MetLife Employee Benefit Trends Study 2019
MetLife has conducted a study of employer benefit trends for 17 years. This study – and others like it – help provide employers benchmarks to measure their benefits against other employers. More importantly, the study helps employers measure whether their benefits are aligned with the employer’s goals for their benefit plans.
This issue of Legislative Review explores the latest results from MetLife’s annual U.S. Employee Benefit Trends Study.
Technology Redefining Work Life Balance
The study found an overriding theme in assessing the study. That is that “employers need to think about employees’ lives and needs holistically.” Employees are looking to employers to provide benefits that help them in both work and life. Employers are facing a marketplace with low unemployment, making it more crucial that employers have retention of employees key to their benefits strategies.
Reshaping the Workplace
Strain on employees is becoming an issue that employers have to grapple if they wish to retain and attract employees. Employees report that their greatest stress involves personal finances. While retirment is a top employee concern, daily financial challenges such as paying the bills or urgent health care needs are also top of mind.
The top 5 sources of employee stress are:
1. Ability to afford the cost of health care in retirement
2. Fear of outliving retirement savings
3. Paying bills if someone loses a job
4. Money to pay out-of-pocket medical costs
5. Ability to rely on Social Security/Medicare
Given the retirement worries, it’s no surprise that more than one-half of employees expect to postpone retirement due to their financial situation.
Employers have a strong incentive to reduce employee stress and increase employee happiness. Happy employees are more productive and more likely to be better employees. They also tend to be more loyal.
Understanding Why Employees Work
While the answer to “why employees work” would seem to be obvious, the study found that it is more nuanced and varies based on generational differences.
Understanding the varied drivers of generations can be critical to employers determining the benefits that they offer as well as how they communicate those benefits. Millennials and Gen Z (those born in the late 1990s and early 2000s) are more likely to see work as an integral part of who they are. As such, they expect employers to recognize employees’ out-of-work lives.
The study found that affinity groups exhibit an inclusive culture while offering means to help employees feel that coworkers are like family or friends.
Employees Seek Purpose
Employees across generations seek purpose in their work and in their lives. But, different age cohorts define purpose differently.
The study found that employers have different ideas of actions and programs that make employees feel appreciated than employees. While 44% of employers
think that their benefits program makes employees feel appreciated, only 35% of employees think this is true.
As with defining purpose, feeling purpose at work differs based on employee groups.
The Gig Economy Present Challenges
Technology has been instrumental in reshaping work and employee expectation. Workplaces are more mobile, flexible schedules are more accessible and project-based or contract work are more common. Full-time workers are expressing more interest in the flexible schedules, flexibility of worksite and ability to take on multiple projects – all part of the “gig” economy. But, the appeal of this flexibility is tempered by the fear that financial stability could be at risk. The number one reason that employees cite as a barrier to joining the gig economy is that they “prefer the stability and security of a full-time job.”
Employers can counter the gig economy more easily by creating benefit packages that the gig opportunities can’t – or won’t – match. Among employees thinking of leaving their employer for a “gig” would stay if their current employer offered them:
• Higher salary cited by 49%
• More or better benefits cited by 29%
• More flexibility in schedule cited by 27%.
How Benefits Can Help
About six (6) in 10 employees report that benefits were an important factor in their decision to join a company. Employees are less satisfied with benefits offered than employers believe. While 73% of employers believe employees are satisfied with their benefits, 67% of employees report satisfaction. Of greater concern, employee satisfaction with benefits has decreased 4% from last year.
Employees value benefits, but they often don’t understand them. Employees believe their medical benefits will cover all their medical expenses. They don’t plan for out-of-pocket costs, urgent care costs or disabilities and the impact these can have on their financial situation. As such, more employers are offering supplemental benefits and education that explains what medical insurance may not cover and how employees can take steps to protect themselves.
The study considered what benefits employees desire and the relative importance of them. This is illustrated in the chart to the right.
Certainly, desired benefits change as employees move through life. An employee who was ambivalent about family health coverage becomes more concerned about
such coverage when contemplating a family. Emerging benefits of interest to employees include:
• Wellness programs that reward healthy behavior
• On-site health care including mental health
• Genetic testing
• Subsidized egg freezing
• Gender reassignment support.
Communication is Key
How employers communicate benefits has always been important. Today’s employees expect communications on multiple levels. The top five (5) education means are:
1. Company’s benefit website
2. Provider’s website
3. In-person group presentations
4. Benefit handbooks
5. One-on-one guidance.
Year-round communication efforts are also desirable. One-time educational efforts tied to open enrollment don’t allow employees to learn about their benefits on their own terms.