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Employees Seek More Voluntary Benefits

Gallagher, Patrick

A new MetLife study found that while most employers are not cutting back on employee benefits, they are largely not increasing the available benefits even as employees say they would be willing to pay more for those benefits.

In Westchester, though, business advocates and representatives of employee-benefits services say there has been a "tremendous increase" in the number of firms looking into and implementing voluntary benefits for their employees.

The increased interest in voluntary programs comes as Westchester employers - and small business owners in particular - are moving toward less expensive medical options, said Norman Michaels Jr., president of Michaels & Associates, an employee-benefit consulting and brokerage firm with offices in Armonk and Wappingers Falls.

"Underlying everything is that medical costs - not medical insurance, but medical costs - are not going down," Michaels said. "Health care reform has caused the insurance industry in New York to be spending more money than they would have had they not had the Affordable Care Act to deal with."

While the primary benefit offered by employers continues to be health insurance, Michaels said his firm sells a "tremendous" amount of life and disability insurance policies.

"Voluntary benefits are a very big part of that," he said. "We've seen a tremendous increase in companies offering voluntary benefits."

Seventy percent of employers surveyed by MetLife said they intend to maintain their current level of employee benefits, with 30 percent saying they would maintain the available benefits by shifting some of the costs to their employees.

The study's findings show a strong correlation between overall job satisfaction and the available benefits - even if those benefits are not subsidized by an employer.

Representatives of more than 1,500 employers and more than 1,400 full-time employees were surveyed last fall as part of MetLife's 10th annual Study of Employee Benefits Trends, which was conducted by GfK Custom Research North America, with the findings released in August.

Of the interviews, 944 were conducted with representatives of companies with fewer than 500 employees, and 685 were conducted with employees working for companies with fewer than 500 employees.

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Among Generation X and Generation Y employees, 72 percent who were "very satisfied" with their benefits said they were more likely to feel a very strong sense of loyalty to their employer, compared with just 46 percent of Gen X and Gen Y employees overall who said they were likely to feel a strong sense of loyalty.

Notably, one in three employees surveyed said they hoped to be working for a different employer this year.

Two-thirds of the Gen X and Gen Y small business employees who were surveyed said they would be willing to pay more of the cost of benefits rather than lose them, while 54 percent of all Gen X and Gen Y workers said they would be interested in having a wider selection of benefits options even if it would mean paying all of the cost for those benefits.

The voluntary benefits sought range from life and dental insurance policies to disability, critical illness and home and auto policies.

Larger businesses have seemingly adjusted in response to the growing desire among employees to have the option of purchasing voluntary benefits packages through the workplace.

The percentage of companies with more than 500 employees identifying voluntary benefits as a key element in their overall benefits strategy increased to 57 percent in the current study compared to 43 percent a year ago.

Among businesses with fewer than 500 employees, 31 percent identified voluntary benefits as a critical element to their overall strategy, up from 26 percent last year.

Copyright: (c) 2012 Westfair Communications
Source: Proquest LLC
Wordcount: 598



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