out after we were laid off. I didn’t necessarily mind having to leave, but I didn’t like feeling rushed to collect my stuff from my desk and make sure I had everything. Seriously, 10 minutes to go through my desk and take a quick look around my work space for personal things would have been nicer. I was pretty much hustled out the door when I tried to say “bye” to a coworker (who sat right in front of me).

    4. dejavu2*

      The one time I got fired, before informing me, I first got to sit through a 90 minute staff meeting where it turned out I was literally the only person in the room who didn’t know I was about to be fired. That was awesome.

      1. abby*

        I was laid off right before lunch, which was before a monthly staff meeting where everyone then found out I (and several others) had been laid off. Ugh, I think yours was handled much worse.

  11. Ed*

    The funny thing about most of these is they wouldn’t require the company to spend any money. However, they would require the company to think differently and that will never happen most places. They would much rather throw money away than simply make it a better place to work.

    1. Jane Doe*

      Yep. I think some employers just don’t see their employees as reasonable adults, but as assets to be managed. People are so much more engaged when they are treated like adults than they are when they’re treated like kids in detention.

  12. Ruffingit*

    Just a suggestion, but I’m wondering if people here would be willing to reference the post they are referring to, not just on this one, but also on the other blog posts. On another website I frequent, we do it like this:

    #4 Boss is an alcoholic – Comment here.

    It would be much easier in general for all the posts Alison makes, but especially when the article is on another site entirely to remember what #4 or #3 or whatever was.

    Sorry for the off-topic, but I wasn’t sure where to put this.

    1. rlm*

      I agree! It’s kind of a pain for me to scroll up and down/flip back and forth/memorize the list in order to get the context around each comment.

      1. ChristineSW*

        I open any outside articles in a separate tab so that I can see exactly which point a commenter is referencing. Also, I like Esra’s idea of opening the comments in a separate tab for a “short answers” thread…thanks for the tip!

        But yes, I do think it’d be a good practice to get in the habit of actually specify what, for example, #4 is about.

  13. Alex*

    Great list! Something I would add to the section about praise would be sincere praise – I have experienced a manager who praises every other sentence, and it just became white noise and lost meaning for us. It also sort of decreased his credibility, as if he didn’t understand the business enough to know what deserved praise. Of course, there are worse problems to have, but I thought I’d chime in. :)

    1. Ruffingit*

      YES!! Totally agreed. I had a boss who would do this and it actually just got irritating after awhile because her praise was clearly not sincere. That was the least of her problems, but still I totally relate to this and agree.

    2. dejavu2*

      Or when they only remember to praise you because they’re about to dump all over you. I had a manager like that. If she complimented you, it was only because you had screwed something up and were about to be informed.

  14. MR*

    Foosball and gourmet lunches are great – nice perks to have – but the work still needs to get done.

    Those things don’t mean much if the actual work environment sucks.

  15. Anonymous*

    While my employer and manager are both great at #2 by not requiring proof of being sick, both are bad at the culture of guilting people to come in while sick and to only take vacations during certain times of the year.

  16. Del*

    Another perk I sorely miss is the “quiet room” – just a room, with dim lighting and a daybed in it. If you’re not feeling real well but don’t want to necessarily chuck the whole day just yet, you can take 5-20min to just lie down in a dim room and see if that helps you out. I can certainly understand why employers would feel leery about that, but it was such a lovely thing to have at the one job where I had it.

    But more than anything else, so much AMEN for not requiring doctor’s notes for sick days. It’s insulting, wasteful, hard on employees — and what are they to do in cases where doctors actively discourage them from coming in? (Think routine cases during flu surges — doctors encourage people with mild flu to NOT COME IN since they can’t do much and it just exposes more people to the germs.)

    1. JoAnna*

      I’m 35 weeks pregnant, and I would LOVE a quiet room. Some days it’d really, really help to lay down for 5-10 minutes, but there’s nowhere to do it except my car (too hot, and I don’t want to waste the gas to run the A/C) or the couch in the public lobby (too loud and no privacy).

  17. Meganly*

    Ha, my last job had the free snacks/drinks/foosball table/good equipment, along with things 1 through 5. 6, 7, and 8, though? Not there, and their absence poisoned the whole company. After I was laid off they ended up laying off half of their employees and then selling off the company.

  18. Erik*

    Excellent article! Rings true with me.

    #1 – I’m in complete agreement here. Just let me take the damn time off! Especially in companies with no official PTO limits, they make you feel guilty about taking any time off at all.
    #2 – If you’re sick – STAY HOME!
    #3 – Telecommuting is a big beef with me. As a software engineer, we can easily do our job pretty much anywhere provided we have an Internet connection and a phone line. You would think with all of the technology that we have available we could put it to use. No, we have to be stuck in a cubicle – I just got a call from a company in Michigan that’s looking for very specific experience that I have, but require me to relocate. NO FREAKING WAY!
    #4 – Many companies don’t even offer any professional development. My last company was too cheap to do anything, and actually helps not only retention, but also for bringing new stuff back into the workplace.
    #5 – Flexible schedules are very useful, especially for those with children, long commutes or other needs. As long as the work gets done, what do you care?
    #6 – Agreed. Nothing like a fake promotion to PO the staff.
    #7 – A little dignity and a little respect go a long way. BTW, this doesn’t include handing out crappy “awards” that are meaningless.
    #8 – I would love to be at a company with good management. My last company was a great example of bad management at its finest.

  19. Ali*

    I guess I am lucky. I have worked from home ever since Current Job hired me three years ago (as an intern, no less! And I have worked my way up since) and my schedule has always been flexible. I have great bosses, and I have been allowed to pick my own hours and getting the time off I need/want is never an issues. The managers I have reported to have basically said as long as the work is done and my hours are in, they will not complain. And so far, they’ve kept their word. I do not have to go to their offices on either coast, but I am choosing to go to the one out East once a month now that I have met my coworkers in that part.

    Also, when I told my manager about some other things I’d like to eventually do in the company, I was nervous he’d resent it and get all hostile, but he actually told me he likes to hear about other goals his team members have and that it helps him keep other roles in mind for them. My company also offers tuition reimbursement, though I’m not eligible for benefits just yet (we’re switching from contractors to salaried employees, so I’m in the weird temp employment limbo right now), and I have weekly meetings with my boss to talk about progress and any concerns.

    Oh, and doctor’s notes definitely are NOT required when we are sick. I just got over a health condition, and my job was nothing but understanding about rearranging my schedule for appointments, even letting me step out when the pharmacy didn’t have my medication ready and I had to go back and get it within a certain time frame so I could take it.

    What can I say? Is my job perfect? No, and no company or job ever will be. But I’d say I’m about as close to perfect as I can get, and trust me, I’m thankful. I mean, I wish I had a higher maximum rent so I had more options for my NYC move (I’ll likely end up getting a roommate, which…blah), but that’s not really reason enough for me to leave. I’m being treated well, and that makes up for not getting as much pay as I would if I worked in finance or a STEM field or healthcare or something else that I’d be equally terrible at!

  20. Jennifer*

    I would like to be able to be out for a few hours during the day to go to appointments (which of course can only be scheduled during a workday) and the like without it being a big deal. Heck, if I had to put in an extra hour at work to make up for it, I might even be willing to do that, but here they don’t have any allowance for flexibility on that level.

  21. Anonymus*

    I want to always know what my job is and to have a routine. I had a job once, years ago, where I rarely knew what I was supposed to be doing. When I’m given a task, I do it. When I’m first hired, please tell me how to get more tasks when I’m finished my work!

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