Employees prefer short-term benefits
By Paula Aven Gladych
Employees worldwide tend to choose benefits that offer immediate gratification over those that deliver value long-term, according to a Mercer survey of 10,400 workers in 10 key markets around the world.
An extra week of paid time off was among the top-three employee choices in seven of the 10 markets surveyed. An increase in salary was the top benefit offering that workers wanted in all of the countries surveyed, except for Canada, which wanted more vacation time.
These preferences underscore the challenge faced by employers worldwide in empowering employees to make more of their own benefit choices while encouraging them to strike the right balance between the shorter and longer-term value of the benefits they choose, according to “Mercer Making Smart Benefit Choices.”
“Employers worldwide are asking their employees to make more and more decisions for themselves when it comes to their benefit programs,” said Dave Rahill, president of Mercer’s Health & Benefits business. “Employees valuing more time off and increased pay in the current stress-filled economic environment may be understandable, but there are other benefits that have the potential to create more income protection through health benefits and income replacement through retirement and savings vehicles. This challenge puts even more pressure on employers to deeply understand and communicate the value of various benefits to their employees so they can make smart choices.”
The survey also asked workers which benefits they would be willing to pay for themselves. These are called “voluntary” or “flexible” benefits. These benefits are usually paid for by the employee out of pocket or through an employer’s flexible benefits plan. These company-run programs can offer employees discounted prices compared to the open market.
Responses reflected a broad split between markets in which a wider range of health benefits are provided publicly and/or by employers and those where health benefits are not as accessible. In the U.S., UK, Ireland and Canada, benefits that provide additional insurance are the most popular. In Brazil and China, offerings like additional retirement/savings rank highly. In some markets where the state is the primary provider of health care, like Ireland, Spain and Italy, supplemental private medical insurance is popular as a voluntary or flexible benefit.
“More and more employers are under pressure to offer a broader range of benefits to their employees,” said Amy Laverock, Mercer’s Global Health & Benefits Strategic Solutions Leader. “Reasons range from gaps in the public health care systems to competing firms making creative and innovative benefits available. However, it is increasingly difficult for employers to simply add core benefits with the costs of these benefits outpacing inflation. Voluntary or flexible benefit offerings can often bridge this gap while empowering employees to choose benefits that match their particular needs and lifestyles.” The survey also included questions on perceived retirement readiness among employees. In most markets, the percentage of respondents who feel very or fairly concerned about retirement ranged between two-thirds and three-quarters. This concern is well founded; in markets outside of Asia approximately 75 percent are saving less than 10 percent of their total compensation for retirement.
"Employers need to enhance the perceived value of the benefits they offer to employees to ensure the investments they make in these programs generate more strategic, long-term advantages,” said Fergal McGuinness, Mercer’s Global Defined Contribution Leader. “In this respect, the survey results illustrating the high levels of anxiety that exist around retirement readiness are particularly important. Employers taking simple steps to help employees understand and plan for their retirement needs can expect a return in the form of enhanced engagement, loyalty and motivation."
In the U.S., employees said they would be willing to pay for disability, life and auto insurance. Accident and hospital indemnity insurance were popular as well, while legal assistance and identity theft insurance ranked near the bottom.
Disability insurance appeals more to those aged 55-64 and transportation industry employees; retail discounts to young singles living independently and households with children; and hospital indemnity insurance to those aged 65 and older and senior managers. Auto insurance ranks highly among those that work more than 50 hours a week and those in the high-tech industry; homeowner insurance among those with household incomes between $50,000 and $60,000; and pet insurance among those in professional services.
The survey took place in the U.S., United Kingdom, Ireland, Canada, Brazil, Spain, France, Italy, China and Hong Kong during July and August 2012. The survey sought to measure the perceived value employees place on various employer- and employee-paid benefits.
Originally published on BenefitsPro.com