We've Been Belted in Terms of Benefits, but There's Some Good News

medical benefits Those who have lost jobs during the recession aren't the only ones who have suffered. Even those who managed to hang onto their jobs or find new ones are feeling the pinch: Recent research shows that the economy has negatively affected the employee benefits offered by more than three-quarters of surveyed employers across the nation. Still, there are a few employee benefits that have increased.

For most, however, company benefits are a sore subject. Seventy-seven percent of HR professionals surveyed in 2011 said that the economy negatively affected benefits to some extent, according to the recent Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) report, sponsored by Colonial Life.

"We have seen many cuts to HR benefit budgets over the last three years," said Mark J. Schmit, director of research at SHRM. "Organizations have had to be creative to find ways to compensate for the loss of benefits with hard cuts in order to stay competitive in the recruitment and retention of top talent."

But it's not all bad news. The survey found cuts and changes in most types of benefits across the board, from health insurance and retirement savings to miscellaneous benefits like adoption assistance and child care. However, some benefits that are cost effective for the employer, like flextime, have increased, as has weight-loss coverage.

More than half of surveyed HR professionals (53 percent) said their organizations provide flextime as a benefit. Twenty percent offer telecommuting on a full-time basis, an increase from the 17 percent of employers who offered it last year.

"The addition of workplace flexibility programs has been one of the primary tactics organizations are using to offset the benefit losses," Schmit said. "These programs can have positive outcomes for both the employees and the organization."

Trends in Heath Care Benefits
  • The majority of organizations (84 percent) provide a preferred provider organization (PPO) for employee health care, with only a third of employers using health maintenance organizations (HMOs).
  • Health savings accounts (HSAs) are gaining in popularity as a health care benefit. In 2011, 35 percent of organizations provided HSAs, up from 29 percent in 2007.
  • The percentage of organizations offering bariatric coverage for weight loss has increased dramatically -- from 16 percent in 2007 to 36 percent in 2011.
Trends in Savings Plans
  • Most businesses (93 percent) offer defined contribution retirement savings plans for retirement savings, more than those that offer defined benefit pension plans (22 percent) and formal phased retirement programs (5 percent).
  • Although employees are more responsible for managing retirement savings, 42 percent of employers provide individual investment advice and 37 percent supply retirement preparation planning advice.
  • Forty-nine percent of employers offer retirement savings and planning benefits to part-time employees; 84 percent offer those benefits to full-time employees.
Trends in Miscellaneous Benefits
  • Since 2007, elder care referral services, adoption assistance and foster care assistance have declined. Most other family-friendly benefits have remained stable.
  • Sixteen percent of organizations offered some form of domestic partner benefits other than health care. Fourteen percent of organizations offered same-sex domestic partner benefits, excluding health care, the same number that provided opposite-sex domestic partner benefits.
  • In the past five years, housing and relocation benefits experienced significant declines, including temporary relocation benefits and location visit assistance.
  • Six percent of organizations allow employees to take pets to work, while 1 percent allow them to bring their infants to work.

Overall, organizations spent an average of 19 percent of an employee's annual salary on mandatory benefits, like Social Security and workers' compensation. On average, employers spent an additional 19 percent on voluntary benefits and 11 percent on leave pay benefits. Larger organizations tended to spend more on voluntary benefits than organizations with small staff levels.

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