Latin American Companies Embracing Workplace Benefits

By Roy Maurer December 9, 2013

Companies in Latin America are increasing their use of employee benefits programs, including offering voluntary benefits to boost employee productivity and worker satisfaction, according to a recent study released by global insurance and benefits provider MetLife.

The MetLife Latin America Employee Benefits Trends Study surveyed more than 1,200 employees and 700 employers in Brazil, Chile and Mexico from April to June 2013 to gain insights into employee loyalty, talent retention and productivity. These three countries were chosen because they account for the largest share of a group of rising economies in Latin America (Colombia, Peru and Uruguay round out the group) that generates 75 percent of the region’s economic output.

A significant majority of employers in all three countries—99 percent in Mexico, 87 percent in Chile and 85 percent in Brazil—said offering benefits is tied to their efforts to increase employee productivity. More-robust employer-provided benefits may be a reaction to the historically low unemployment throughout the region in recent years and the emerging-market war for talent among local companies and foreign multinationals, the report speculated.

Local businesses, Latin American multinational companies (MNCs) and foreign MNCs in Latin America “face a competitive environment where success is dependent upon maximizing worker productivity, winning the war for talent and retaining valued employees,” said Maria Morris, MetLife executive vice president for global employee benefits.

The study also broke down results between respondents with multiple-country presences and those operating in a single country. About 80 percent of the MNCs surveyed, whether foreign or locally based, provide benefits to their employees. A little more than half (52 percent) of solely local companies said they offer workplace benefits.

Multinationals were found to provide their senior executives with a wider array of benefits. Four in 10 MNCs said they offer certain products to their executive staff that they do not provide to nonmanagement employees. Fewer than three in 10 (27 percent) of single-country companies have special benefits for top managers, the survey found.

Keeping Workers Happy and Loyal

Mindful of a tight labor market in Latin America, especially for skilled workers, a significant majority of managers in Mexico (98 percent), Brazil (90 percent) and Chile (88 percent) agreed that “increasing employee job satisfaction” is a top employer objective for offering benefits. These figures rose 7 percent for both Brazilian and Mexican manager-respondents compared to 2011 survey results. Among employees with benefits, 80 percent of Chileans, 79 percent of Mexicans and 57 percent of Brazilians said they are satisfied with their job. The results drop an average of 15 percent among employees in both Chile and Mexico and slightly among workers in Brazil who do not receive employer-paid benefits.

“Compared with their counterparts in Mexico and Chile, Brazilian workers tend to rate themselves somewhat less satisfied with their jobs. This could stem in part from the higher expectations of an increasingly middle-class workforce,” the MetLife study suggested.

A strong correlation was also found between employees who are provided benefits and those employees who feel “a strong sense of loyalty to my employer.” Among workers who receive benefits, 80 percent of Chilean employees agreed with this statement, as did 72 percent of Brazilian and 70 percent of Mexican employees.

Loyalty drops an average of 20 percent among employees in both Chile and Mexico who do not receive employer-paid benefits. Loyalty stayed the same in Brazil.

Voluntary Benefits on the Rise

The study revealed that the use of voluntary benefits—financial, health and protection products and services paid for in whole or in part by workers—is trending up in Latin America.

Employers concerned with controlling costs and employees looking to improve their health and wellness may find common ground through voluntary benefits programs, according to the MetLife report.

“Markets in Latin America are continuing to develop, and companies need to strike a balance between controlling benefit costs and meeting the increased expectations of their workers in order to stay competitive,” said Oscar Schmidt, MetLife executive vice president for Latin America. “Employees in Brazil, Chile and Mexico are looking to their employers to provide them with robust benefit options and more choice in voluntary benefits.”

More than half of companies surveyed in Brazil, Chile and Mexico plan to add protection, health and financial products as voluntary benefits in the next two years, the survey found.

A majority of multinationals are either “definitely interested” (39 percent) or “interested” (43 percent) in offering voluntary benefits such as life, disability, supplemental health and dental insurance to employees through payroll deduction. Local companies also expressed interest, with 27 percent “definitely interested” and 52 percent “interested.”

Employees are increasingly receptive to paying for all or part of certain benefits, according to survey results. Half of employees surveyed expressed an interest in a wider variety of voluntary benefits options. Brazilian workers are particularly interested in adding to their retirement savings with a supplemental pension plan, while life, accidental death and disability insurance are of greater interest to Chileans and Mexicans.

Employees in all three countries were supportive of the option to pay for benefits via payroll deduction.

The Value of Health and Wellness

The study found that employers and employees in all three countries are increasingly interested in benefits to cover health and wellness. “All three countries have rapidly aging populations as well as consumers with more disposable income and higher standards of living. These conditions can result in greater utilization of a country’s health care system,” the MetLife study revealed.

A majority of Brazilian employees (84 percent) rank health insurance above any other benefit. Dental insurance is also highly valued in Brazil.

Health-related benefits are a priority for Mexican workers as well. Sixty-five percent said health insurance is a key concern. Mexican employers are increasingly likely to offer work/life balance programs, such as flexible work hours (79 percent), job sharing (74 percent) and telecommuting (42 percent), as a wellness benefit.

Nearly half (46 percent) of companies offering benefits in Chile provide employees with the option to purchase supplemental health insurance as a voluntary benefit. Sixty percent of employers said they would like to begin offering dental insurance in the next two years.

“Health and wellness benefits, whether company- or employee-paid, will become an increasing feature of the workplace in Latin America,” according to the MetLife study. “Those companies who adopt a more pro-active attitude toward offering these types of programs will reap the reward of a healthier, happier and more productive workforce.”

Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Follow him at @SHRMRoy

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