Employees willing to sacrifice pay for better retirement benefits — but not healthcare

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The majority of American workers say they are willing to pay more for better employer-provided retirement benefits, but not as many are willing to do the same for healthcare benefits, according to research by Willis Towers Watson.

In its 2017 Global Benefits Attitudes Survey, Willis Towers Watson found that 66% of respondents would pay more each month for larger, more generous retirement benefits, while 61% would give up more pay to have a guaranteed retirement benefit.

Meanwhile, for healthcare benefits, only 38% were willing to pay more each month for a better, more generous health plan; and 46% said they were willing to pay more to have lower, more predictable costs when using healthcare services.

Workers are even less likely to want to pay for tools and services in either arena. Only 24% said they would pay for tools and services that would help them live healthier lifestyles, and 19% said they would do the same to help improve their finances.

“While employees continue to feel vulnerable about their long-term financial prospects and say they are willing to pay more for greater retirement security, healthcare benefits evoke a much different response,” says Steve Nyce, senior economist at Willis Towers Watson. “Employees, who continue to see their healthcare costs increase annually, are basically saying ‘enough is enough’ as far fewer are willing to pay more each month for more generous health benefits and more predictable costs.”

Still, the report notes, the bulk of employees are happy with their main employer-provided benefits, the survey found, with 59% saying their retirement plan meets their needs and 66% saying their healthcare plan meets their needs.

Forty-three percent of employees said their benefits package offers a wider variety of choice and flexibility that meets their needs, while 27% said that programs that help them manage their finances meet their needs.

“Employers need to recognize that employee appreciation of their total benefit package has a positive impact on worker productivity,” says Julie Stone, a managing director, Health & Benefits, North America, Willis Towers Watson. “Our research shows just over half of employees whose benefit package meets their needs are highly engaged in their job compared to just 25% of employees reporting a high level of engagement when they believe their benefit package does not meet their needs.”

Of the 5,000 employees surveyed by Willis Towers Watson, many expressed interest in a wide variety of benefits offerings, including more time off and financial wellness programs.

Fifty-eight percent of respondents said they would take more time off in exchange for an equivalent change in pay. The same amount of respondents said they would take a more generous retirement plan for an equal change in their paycheck.

Slightly more than 55% said they would accept a more generous healthcare plan in exchange for an equivalent change in pay and 48% said they would welcome more financial protection benefits.

Workers were more likely to say their benefits plan at work met their needs if they had a varied benefits program with lots of choices built in.

“We know from our research and work with clients that employees with greater flexibility in their benefit programs and access to decision support value their benefits more,” Stone says. “It is time for employers to move beyond a one-size-fits-most approach to benefits, as employees across generations are seeking a wide range of flexibility, choice and decision support.”

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