Keeping Workers Ranks as Most Important Benefits Goal

March 14, 2007 ( - For the first time in the five years that MetLife has been studying workplace benefits, employers in the firm's latest poll say keeping key employees is the primary objective of their benefits package.

A MetLife news release about its fifth benefits research project said e mployee retention was the primary goal identified by more than half (55%) of employers overall. In fact, employers in the retail (62%) and services (59%) sectors were even more likely to hit hardest on using workplace benefits as a retention strategy.

The answer edged out controlling costs as primary object for the first time. According to the press release, less than half of employers in 2003 acknowledged employee retention as a primary goal.

The announcement said the latest survey also found a strong connection between workers being satisfied with their benefits and those who liked their jobs overall. Among employees who are “highly satisfied” with their benefits, 80% indicated strong job satisfaction, up from 65% last year. Seven out of ten (71%) surveyed employees say workplace benefits were a reason for taking their current job and 82% say it is a factor for staying put, according to MetLife.

Age Differences

Not surprisingly, employees at different life stages came at the workplace benefit issue differently – particularly in how important benefits are to their job choices. For example, nearly a third (32%) of married employees and 41% of young families (parents with children under six-years-old) said workplace benefits were a top consideration for joining their current employers, while only 10% of singles agreed it was at the top of their list.

At times Young Boomers (those age 50 and younger) have concerns more closely aligned with Gen Xers (born between 1965 and 1976), MetLife said. For example:

  • 64% of Younger Baby Boomers and 60% of Gen Xers are very concerned about having enough money to make ends meet compared to 58% of Older Baby Boomers.
  • Approximately seven out of ten Gen Xers and Young Boomers versus six out of ten Older Boomers are concerned about having enough money to pay bills during a period of sudden income loss.
  • Gen Xers and Young Boomers are also very similar in terms of seeking financial advice. Approximately half of Gen Xers (51%) and Young Boomers (48%) say they do not consult with anyone regarding their personal finances contrasted to about one-third (30%) of employees age 21 to 30-years-old.

Other study findings included:

  • In 2006, 30% of employers cited outsourcing as an important strategy, up from 24% in the previous two years. Of those employers who use outsourcing for some human resources functions, 401(k) administration is the function most often outsourced - cited by 57% of employers, up from 51% in 2005.
  • Although cafeteria plans have been in existence since the late 1970s, the number of employers who offer them has remained consistent over the last three years at one-third.
  • Employers are becoming more sensitive to employee requests for guidance on complex issues such as financial planning. Some 37% of all employers cite "providing general financial services planning" as a very important priority compared to 29% last year.
  • As companies compete to hire and retain highly-paid senior executives, more are offering special executive benefits. Almost half (49%) of all companies currently offer such benefits, up from 39% in 2004.
  • Only one-third (33%) of employees felt strongly that their company's benefits communications effectively educate them on their benefits options. Of the employers surveyed, 42% say they provide employees with total compensation statements, including 76% of employers with 25,000+ employees.

The study was conducted during the third quarter of 2006 and consisted of two studies fielded by GfK NOP. The employee survey polled 1,202 full-time employees, age 21-69, including a mix of men and women drawn from a diverse pool of ethnic backgrounds, at companies with at least two employees. The employer survey consisted of 1,514 interviews with benefits decisionmakers at companies with a minimum of two employees, representing a mix of industries and geographic regions.

The study report is here. Additional materials about the study are here . A free registration is required.