Small Biz Workers Prize Pay Over Benefits

February 18, 2003 ( - While roughly one in four (27%) small business employees say their benefits package is not covering the needs of their family, 26% say it is above their expectations, and 23% say it is "well above" those expectations.

That level of satisfaction may explain the fact that most worker respondents to the Aon Small Business @ Work survey would rather increase their take home pay (54%) than improve or add benefits (44%), a result at odds with past studies of the US overall, which show most workers would sacrifice pay for better benefits, according to the study’s authors.  

Still, nearly 1/3 of small business employees do not believe their organization provides pay or a benefits package comparable to that of larger organizations.   Small businesses, defined as 20 to 500 employees, make up 10% of all US businesses and employ nearly a third of American workers, according to the US Census Bureau.

The top 5 most important benefits to small business employees are:

  • Medical Insurance
  • Paid Vacation and Holidays
  • Employer-Paid Pension or Retirement Plan
  • Retirement Savings Plan (e.g., 401k)
  • Ability to Choose Benefits That Best Meet Their Needs

Least important was vision insurance, with flexible work schedules ranked next to last.   Ironically, flexible work schedules were ranked second-best in terms of experience (after paid vacation and holidays).   On the other hand, medical insurance, which was ranked as the most important, is barely meeting worker’s expectations, according to the study.

Perception Reality

However, the study found some correlation between worker satisfaction with medical insurance and their perception as to how much their employer is spending on those programs.   For example, nearly 40% of small business employees believe that their organization spends less than $2400 per employee on medical insurance, despite the fact that the actual cost is nearly $5000 per employee.  

Among respondents who believe their employer spends more than $4,900/year on those benefits, 89% say their medical insurance either meets or exceeds their expectations, compared with 83% who believe their employer spends less than $2,400 per employee per year.

The Aon study found that workers in firms with 101 to 500 employees reported greater satisfaction with their benefits, and the communications they receive regarding coverage and costs than those at smaller employers.   On the other hand, workers at firms with 20 to 100 employees reported greater satisfaction with a stress-free environment, overall compensation satisfaction, and the way change is managed and communicated.

While more than two-thirds of small business workers would recommend their firm's products/services as the best a customer could buy, less than half (49%) would recommend their organization as one of the best places to work in the community, according to the study.   About two-thirds (64%) say they intend to stay with their employer for the next several years - and just 42% would stay if offered a similar job with slightly higher pay elsewhere.

More than two-thirds (68%) say their employer is above, or well above, their expectations in terms of creating a secure work environment, while 54% find their employer has gone above or well above their expectations for job security.

Overall, they view their pay as fair as compared to other, similar jobs within the organization (80%), or in similar jobs at other organizations (76%).   However, only 69% say that the link between pay and performance meets expectations.

Failure To…

While most say their organization is headed in the right direction (86%), is able to satisfy customers (91%), and have management committed to continuously improving products and services (86%), more than a third (35%) say they are unsatisfied with how changes are managed and communicated within the organization.

Similarly, while most worker respondents are satisfied with their work (88%) and are pleased with the opportunities for personal growth (76%), roughly a third (31%) are not satisfied with the manner in which the organization communicates internal career opportunities.

Just a third of small business workers currently have online access to their pay and benefits information, but 81% of those who do are satisfied, or very satisfied, with that access.

The Aon Small Business @ Work report was based on the responses of 1,004 randomly selected employees in small businesses.