Study: 30% of employees would take less salary for better benefits

Employees are demanding more and better benefits than ever, including programs customized to them, according to a new study.

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Attraction, engagement, purpose, and retention are the themes of this year’s MetLife Annual U.S. Employee Benefit Trends Survey.

The insurance giant surveyed both employers and employees – the employer survey included 2,500 interviews with benefits decision-makers; the employee survey consisted of 2,675 interviews with full-time employees over 21 years old.


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Many of employees’ top sources of financial stress were medical-related:

  • 72%: being able to afford the cost of healthcare in retirement
  • 68%: outliving my retirement savings
  • 67%: having money to pay the bill is someone loses their job
  • 67%: having money to cover out-of-pocket medical costs
  • 66%: the ability to rely on Social Security/Medicare in retirement

In fact, the percentage of people polled by MetLife since 2015 who agree with the statement “I expect to postpone my retirement due to my financial situation” has skyrocketed: from 37% in 2015 to 52% in 2019. Stagnant wages may be one likely cause.

Employers know that offering benefits is good for business. The vast majority of employers (80%) said benefits were so important that they played an important role in building workplace culture. And 78% of employers said that benefits let employees be more productive.

Still, employees want more and better benefits. On the employee’s side, benefits attract talent – 6 in 10 employees said that benefits were a major reason why they chose to work at their company.

Still, they’re not as happy with them as they could be.

  • Only 67% of employees are satisfied with the benefits they receive, while 73% of employers think their employees are happy with the benefits offered.
  • A not-insignificant 3 in 10 employees say they would trade more money for better benefits.

A slew of new “emerging benefits” is an area where employers can make a difference in making employees happy. Here are the emerging benefits people care about the most:

  • 72%: unlimited paid time off
  • 69%: wellness programs rewarding healthy behavior
  • 68%: phased retirement programs
  • 66%: paid sabbatical program
  • 61%: on-site free/subsidized services like meals, gym, dry cleaning, hair
  • 59%: on-site health/medical care (including mental health)
  • 33%: subsidized egg freezing

Employers are attempting to meet employees’ changing needs with holistic benefits – 57% of them this year. After the basics like medical and dental are met, employers can offer a wider range of benefits – like accident insurance, legal service, and retirement programs – that help employees manage their money after they retire. These types of programs all fell under the “nice to have” category chosen by employees in the study.

The future of benefits may be in customization: 93% of employees rated the option as either a “must-have” or a “nice to have.” They’re way ahead of employers, only 68% who see customization as important.

But since 72% of employees agreed with the phrase, “Having benefits customized to fit my needs would increase my loyalty to my employer,” we’ll see how fast they catch up.


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Sheila McClear|is a reporter for Ladders and can be reached at smcclear@theladders.com.