Despite signs of an economic turnaround, fewer than half of American workers said they are satisfied with their jobs, according to a recent Conference Board survey, and nearly 25 percent of respondents said they do not expect to remain with their current employers next year.
No company wants to be held back by mass employee migration just as renewed profits are on the horizon. So what can employers do to help keep employees satisfied and productive as the economy improves? Voluntary benefits may be a meaningful part of the answer to this critical question.
The current job climate
According to recent articles by Business Week and Market Watch, the U.S. economy appears to be strengthening, from a 5.6 percent growth spurt in the last quarter of 2009 to a swelling in U.S. payrolls by 162,000 workers this year, the biggest growth in three years. Although the country is not out of the recession yet, economic indicators remain positive. And according to the U.S. Department of Labor, total unemployment benefit rolls fell by 255,000 to a seasonally adjusted 4.5 million — the lowest since December 2008. If these trends continue, the U.S. economy could soon see job creation and sustained growth, which would be a huge relief for an American workforce that has awaited improvement in workplace stability and rewards.
In recent months, American workers have been itching for better growth potential and compensation. Echoing the Conference Board findings, a Gallup-Healthways Work Environment Index shows American workers rated their work environments with a score of 48.2 out of 100 in March. Based on reports such as this, it is plausible to think that inattentive companies could experience massive attrition throughout their organizations when the economy fully rebounds.
The role of voluntary
Offering voluntary benefit plans may allow competitive organizations to take proactive steps to reward and retain valued workers before the turnaround. By using voluntary benefits, companies can effectively and economically expand benefit options, adding valuable choices for employees without incurring additional costs. Employees opt in and pay for the benefits they want at a reduced rate compared with individual plans, because voluntary benefits are offered through the employer.
Such voluntary group benefits as life, vision, and dental coverage can demonstrate a company’s long-term investment in its workers by helping ensure that employees and their families remain healthy, productive and financially secure — even in tough economic times. Vision and dental insurance also provide the benefit of preventive medicine. Many serious illnesses can be detected during regular eye exams and dental checkups, protecting workers from potentially lengthy and costly hospital stays or absence from work.
The current voluntary benefits climate
Companies are catching on. According to LIMRA’s U.S. Worksite Sales Study from the third quarter of 2009, voluntary benefits grew 7 percent, an exceptional rate for such a difficult economic period. In addition, 2009 was the fourth consecutive year that voluntary benefit sales exceeded the prior year’s sales.