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Benefits Jump as a Reason to Join or Stay with an Employer

More employees are willing to pay extra for better health, retirement benefits

A businessman and woman are running out of an exit door.

With the tight labor market showing little sign of abating, employers are finding it more important to use health and retirement benefits to attract and keep workers.

The 2022 Global Benefits Attitudes Survey of more than 9,600 U.S. employees at large and midsize companies, conducted by consultancy WTW (formerly Willis Towers Watson) during December 2021 and January 2022, found that:

  • 60 percent of respondents cited their employers' retirement benefits as an important reason they remain with their current employer, compared with 41 percent in 2010.
  • Nearly half said their company's retirement programs (47 percent) and health care benefits (48 percent) were important reasons why they joined their employers, versus 25 percent and 32 percent who said so in 2010, respectively. 

The survey also found more employees are willing to have additional money deducted from their paychecks for better benefits:

  • 59 percent would pay more for enhanced retirement benefits, up from 54 percent in 2020.
  • 46 percent would forgo added pay for a more generous health care plan, up from 36 percent.

"While employees still look at pay as the most compelling reason to stay or leave a company, health and retirement benefits have become a much more significant factor in their decision-making," said Monica Martin, senior director, retirement, at WTW. "In this tight labor market, organizations that understand the importance that employees place on these core benefits and that provide highly valued benefit programs can differentiate themselves in their effort to become an employer of choice."

Retirement Benefits

The most important benefit that employees want their employers to focus on is retirement (44 percent), followed by flexible work (39 percent).

Among those who want their employers to focus on retirement, the top improvements they're seeking are:

  • A guaranteed retirement benefit.
  • More-generous retirement benefits, including retiree medical benefits.

Flexible Work

Within the group of employees who rated flexible work as an important benefit for employers to focus on, the top priorities were for:

  • More-generous paid time off and sick leave.
  • The option to work remotely.
  • The ability to determine their work hours.

Managing employee health also emerged as an important issue among 33 percent of respondents. Of those, their top priorities are for:

  • A more generous health care plan.
  • Health screenings and risk assessments to help manage their health.
  • A more generous dental plan.

Company Leaders Agree Remote Workers Are Productive but Want Them Back Onsite

U.S. employers are trying to sort out whether to continue letting employees work remotely, as many have done for the past two years during the COVID-19 pandemic, or to require them to return back to their offices and worksites—and risk losing them to more-accommodating competitors.

A survey by background-check company GoodHire conducted from March 14-18, with responses from 3,500 adult Americans in management positions, found that:

  • 73 percent of managers said productivity and engagement during the pandemic had either improved or stayed the same with remote work compared to in-office work.
  • 68 percent said a fully remote operation would either add to their profit or the bottom line would stay the same.

And yet letting go of the onsite work model is proving difficult, as 60 percent of managers either strongly agreed or agreed that a full-time return-to-office mandate is coming. In addition:

  • 77 percent of managers said that if or when return-to-office mandates are implemented, severe consequences would occur if workers demanded to continue working remotely, such as firings, pay cuts, loss of promotion opportunities, loss of benefits and loss of paid time off.
  • 51 percent said their companies would definitely consider pay cuts for those employees who refused to return to the office.
  • 24 percent said they would not update hiring/recruiting practices to include candidates outside of specific locations to widen the talent pool.

"As much as employees love remote work, managers are concerned about control," wrote Sara Korolevich, GoodHire's managing editor for employer resources.

Emotional Health

The WTW survey found that another benefit option employees are requesting is help managing their emotional health, with 27 percent ranking this a high-level issue. Of those employees, their top priorities were for:

  • Mental health days to manage their emotional health.
  • Stress and resilience management support programs.
  • More-generous coverage of mental health services and medication.

"Employees are increasingly turning to their employer for more help and support with their benefits," said Julie Stone, managing director, health and benefits, at WTW. "In turn, employers that want to remain competitive are best served by regularly re-evaluating their health and retirement benefit packages both in terms of value and flexibility in order to meet the evolving needs of their diverse workforces."

Varied Actions to Help with Rising Gas Prices

While most U.S. employers have not added employee benefits specifically to help employees cope with surging gasoline prices, doing so could be a way to differentiate a company from its competitors and help attract and retain workers.

Those employers that have offered aid with gas prices have taken a variety of approaches, as shown by a survey sponsored by the Society for Human Resource Management. It was conducted April 1-3, with responses from 549 employed Americans, including remote/hybrid and onsite workers. When workers were asked what action their employer had taken to help with gas prices:

  • 77 percent of respondents said their employer has done nothing.
  • 9 percent said their employer offered flexible work schedules.
  • 6 percent said their employer offered telecommuting work schedules.

In addition, 3 percent or fewer said that their employer has offered:

  • Mileage reimbursements raised up to the annual IRS cap.
  • Information on alternative ways to get to the workplace.
  • Help organizing carpools.
  • Public transportation discounts.
  • Priority parking to employees who carpool.
  • Cost-of-living raises as a direct result of gas prices.
  • The use of company vehicles.
  • More paid time off.
  • Onsite housing.
  • Gas gift cards.
  • Stipends for long commutes to the office.
  • Monetary incentives to buy hybrid cars.
  • Retention bonuses to retain employees with long commutes.
  • Pretax transportation reimbursement accounts.

Related SHRM Articles:

Spice Up Routine Benefit Offerings to Attract and Keep Talent, SHRM Online, April 2022

Employers Focus on Well-Being and Work/Life Balance as Employees Return, SHRM Online, April 2022

Keeping Benefits Competitive Requires Vigilance—and a Strategy, SHRM Online, March 2022


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