Retirement and Health Care Most Changed Benefits from a Decade Ago

May 23, 2008 ( - The Families and Work Institute's 2008 National Study of Employers (NSE) reveals stability in the practices, policies, programs, and benefits provided by a nationally representative group of U.S. employers over the past decade.

Most of the 80 plus offerings of the NSE study group of U.S. employers with over 50 employees that were examined have not changed considerably over the past ten years. The exceptions: retirement and health care benefits.

The NSE found a steep decline in employers offering defined benefit pension plans – 26% in 2008 compared with 48% in 1998. Employers in the study are most likely (84%) to offer 401(k) or 403(b) retirement plans.

Seventy-six percent of employers offering individual retirement plans also make contributions to them, the study report said.

Perhaps as a result of the changing workforce demographics, the NSE found over half of study participants (53%) offered phased retirement programs to some employees, and a quarter offered phased retirement to all or most employees.

Although the study found no cutbacks in the percentage of employers who provide health care coverage for employees and their families (95% of employers offer personal health insurance coverage for full-time employees), employers are asking employees to pick up a larger share of the premiums. Among employers offering personal health insurance, 34% increased employees’ premium co-pay during the preceding 12 months, as did 34% of employers offering family health insurance, according to the report.

Only 4% of employers pay all of the premiums for family members today, compared with 13% in 1998.

The study found small employers with 50 to 99 employees are less likely (93%) to offer personal health insurance coverage than large employers (100%), but when they do, small employers are more likely (29%) than large employers (7%) to pay all of the premiums. Small employers are also less likely (88%) than large employers (99%) to offer family coverage, and those offering family coverage are more likely (31%) than large employers (7%) to pay none of the premium.

The NSE found more employers provide health insurance for unmarried partners of employees – 31% in 2008 compared with 14% ten years ago. There has also been an increase in wellness programs, with 60T providing these programs today compared with 51% in 1998.

Two main changes between 2008 and 1998 in the provision by employers of flexible work arrangements are that more employers now allow at least some employees to periodically change their arrival and departure time (79%, up from 68 percent in 1998), and fewer employers allow at least some employees to move from full-time to part-time work and back again while remaining in the same position or level than a decade ago (47% v. 57%).

After flexibility in starting and quitting times, employers are next most likely to allow at least some groups of employees to return to work gradually after leaves for childbirth and adoption (77%), take time off for education or training to improve job skills (74%), and take time off for important family and personal needs without loss of pay (73%), the study found.

A gradual return to work after childbirth or adoption is the most prevalent option offered to all or most employees (57%), while work-at-home options are least likely to be offered to all or most workers (3% and 1%), the report said.

While there are no changes in the maximum length of caregiving leaves offered for births, adoptions, or caring for seriously ill family members, far fewer employers provide full pay during the period of maternity-related disability (16%, down from 27% in 1998).

The large majority of employers in the study are mandated to comply with the federal Family and

Medical Leave Act (FMLA) at some or all sites, however the study found that between 18% and 215 of employers appear to be out of compliance with FMLA.

While there were no changes in the ten ways the NSE investigated in which employers provide child care assistance, it did find that more employers today (39%) than in 1998 (23%) provide access to information about services for elderly family members. Three-quarters of employers indicated they provide paid or unpaid time off to employees to care for elderly family members without losing their positions.

Other key findings of the study, according to the report, include:

  • 65% of employers offer Employee Assistance Programs to help employees deal with problems and pressures - up from 56% in 1998;
  • One in five employers (21%) provide work life seminars or workshops at the workplace addressing issues such as parenting, child development, and elder care;
  • More employers are providing women with private space for breastfeeding in 2008 (53%) than in 1998 (37%);
  • 67% of employers offer temporary disability insurance; and
  • 64% of employers offer some measure of financial assistance for employees to continue their education or training.

The main reason cited by employers in the NSE study for developing workplace flexibility, caregiving leaves, and dependent care initiatives is the retention of employees in general (37%), followed by the desire to help employees manage their work and family lives (18%). Employers in the study also said recruitment and improving morale (9% each) were reasons to provide work/life benefits, and 7% said it is the right thing to do.

Four percent of study participants said they offer work/life benefits to increase worker productivity, while 2% said offering work/life benefits makes them competitive with other companies.

Among all employers, whether they offered work/life benefits or not, almost a third (30%) said the main obstacle to providing such benefits is cost. More than one in 10 (11%) said the fear of loss of worker productivity is an obstacle to offering work/life benefits.

However, 7% indicated there are no business obstacles to providing employees with benefits such as flexible work arrangements, dependent care leaves, and child or elder care assistance.

The 2008 NSE sample includes 1,100 employers with 50 or more employees - 77% are for profit employers and 23% are nonprofit organizations; 40% operate at only one location, while 60% have operations at more than one location. Interviews were conducted on behalf of Families and Work Institute by Harris Interactive, Inc.

The study report is here .