New research by global consulting giant Mercer has revealed an unexpectedly negative perception about way that employees view their benefits, especially as more and more health care costs are shifted onto their plate.

The most recent Mercer Workplace Study has found that the perceived value of workplace benefits, among those employees who take part in both on-the-job health and retirement savings plans, has begun to erode significantly – a considerably different spin on Guardian’s more positive news on employee feelings regarding their benefits, released earlier this week. 

The Mercer survey finds that younger workers, in particular, are less and less enthusiastic about their benefits, largely been driven by concerns related to their ever-increasing out-of-pocket costs for their own health care. The trend has only increased as more and more companies shift costs or move to high-deductible plans to offset their own benefits costs.

The number of workers surveyed, age 50 and under, who say that their benefits are “definitely worth it” has dropped considerably in two years, from 45% to just 30%. The survey also shows that a majority of employees understand that their benefits will change as health care reform continues to unfurl and that those costs will likely become their own responsibility.

Nonetheless, employees say they still feel that benefits are important – 93% agreed with the statement that “my health benefits are as important to me as my salary.”

Those somewhat mixed messages are enough to cause employers to take into account as they continue to consider ways to balance the bottom line with their employees’ needs and ability to pay, says Kerry Donoghue, partner and health benefits business leader with Mercer’s benefits administration business

“We feel strongly … that there are some areas of concern that plan sponsors must take into account as they evaluate and design their benefit plans, particularly as it relates to discontent about rising out-of-pocket expenses and an overall level of relative dissatisfaction among younger employees,” Donoghue notes.

As a result, Mercer suggests that plan sponsors do some serious thinking about the way that they communicate the benefits they do offer, and get employees more personally involved in those decisions – as the cost increases are not likely to go away.

 “We’re seeing more cost-shifting and rapid growth in high-deductible consumer-directed health plans as employers are asked to cover more employees under health reform,” says Beth Umland, director of research for Mercer’s health and benefits business. “So it’s critical for sponsors to explicitly communicate the value of the overall benefits program they provide and consider offering educational resources and tools to help participants better manage their health care spending. Giving employees more choice can also help build perceived value.”

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