Nearly 6 in 10 small-business workers say they're likely to accept jobs with slightly lower compensation but better benefits.

A large majority (85 percent) of small-business employees consider voluntary benefits to be part of a comprehensive benefits program. And 62 percent of workers at small companies see a growing need for voluntary insurance benefits today compared to year’s past.

These findings are disclosed in the 2014 Aflac WorkForces Report for Small Businesses. Published by Aflac, the research attributes the high demand for voluntary benefits to several factors. Among them:

  • Rising medical costs (71 percent).
  • Increasing price of medical coverage (63 percent).
  • Increasing deductibles and copays (58 percent).
  • Reduced number of benefits and/or amount of coverage by their employers (29 percent).

The study, published by Aflac, reveals that as small-business decision-makers adapt to a slowly growing economy and health care reform regulations, they remain concerned about taking care of employees and continuing their benefits options.

The study finds that businesses with three to 99 employees took these actions:

  • Hiring at a slower pace than medium or large companies with 45 percent of small businesses having hired full-time workers in 2013, compared to 71 percent of mid-sized companies and 60 percent of large organizations.
  • 12 percent changed employee hours from full- to part-time in 2013.
  • 34 percent said they gave employees smaller raises in 2013 than in previous years, but only 24 percent said they plan to do the same this year. And only 18 percent plan to eliminate or delay raises in 2014.

The study also finds that although 63 percent of employees at small businesses are extremely or very satisfied with their job, many think their benefits packages can be improved. Only 12 percent are extremely satisfied with their benefits. And only 14 percent believe their benefits package meets their current family needs extremely well.

With half (50 percent) of employees at small companies saying they’re likely to look for new jobs in the next 12 months, the Aflac study highlights how critical benefits are to keeping workers in their jobs and demonstrates that job satisfaction alone does not always guarantee company loyalty.

  • Nearly 6 in 10 (57 percent) small-business workers said they’re likely to accept jobs with slightly lower compensation but better benefits.
  • Nearly half (47 percent) of small-business employees said improving their benefits packages is one thing their employers could do to keep them in their job.

“Employees at a small business might be satisfied with their pay, enjoy their company environment, their colleagues and the work itself, but that doesn’t mean better benefits offerings elsewhere won’t entice them to leave,” said Teresa White, executive vice president and chief operating officer, Aflac Columbus. “These findings should alert small-business decision-makers that robust benefits, including voluntary insurance, are an important way to keep employees engaged, productive and loyal.”

While 84 percent of small-business leaders say they either maintained or grew sales and revenue in 2013, they’re tempering those positive indicators with careful choices about hiring, compensation and employee benefits, the report adds.