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What Employees Want and What Employers Can Offer

We investigate the elements that create a positive enviroment for both employees and employers to successfully reach their goals.

While employers realise they need to play a role in helping their employees succeed inside and outside of work, they may struggle with finding the best ways to address — at scale — the fact that each employee has his or her own needs and challenges.

How do employers help individual employees on their personal life journeys, when for some, the number of employees can be in the hundreds or hundreds of thousands?

How can they provide personalised, individual experiences at scale while striving to succeed in an increasingly competitive and disruptive marketplace?

Employees want to be successful in the workplace but they are balancing this with pressures from work with those outside of the workplace.

More than half (55%) of employees feel stressed while  at work, either half the time, or all the time.

To help solve for both employee and employer goals, we first have to take a closer look at what is causing strain on employees and better understand what will both motivate them and minimise their stress.

Chapter Two: What Employees Want and What Employers Can Offer

Employee stress

Employees’ stress spans short- and long-term concerns.

Everyday stressors can pose barriers to employees’ happiness and productivity. 

And while some of these relate to employees’ personal lives, work can play a significant role in adding to or reducing stress.

Regardless of age or life-stage, a focus on personal finances tops the list as the biggest concerns employees have day to day.

Some of employees’ stress about finances stems from short-term concerns, like staying on top of bills or paying for urgent health needs. Others stem from long-term goals — in fact, 3 of employees’ top 5 financial concerns directly relate to retirement, even among those who are relatively confident in their finances.

And this concern about finances and retirement is on the rise, as more employees realise their financial challenges may extend long into the future.

Employees say that solutions that help address financial stress are what they need to thrive in the workplace and at home.

Over 4 in 10 employees say an appropriate salary is one of the most important elements to successfully navigating and thriving in the workplace.

Yet, a salary increase can only incentivise staff so much — a positive work environment, training and benefits all come into play when it comes to thriving in the workplace.

That’s why a broad set of benefits can play such a crucial role in helping employees manage the unexpected and plan for the future.

And employees realise this too — almost one in three employees say better benefits are key to thriving.

Stress is not exclusively about finances, however — and employers are well positioned to help mitigate many of employees’ other pressures. There are a range of factors contributing to employees stress, from study to the government and life itself.

Whether it is easing the stress of work itself, tending to personal or family health, or managing personal commitments, employers can play a substantial role in transforming the employee experience.

The right combination of benefits and experiences can help employees feel more engaged and more cared for — and build the trust that enables them to thrive.

The right combination of benefits and experiences can help employees feel more engaged and more cared for — and build the trust that enables them to thrive.

What are employees’ top 5 sources of financial stress?

Job loss

Having money to pay bills if someone in my household loses their job

Living expenses

Having money to cover out-of-pocket medical costs not covered by Medicare or health insurance

Retirement savings

Outliving my retirement savings


Being able to afford the cost of healthcare in retirement

Government support

Ability to rely on the pension in retirement

  • short-term financial concern
  • long-term financial concern

What would employees like their employer to offer to help them navigate and thrive in the workplace

(Employees could select up to 5 options)

Positive work environment
The salary I think I deserve
On-going training and re-training
Work with a purpose
Reasonable workload
A boss that believes in me
Better benefits
Sufficient time to address personal needs

Balance as a key driver to happiness at work

While it is helpful for employers to better understand their employees’ sources of stress, it is equally helpful to understand their sources of happiness.

Nearly three quarters (71%) of employees see themselves as happy, with 17% neither happy nor unhappy, and 12% unhappy.

Happy employees are driven to show up and do their best work, experience less burnout, and have more confidence in their overall ability to succeed.

While our research revealed that trust in employers was the top driver for happiness at work for U.S. employees, it doesn’t appear in the top five drivers for Australian employees.

Balance, connection and purpose featured highly with an established delineation between work and home life identified as the most significant driver of employee happiness at work.

By fostering a culture that delivers on these drivers, employers can cultivate a happier workforce and meet the individual needs of their employees, both in and out of the workplace, at scale.

To do that, employers should commit to caring about and investing in an employee’s life outside of their organisation — and ensure they are clearly broadcasting these initiatives out to employees.

Additionally, offering a thoughtful mix of benefits and communicating their value effectively can also help mitigate employees’ stress — in and out of work.

We will explore the specific benefits employers can use in Chapter 3. But first, armed with a better understanding of what makes employees anxious and what drives their happiness, let’s look at how the workplace continues to change.

Happy employees are driven to show up and do their best work, experience less burnout, and have more confidence in their overall ability to succeed.
  Employees who are happy at work Employees who are not happy at work
Satisfied with their job 85% 12%
Productive 85% 26%
Loyal 83% 20%
Engaged 82% 13%
Impactful 77% 17%
Successful 77% 15%

Top 5 drivers of happiness at work for employees

1. Balance

Having work/life balance

2. Good relationships

A workplace where co-workers feel like family or friends

3. Job satisfaction

Being satisfied with the job and committed to the organisation’s goals

4. Valued opinions

A workplace where employees can voice their opinion without fear of retribution

5. Kicking goals

Being able to achieve personal and professional goals

The realities of why we work

Understanding the changing perspectives of what employees want from work can help employers create meaningful solutions.

Insight 1: When employees are supported as individuals, they are more engaged

Employees increasingly want work that enriches who they are in their personal lives and want their unique identities to enrich their work life.

This is particularly true for younger workers in Australia with the Deloitte 2019 Millennial Survey showing that loyalty to employers is waning and nearly half (49%) — would, if they had a choice, quit their current job in the next two years.3

Employees are expecting their companies to recognise their “whole selves” — from their unique values, backgrounds, and talents, to their perspectives on the workplace. This can inform employees’ big decisions, such as staying at their current organisations or accepting new positions.

And recognising the whole person means engaging with different employees in different ways. It is not enough for employers to look at employees through the lens of demographics like age and gender.

Employers need to understand their workforce on a deeper level by evolving employee surveys to cover attitudes, motivators, values, and goals to provide valuable insights into the most impactful ways to engage their people.

Using this approach, companies can develop employee profiles that can be used for program development, benefit offerings, and personalised communications that reflect the diverse needs of the workforce — at scale.

One way to do this is to focus more heavily on workplace culture and related programs. Employers underestimate the value of these intangible factors to employees and, as a result, could be missing opportunities to more deeply engage their workforce.

Many Australian workplaces have developed diversity and inclusion policies to support the attraction and retention of talent from minority backgrounds, e.g. lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, gender diverse, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ+), indigenous and culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities. However more can be done to create experiences to celebrate diversity in the workforce.

Affinity groups are one way employees can have meaningful opportunities to connect with each other, and feel a sense of belonging within their organisation — supporting one of the top drivers of happiness at work: having coworkers who are like family or friends.

The Deloitte 2019 Millennial Survey shows diversity is particularly crucial when young people are looking for work. When considering whether to work for an organisation, the majority of millennials cited giving a “great deal” or “fair amount” of importance to the gender, ethnicity, age, and general range of backgrounds of employers’ workforces.4

Our research found that more than two thirds (68%) of employees think diversity and inclusion (D&I) programs are important. Furthermore, our research revealed that meaningful work, a sense of purpose, workplace culture, and diversity and inclusion programs were all important ‘must haves’ when deciding to stay in a job or accept a new job.

For diversity and inclusion programs, this was particularly true for Gen Z’s and Gen Y’s in terms of ‘must haves’ compared with older generations.

Employee Benefits Trends Study 2019

Do employees want an employer known for respecting their out-of-work lives?


Is workplace culture important to employees?


Are diversity programs and affinity groups important to employees?

  • Employees who say yes
  • Employers who say yes

Employers need to understand their workforce on a deeper level


59% of employees say ‘Work defines who I am.’


Insight 2: Giving employees a voice

Australian employees don’t want to feel like a cog in a machine or a line item in a spreadsheet – they want meaningful opportunities to contribute.

Employees place great value on the ability to speak up — to share their opinions or feedback — without fear of retribution. This is another primary driver of happiness at work.

To facilitate this, employers should focus on building a culture that celebrates transparency, shared goals, and open dialogue. This must go beyond simple policies that proclaim a culture of feedback — employers have to live it by actively engaging the workforce in conversation and then acting on what they learn.

While many employers believe they are fostering this culture, there is a gap between how employers think they are doing and how comfortable employees actually feel speaking up. Younger employees, particularly, don’t always feel like they can speak freely. This is actually the fourth overall driver of employee happiness.

When employees feel that their individuality is being respected, and they have opportunities to share their opinions, they feel more purpose in what they do every day.

But what does purpose mean to employees of different backgrounds and age groups? This is the focus of our next insight.

Employee Benefits Trends Study 2019

Can employees speak up without fear of retribution?

  • Employees who say yes
  • Employers who say yes

Insight 3: Finding purpose at work is multifaceted

As employees define themselves more holistically through their work and life, the ability to find meaning in their work lives is a vital ingredient to their overall happiness.

In fact, a sense of purpose is critical in driving job performance and satisfaction. Meaningful work/a sense of purpose tops the list of ‘must have’ elements for employees when deciding to stay at or accept a new job.

Nearly all (93%) of employees consider purpose a must-have or a nice to have in the workplace, yet only two-thirds (68%) feel a strong sense of purpose when working.

However, what purpose means is much more multifaceted than many would imagine. A common belief is that for a company to attract purpose-motivated employees, they must have an altruistic mission driving their organisation. And while the data shows this is important, the way employees define what purpose means to them is actually broader and more varied across all generations.

All generations place a heavy focus on accomplishing their daily tasks but the younger generation — Gen Z — is more likely to want to ensure their work has a positive impact on the community while the older generation — Boomers — is more likely to want to create value for their company. Even within each generation, purpose can be multi-dimensional — it can mean many things.

If employers only think purpose stems from work that has a positive impact on society, they may struggle to connect it to their employees’ day-to-day experience, and may miss an opportunity to leverage purpose as a motivator. By simply acknowledging the value employees bring their organisations through effectively and efficiently completing their daily work, employers can help foster a deep sense of purpose and accomplishment in the workforce.

Employers across the board, but especially those employers of small or medium sized businesses, tend to overstate the importance elements of purpose have to employees, as shown in the graph below.

Employee Benefits Trends Study 2019

Employees who feel a strong sense of purpose when working are more...

Satisfied with their job

And employees who feel a sense of purpose feel less stress and fatigue...

Feel stressed more than half the time
Feel tired more than half the time
  • Employees who feel purpose
  • Employees who do not feel purpose

How do different generations define purpose?

Regularly accomplishing your daily work tasks

Doing work that contributes meaning to your life

Working on/for something that you are passionate about

Doing work that has relevance to the greater community

Creating value for your company/employer

  • Gen Z (Ages 18-22)
  • Gen Y (Ages 23-36)
  • Gen X (Ages 37-52)
  • Boomers (Ages 53+)
  • Employers (All)

How do different employers define purpose?

Regularly accomplishing your daily work tasks

Doing work that contributes meaning to your life

Working on/for something that you are passionate about

Doing work that has relevance to the greater community

Creating value for your company/employer

  • Small (1-99 employees)
  • Midsize (100-4,999 employees)
  • Large (5,000+ employees)
  • Employees (All)

Bridging the gap

While acknowledging employees’ work fosters a sense of purpose, employers could do even more to bridge the gap between what they think they are doing to make sure employees know they are appreciated, and how employees actually feel.

What are employers doing to make employees feel valued and appreciated?

Recognise employee achievements and hard work

Solicit employee feedback on a regular basis

Offer competitive compensation

Invest in employees through training opportunities

Provide opportunities to work on projects that are meaningful to employees

Extra hours / overtime pay

Professional development opportunites via rotations or assignments

Additional time off to reward good work

Offer comprehensive benefits program

Offer timely promotions

  • What employees think
  • What employers think

Achievement and recognition

From recognising employee achievements to timely promotions, the actions that help employees feel valued are important for all.

However, some employees are less likely to feel the sense of purpose they crave — and it is good for employers to pay extra attention to these employees as they design programs and experiences that help create a sense of purpose.

Building a caring culture that fosters a sense of purpose across a range of definitions can help employers take significant steps towards meeting employees’ changing expectations.

Percentage of employees who feel a sense of purpose at work

Gen Y Male
Gen Y Female
Gen Z
Gen Y
Gen X


The realities of how we work

Not only are employees’ motivations for working changing, but the realities of how work gets done today presents both challenges and opportunities for workplaces.
Download the report

Changing with the times

Each workplace faces its unique challenges but there are some shared experiences between businesses of similar sizes.

Large businesses are more likely to find it difficult to gather and act on employee feedback quickly, while small businesses with 99 employees or fewer, tend to suffer from employee burnout and demand for more flexibility.

Whatever the size of the business though, upskilling and training workers to keep up with new technology is always front-of-mind.

Insight 4: Technology is driving a new mandate for training

From social media to artificial intelligence (AI), new and maturing technologies are revolutionising jobs across industries and roles — from automating repetitive tasks to eliminating the needs for certain jobs entirely.

To adapt, employers must prepare their workforce, hiring for new skillsets — often in short supply — and reskilling employees that will be most affected.

Employers understand just how disruptive these technologies will continue to be in the workplace, and while many employees are seeing the impact, they may not fully realise the coming implications.

Technology plays a part in upskilling and retaining staff — the key challenges for employers. Employers must take a two-pronged approach. Upskilling current employees is necessary to ensure the workforce stays ready to adopt changing technologies, and keeping existing staff interested and investing in their development are crucial to overcoming these challenges.

When it comes to retraining for the workforce of the future, there is a disconnect as to who is responsible. Overall employees see it as their own responsibility to undertake this training, however younger employees are more likely to put the onus on employers with expectations shifting as they get older. Meanwhile, employers see the onus on them to provide training.

Although AI will feature strongly in the workplace of the future, employers must also stay focused on training for soft skills. While AI delivers efficiencies that are hard to replicate with a human workforce, what it cannot do (yet) is bring creativity, leadership, and interpersonal skills to solve problems or push organisational thinking forward. And with the time and resource savings from introducing AI, employers can dedicate more of their employees’ time to those value-adding activities.

Employers say their third highest challenge this year is ensuring that their workforce is adequately trained on more creative soft skills, including leadership, conflict resolution, curiosity, and communication.

Yet, only 50% of employers report they are actually offering relevant training today. As they evaluate their learning and development programs, employers should develop curricula designed to build these soft skills — with techniques like interactive scenario-based activities and coaching — and provide a clear expectation, along with a roadmap, on how to get there.

In fact, training is a key driver of job acceptance for this very reason. Providing these resources can help attract and retain employees, which is especially important in a competitive market.

So, what can employers do to stay competitive with training?

Employee Benefits Trends Study 2019

“I have seen jobs taken away from my company in the past year because of automation”

  • Employees who agree
  • Employers who agree

When it comes to retraining for the workforce of the future, there is a disconnect as to who is responsible.

Technology and recruiting

62% of employers believe the profile of the ideal job candidate is changing as technology advances


Work skills improve life

65% of employees say work skills make them a better person in their personal life


AI will drive creativity

67% of employers think that as AI is introduced, they will value their workforce for their creativity even more as a way to drive the business forward.


Development and training

89% of employees say career development, training, and advancement opportunities are must have/nice to have when considering whether to accept or stay at a job.


What types of training are employers offering today?

(according to employers)

Training to help employees do their current job better
Training to help employees acheive their goals at work
Training in people management/development skills
Soft skills training e.g. leadership, agility, communication
Training to help employees adapt to technology innovations
Training to help employees with career progression
Financial wellness classes e.g. how to budget, how to save

Insight 5: Flexible careers are reshaping the workplace

Technology’s impacts mean more than just the need to reskill employees. With the ability to work anywhere, anytime, technology has also enabled a sense of autonomy for many workers today.

A growing and aging population, population growth and automation technologies are factors that will have a large impact on the workplace in the next five years. It is crucial for employers to provide greater flexibility (hours and location) to staff in an effort to retain those with greater experience, and help younger generations grow.

69% of employees aged 50 and over say they would consider staying in the workforce longer and delaying retirement if they had the ability to work from home.

Younger employees, who have grown up with cutting edge, mobile technology also expect this flexibility. This ability to work on their terms is a great way for employers to help meet their employees’ individual needs and keep valuable experience in the workforce.

Of course, the appetite for and access to flexibility will vary for each industry and occupation. Those in senior management positions and working in office locations believe they can work remotely while those in labouring jobs or customer service roles in hospitality or retail see being onsite as almost a necessity.

Employees expect their employers to offer flexible work policies around when and where they work. However, this expectation of flexibility is the second highest challenge for employers, particularly small and mid-sized companies.

Employee Benefits Trends Study 2019

And for many employers, simply paying lip service to a flexible work policy is not enough; senior management must adopt a topdown approach and lead by example, setting clear expectations of what is or is not allowed.

Now, employers must go further to enable not just flexibility in their schedule, but flexibility in their careers.

More and more, employees are building nontraditional, nonlinear, and more malleable careers over the long term. Older generations are exiting and re-entering workforce, while many in younger generations are seeking a variety of skill-building roles to align to their passions and ambitions.

These shifts create a significant opportunity for employers to position themselves as allies in their employees’ happiness.

Offering longer-term flexibility through structured programs like paid sabbaticals can not only help employees take the time to follow passions or recharge, but also give employees a sense of pride.

These steps help employees know their companies value them and are investing in opportunities for them to have different and unique experiences.

These kinds of programs can help support employers’ goals, too. By providing ways for younger generations to grow — and not leave — employers can cultivate more engaged and productive employees and retain them over time.

And by offering older employees more options for how they retire, employers retain employees with greater experience, and enable them to pass along that knowledge before it is lost.

69% of employees aged 50 and over say they would consider staying in the workforce longer and delaying retirement if they had the ability to work from home.

Flexible work

92% of employees think flexible work is a must have or nice-to-have


A trusting relationship

76% of employees agree that being able to work from home makes me feel my employer trusts me


Transforming insights to action

This blended work-life world is the new norm, and it requires employers to take action to adapt to an evolving landscape.

These insights bring up key questions for employers to ponder about what they can do to meet these changes head on:

  • What benefit offerings meet employees’ changing expectations?
  • How can employee benefits meet a diverse workforce’s wide range of needs?
  • How can employers help employees better understand their options?

Next page

Reimagining Benefits to Engage More Holistically

In Chapter Three we outline of the types of benefit plans employers can offer to meet wide ranging needs and ensure they meet employee's changing expectations. 

Read now

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Employee Benefits Trends Study 2019: Thriving in the New Work-Life World has been prepared by MetLife Insurance Limited, ABN 75 004 274 882 AFSL 238 096 (MetLife) and should not be published or reproduced without the prior permission of MetLife. Whilst care has been taken in preparing this material, MetLife does not warrant or represent that the information, opinions or conclusions contained in this document (“information”) are accurate. The information provided in the report and on this website is general information only, current as at the time of production. 

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