Financial optimism declining among employers, employees

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Fewer employers and employees at any time since 2008 are reporting severe negative economic effects, but both groups exhibit declining optimism about how they will be doing financially a year from now, according to a new report.

Prudential Financial published this finding in “Sharpening the Focus on Benefits Strategy,” the first in a series of research briefs stemming from “The Seventh Annual Study of Employee Benefits: Today & Beyond.” The research was conducted via the Internet in July 2012, and consisted of three surveys of plan sponsors, plan participants and broker/consultant audiences.

The report reveals that 14 percent of both employers and employees cite severe negative economic effects, down significantly from 2010 results of 27 percent for employers and 22 percent for employees. Conversely, employers who say their financial position will be better or improving in one year dropped to 54 percent this year from 70 percent in 2010; employees report a drop to 38 percent from 44 percent.

The employers surveyed report a 17 percent increase over 2010 results in making benefits strategies a main focus. With shifting ownership and cost of benefits to employees, employers’ top strategies are, in priority order:

•   Expanding wellness, preventive, and work/life balance initiatives

•   Improving the effectiveness of benefits communications

•   Cost-sharing with employees

•   Giving more financial responsibility to employees

•   Increasing employee benefits education and financial advice

Nearly eight in 10 (79 percent) of employees see their employers as a trustworthy source to help them grow and protect their money, second only to credit unions (81 percent). And, the report shows, the perceived value of employee benefits has been trending upward, to 59 percent today from 43 percent in 2010.

Fifty-one percent of employees believe they are being offered a wide array of benefits, up from 38 percent two years ago.

The report adds that more employees today (42 percent) than in 2011 (36 percent) say their benefits communications. At the same time, employers report increased satisfaction with their benefits: 37 percent today, up from 27 percent a year ago.

Employees report they are reading their benefit enrollment material in large numbers: 82 percent this year, up seven points from last year. Most agree they prefer benefits communications they can read on their own time.

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