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 Oct 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:

2011

2010

Better off

Worse off

Better off

Worse off

My access to care

32%

28%

19%

35%

My choice of doctors and hospitals

32%

30%

16%

36%

What I pay for care

31%

40%

17%

49%

The quality of care I receive

30%

29%

16%

36%

My health benefits at work

29%

36%

16%

40%

The federal income taxes I pay

27%

43%

11%

59%

My situation overall

31%

33%

18%

43%

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.

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