Employees less satisfied with health plans News added by Benefits Pro on May 6, 2014

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By Dan Cook

Employees are more satisfied today with their retirement benefits programs than they were five years ago, but employers still have a ways to go before workers will be happy with their health benefits.

That’s the word from a Towers Watson survey based on responses from more than 5,000 full-time U.S. employees late last summer. The U.S. figures were a subset of responses from 22,000-plus global workers. Their most recent responses were compared to how employees felt on these questions five years ago.

The survey found that two-thirds of respondents (67%) say they are satisfied with their employer-sponsored retirement plans, including defined benefit and 401(k) plans. That’s a jump of 13 percentage points since 2009, with much of the increase concentrated among younger employees and those with DB plans.

At the same time, the survey reported that increasing numbers of workers would sacrifice pay for richer retirement benefits.

Asked would they give up pay for a guaranteed retirement benefit, 62 percent said yes last summer. Just 46 percent said they would in 2009. Additionally, more people this time said they’d trade pay for a more generous retirement package.

“The economic uncertainty and corporate cutbacks over the past few years have given employees a reason to evaluate their finances and retirement plans,” said Kevin Wagner, a senior consultant at Towers Watson. “(Workers) are increasingly concerned that their retirement income will come up short when they exit the workforce. Most employees view their employer plan as their primary retirement savings vehicle, perhaps explaining why they are willing to give up a portion of their paycheck for more generous and secure retirement benefits.”

Elsewhere, the survey found 59 percent were satisfied with their health care benefits in 2013 vs. 69 percent in 2009.

What's the chief cause of this decline in satisfaction? Cost, of course. Just 38 percent are satisfied with the cost of their coverage now, compared to 53 percent in the earlier survey.

The opposite trend emerged when asked about trading pay for health coverage. In the earlier survey, 42 percent said they’d be willing to trade pay for more predictable health coverage. This time 34 percent answered in the affirmative. Another 27 percent said they’d take less pay to receive a more generous health package.

“Rising medical costs have prompted employers to shift a larger share of health care costs to workers, many of whom are already feeling financially stressed from the recession and benefit cutbacks. While employees rely on and value their health care benefits, they are clearly not happy about their health care costs. At a time when costs are consuming a significant share of their household budget, it’s no surprise that employees are less willing to trade some pay for either more generous health benefits or more predictable costs,” said David Speier, a senior consultant at Towers Watson.

Originally published on BenefitsPro.com
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