Two new surveys -- one from MetLife, one from Prudential -- provide an overview of the current state of retirement benefits across America. Among the findings:
• The impact of the recession lingers. When asked which financial need they consider highly important, employees appear focused on the here and now. Job security came in first, mentioned by 84% of employees, while 80% said making ends meet was a concern. Health insurance and retirement savings were next, mentioned by 79% and 75% of respondents, respectively. (Prudential)
• In fact, about 35% of boomer employees are considering delaying retirement, while 52% of employees between the ages of 21 and 30 are worried about running out of money in retirement. That compares to one-third of respondents in 2003. (MetLife)
• Of course, employers also are impacted by the economy. While 40% plan to maintain their current level of benefits, 30% will do so by shifting more of the cost to employees. Ten percent plan to reduce benefit levels. (MetLife)
• The Prudential survey also found employers using cost-shifting tactics. Nearly two-thirds of plan sponsors said they were changing their plan design, while more than half are asking employees to pick up more of the costs. (Prudential)
• However, employers appear to recognize the critical role benefits play -- and will continue to play -- in their employees' financial well being. Three-quarters of employers say that potential reductions in Social Security and Medicare will make employees increasingly dependent on their employers' retirement benefits. (MetLife)
• At the same time, 87% of employees said that employee benefits are at least somewhat important in deciding whether to switch jobs. Nearly half (46%) said they're extremely important. (Prudential).
• Even as employees appear concerned about their financial well being, one in three hope to be working for someone else in 2012. (MetLife)
• While a majority of employers say they're loyal to their employees, the employees themselves appear not to recognize this. Just one-third of employees say their employers have a strong sense of loyalty to them, although nearly three-fifths of employers say they are loyal to their employees. (MetLife)
• Communication appears to be key in ensuring that employees recognize the value in the benefits they're offered. In several areas, employees seem to lack a full understanding of, well, the benefits of their benefits. For instance, two-thirds said it was important to have financial security if the family wage earner no longer could work, yet only 40% rated disability insurance as highly important. (Prudential)
• Employees' preferred methods of communication: e-mail, group meetings and mail at home. One method that more employees would prefer: individual meetings. One-third of employees said they prefer this method, but only 21% of companies use it. (Prudential)
• A growing percentage of companies (85%) offer voluntary, or optional, benefits, versus 60% in 2008. The most popular ones: life insurance, disability insurance and dental insurance. (Prudential)
• The Metlife survey showed a similar shift, with 41% of employers saying that voluntary benefits are a significant element of their benefits strategy, up from 32% one year earlier. (Metlife)
The Sixth Annual Study of Employee Benefits: Today and Beyond by Prudential Group Insurance surveyed employers, employees and benefits brokers and consultants. The 10th Annual Study of Employee Benefits Trends by MetLife was drawn from interviews with more than 1,500 companies and 1,400 employees. Of the two, the Prudential study was more focused on larger employers (those with at least 50 employees).