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With Economic Uncertainty, Perceived Value of Benefits Rises
75% would rather pay more out of pocket than have health benefits reduced

By Stephen Miller, CEBS  10/21/2011
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Benefits play an increasingly pivotal role in the employer-employee relationship in the U.S., according to the 2011 Mercer Workplace Survey (this executive summary opens as a PDF document). The latest annual survey of employee attitudes was fielded in June 2011 by Mercer's U.S. outsourcing business.

Nearly eight out of 10 employees in the U.S. said their benefits are one of the reasons they work where they do, and almost as many (76 percent) said that benefits make them feel appreciated by their company. Both of these results represent significant increases from the 2010 survey. 

Perceived Value of Benefits
Percentage of employees that agree with these statements
  2011 2010 2008
Getting health benefits through work is just as important to me as getting a salary. 91% 90% 88%
My benefits are one of the reasons I work where I do. 79% 74% 73%
My benefits make me feel appreciated by my company. 76% 72% 67%
As health care costs rise, I would rather pay more out of pocket than have my health benefits reduced. 75% 67% 69%
My company should offer better benefits. 73% 69% 72%
Source: 2011 Mercer Workplace Survey.

Employers have "an opportunity to position their benefits program as a differentiating strategy, which can be especially valuable as they strive to be an 'employer of choice'," said Suzanne Nolan, a partner in Mercer's U.S. outsourcing business. "The positive implications of this heightened benefits awareness extend far beyond recruiting and retention—often leading employees toward greater engagement, personal accountability and overall satisfaction."

Higher Health Care Costs

According to the findings, employer-sponsored health care continues to be a critical component of the overall benefits offering. Even as health care costs continue to rise, employees appeare ready to accept changes to the employer-employee cost-sharing model. In 2011, almost half (44 percent) of the employees surveyed reported that they were asked to pay more out of pocket for health benefits in the past 12 months. Nevertheless, 46 percent responded that their health benefits are "definitely worth" the cost (up from 38 percent in 2010).

In addition, participation increased in programs that encourage healthy behaviors. Nearly a third of employees said they take advantage of their employer's wellness program "a great deal," up from only 23 percent in 2010, while 26 percent said they take advantage of their employer's disease management program "a great deal," up from 15 percent.

Impact of Health Care Reform

Contributing to the growing importance of employer-sponsored benefits was the still-uncertain impact of health care reform, which continued to received mixed reviews among insured employees.

Perceptions of Health Care Reform
How do you expect health care reform to affect you personally when it comes to:




  Better off Worse off   Better off Worse off
My access to care






My choice of doctors and hospitals






What I pay for care






The quality of care I receive






My health benefits at work






The federal income taxes I pay






My situation overall






Source: 2011 Mercer Workplace Survey.

More than a third (36 percent) of surveyed employees—double the 2010 level (18 percent)—reported that their employer had indicated that changes in their health plan will occur as a result of health care reform. As employees ponder exactly how those changes will affect them, 75 percent said they would rather pay more out of pocket than have their health benefits reduced.

"Employees seem to be turning their uncertainty about the future—both in terms of health care reform and their own job security—into greater appreciation for their benefits and a desire to become more involved in their health care decisions," said Nolan. "Employers can build on this momentum by providing the education and programs to encourage informed decision making and health-conscious behaviors."

Stephen Miller, CEBS, is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Related Articles:

Message to Employees: Get Proactive During Benefits Enrollment, SHRM Online Benefits Discipline, October 2011

Employees Want Time, Tools to Mull Benefits, SHRM Online Benefits Discipline, October 2011

Open Enrollment: A Chance to Boost Employee Morale, SHRM Online Benefits Discipline, September 2011

Nonfinancial Rewards: Finding New Ways to Engage, SHRM Online Benefits Discipline, September 2011

'Best Companies' Take Collaborative Approach to Benefits, SHRM Online Benefits Discipline, September 2011

Quick Links:

SHRM Online Benefits Discipline

SHRM Online Retirement Plans Resource Page

SHRM Online Health Care Reform Resource Page

SHRM Online Workplace Flexibility Resource Page

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