The annual MetLife Study of Employee Benefits Trends which tracks major trends and attitudes on the subject of employee benefits was recently released and it has a good news/bad news message for employers.

First the good news: It seems the turbulent economy, while bad for just about everything else, is actually good for benefits. Nearly two-thirds of employers - across all sizes of companies, see economic conditions as a catalyst for increasing employee dependence on benefits. And they also recognize that this creates greater opportunity for benefits to drive business objectives.

The bad news? Just as the opportunity for benefits is increasing, 40% of employers report they are very concerned about their ability to sustain their benefits program in the face of budget constraints. And the study also finds that employee loyalty is continuing the downward trend seen in previous years; in fact, loyalty towards employers is now at a seven year low. For one-in-three employees, this translates into a desire to be working somewhere else in 2012 – especially if they are part of Generation Y where the percentage with one foot out the door rises to 54%.

Since the study confirms a strong connection between benefits satisfaction and job satisfaction, it makes sense for employers to take advantage of this period of positive engagement with benefits to try and reverse these retention challenges. The study offers some insights on how this can be done without busting the budget by looking at how employers who recognize this window of opportunity - identified as progressives in the study - are thinking and acting differently compared with those who do not embrace the opportunity - identified as standards. (Progressive employers were those whose survey responses show that they agree that current economic conditions create opportunity for benefits to improve employee attraction, retention and productivity.)

Here are a few of the ways that Progressive employers stand out in the benefits arena:

  • Progressives clearly see the value of benefits for employee retention and attraction and are more than twice as likely as standard employers to say that benefits are a very important reason employees come to work for them and remain with them.
  • Progressives look beyond providing medical insurance in the post-health care reform world. The study finds that most employers underestimate the ability of non-medical benefits to drive loyalty, but 61% of progressives foresee non-medical benefits (life, dental and disability) becoming more important benefits strategies in the next five years compared with 28% of standards.
  • Progressives are more tuned into the business costs of employee financial insecurity and are exploring financial wellness programs to help employees obtain greater financial security. For example 71% see opportunity in providing financial education in the workplace compared with 35% of standard employers.
  • Progressives are also more tuned into the generational implications of benefits. The study finds that, thanks to a disproportionate impact of the recession on young adults, Gen Y employees are much more motivated by benefits than might be expected; 63% agree that benefits are an important reason why they remain with their employer and 66% say they are counting more than ever on their employer for help in achieving financial security. Forty percent of progressives see this opportunity to use benefits to appeal to younger workers compared with 15% of standard employers.
  • Progressives are nearly twice as likely to recognize significant employee interest in voluntary benefits, especially among younger employees, and to see the potential for using these products as a way to offer the benefits that employees want and need within budget constraints.

Benefits opportunities for employers are also opportunities for brokers and consultants to bring the implications of the Study findings to the attention of their clients and to encourage movement towards a more Progressive outlook.
 

To download the full study, visit metlife.com/benefitstrends

Leopold, MD, MBA, MPH, is vice president with MetLife.

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