Survey: 90% Feel Their Benefits are Important, But 36% Fear Losing Their Job

If there’s one good thing that’s come from all the turmoil and stress caused during the last few years of economic downturn, it’s this – people are much more appreciative of many things that they used to take for granted.

We know this because of surveys like the latest one from Mercer, the giant global provider of consulting, outsourcing and investment service. It found that 90 percent of employees believe that the benefits they receive from their employer are as important as the salary they bring home. On top of that, some 83 percent of these same employees feel that the out-of-pocket expenses they pay are probably or definitely worth the cost.

This comes from the annual Mercer Workplace Survey, a research program conducted since 2001 by Mercer’s Outsourcing business to track employee attitudes toward, and experiences with, employer-sponsored retirement, health and benefits programs.

It’s a big, serious survey, and as you might imagine, it yields some big serious results as well as some interesting workplace insights.

“A period of caution bordering on anxiety”

For example, here’s some of the sobering analysis from the survey’s overview:

Despite their expectations of better economic times ahead for the world at large, participants aren’t yet internalizing the good news. For most, 2010 remains a period of caution bordering on anxiety, punctuated by employment insecurity. Concern over inadequate retirement savings is up and participants’ expectations for how much of their working income they will be able to replace in retirement is down. These fears are amplified among older workers, most of whom realize they are running out of time. In fact, most workers 50 or over are considering delaying retirement, up from 2008.

Benefits continue to be an important factor in terms of how workers view their companies and their jobs, with appreciation of health benefits up perceptibly (especially for older workers). The proportion of participants finding it easy to enroll in, make changes to or understand their benefits continues to rise.

Over the years the Mercer Workplace Survey has generally found participant attitudes and expectations in harmony with broad economic trends — when workers feel positive about the national economic outlook they are usually comfortable with their own situation and vice versa.

This year, in an unusual disconnect, participants expect the big economic picture to improve in the next year even as their own personal outlook deteriorates.”

“It stands to reason that as a result of the recent global recession, high unemployment and general uncertainty, employees have such positive feelings about their employer-sponsored health plan coverage,” said Suzanne Nolan, Partner and Director of Marketing and Communications for Mercer’s Outsourcing business, in a press release announcing the survey.

“This resounding appreciation from employees across the board presents employers with a great opportunity to design and optimally position their health benefits as a critical component of their total rewards and employee engagement strategies.”

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Health reform greeted with deep skepticism

There is a lot to digest in the Mercer Workplace Survey – and you can find it here if you would like to dig in to it yourself — but here are a few of the highlights:

  • Some 77 percent of those surveyed expect the economy to grow (up 21 points), and that’s close to the level registered in 2007 before the global recession, although most participants expect weak rather than robust growth.
  • However, the proportion of workers concerned about losing their job continues to rise and has climbed to 36 percent this year compared to 32 percent last year and 27 percent in 2007.
  • More than one-third (35 percent) of workers of all ages have considered delaying retirement, up marginally from 2008.
  • Survey participants increasingly see themselves as responsible for their own retirement and health security. Nearly nine in ten (87 percent) say they are responsible for their own retirement income, up six points since 2008. More than seven in ten (73 percent) say they expect to be responsible for their health expenses not covered by Medicare, up 10 points.
  • Health care reform is greeted with deep skepticism by this insured population; fewer than one in five workers (17 percent) expects to be better off as a result. Six in ten expect to be worse off in terms of the taxes they will have to pay and more than four in ten (42 percent) expect to be worse off overall. Support is higher—although not high—among younger workers and lower among their older colleagues. The fear that they will be worse off under reform is particularly pronounced among workers 50 and over.

The Mercer Workplace Survey surveyed some 1,500 active 401(k) participants currently contributing to a 401(k) plan or having a 401(k) balance of $1,000 or more with their current employer whether or not they are currently contributing. Online interviews were completed between May 27 and June 15, 2010.

There are a lot of positives in this survey, to be sure, and the fact that workers are a lot more appreciative of their benefits is surely a good thing.

But, the ongoing anxiety and frustration of workers about the economy, their jobs, and the overall stability of their lives is clearly part of what drove the big election changes we saw on Tuesday night. People are worried — about their job, about their ability to provide for themselves and their families, about making it to a comfortable retirement — and both employers and politicians would do well to understand this, because it doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon.

John Hollon is Editor-at-Large at ERE Media and was the founding Editor of TLNT.com. A longtime newspaper, magazine, and business journal editor, John has deep roots in the talent management space. He's the former Editor of Workforce Management magazine and workforce.com, served as Editor of RecruitingDaily, and was Vice President for Content at HR technology firm Checkster. An award-winning journalist, John has written extensively about HR, talent management, leadership, and smart business practices, including for the popular Fistful of Talent blog. Contact him at johnhollon@ere.net, connect with him on LinkedIn, or follow him on Twitter @johnhollon.

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1 Comment on “Survey: 90% Feel Their Benefits are Important, But 36% Fear Losing Their Job

  1. This article really shows the trend of working people and the economy. Times are tough and people feel like they can only rely on themselves to save enough money to retire. It’s sad and I also feel that I have to not only rely on my 401k at work, but have a separate savings for my future.

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