Competitive benefits and perks are crucial to attracting and retaining talent, especially in a tight labor market. While the Googles and Facebooks of the world can keep employees happy with on-site chefs and generous parental leave policies, that's not the norm for all companies.

If you want to invest in perks for your employees, which ones will give you the most bang for your buck? Benefits and insurance company MetLife just released the results of their 2019 Employee Benefits Trends Study, in which they aimed to answer this exact question.

They surveyed benefits decision makers at U.S. companies varying in size and industry, and spoke with employees of different ages and earning different incomes. Here's what they found.

The must-have traditional benefits

MetLife asked employee which benefits they considered must-haves in the workplace. The following ranked the highest, and in this order:

  • Medical health insurance

  • Prescription drug coverage

  • Dental insurance

  • Retirement plan, such as 401(k), 403(b), or 457

  • Vision care insurance or discount program

MetLife reports that these traditional benefits are particularly important because they address major stressors in employees' lives: finances, retirement, and medical needs. The less employees have the worry about these common expenses, the more engaged they can be at work.

72% wanted this nice-to-have non-traditional perk

MetLife also interviewed its 2,500 survey respondents about non-traditional perks that could complement traditional benefits. Their response was somewhat ironic, because it's really about working less.

A large majority of respondents -- 72 percent -- said they were most interested in unlimited paid time off. Unlimited PTO ranked higher than wellness programs, paid sabbaticals, and even on-site meals, gyms, and other convenient services like dry cleaning.  

Across the entire study, this was one of many data points that MetLife discovered surrounding better supporting employees outside of work. "The blended worklife world is here to stay," the study concluded. "Employers who support employees as individuals in and out of the workplace will thrive in this evolving environment."

Implementing an unlimited PTO policy that works

Netflix, Dropbox, and Glassdoor are among the companies that offer unlimited vacation policies. But it's important to create structure around the policy before implementing it, or you run the risk of employees never taking their vacation.

Here are a few tips from fellow Inc columnist Minda Zetlin on making your unlimited PTO policy most effective.

  • Create an FAQ document and give guidance about how much time employees should take off at once. Marketing automation platform sales­fusion sets it at two weeks.

  • Measure employee performance to determine if people are abusing the policy.

  • Company leaders should lead by example. If the C-suite and company leadership never take PTO, then the rest of the company might be scared to take theirs.