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No Halo Here, But Maybe A Silver Lining

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Forty percent of women and men who work fulltime are completely satisfied with their health insurance benefits, and 36 percent said the same about the retirement plan their employer offers, according to a new Gallup poll.

That sounds pretty good, except there’s a spoiler. The spoiler is that health benefits and retirement plans placed in the lower half of the complete satisfaction totem pole. For example, health benefits ranked ninth out of 13 workplace factors that Gallup measured, and retirement plans ranked 11th.

Those rankings are not going to make employee benefits people feel very happy. But the survey results could help create a silver lining. First, a little more about the findings.

The scores for health and retirement plans came in well below the top-ranked factor for both women and men, physical safety conditions. Three-fourths of women (74 percent) and men (73 percent) said they are completely satisfied in that department.

Relations with coworkers came in second, with 70 percent of each gender expressing complete satisfaction in this area. Third place went to flexibility of work hours, with women at 65 percent and men at 61 percent. Fourth place went to that all-American favorite, vacation time (50 percent and 66 percent, respectively).

Even job security — the workplace factor that we are constantly told workers worry about daily —ranked higher than health benefits and the retirement plan. Job security took sixth place among women (54 percent) and men (52 percent).

Incidentally, this survey was not small or short-term. According to Gallup, the findings were based on interviews of 2,076 fulltime workers as part of Gallup’s annual Work and Education poll between 2010 and 2014.

As such, the survey was not about benefits but rather about workplace factors. Still, it’s pretty clear that a lot of fulltime workers don’t see their workplace health or retirement programs under a halo. What to make of this?

First, workers appear have a favorable view of the employment factors they can see, touch and interact with — such as physical safety and coworkers. Health and retirement plans are intangibles so it’s not likely they will ever get high rankings on a list like this. In order to land in the top half of a “completely satisfied” list, these benefits would need to appear on a separate list of benefits programs that employers offer. Make the evaluation an apples-to-apples kind of thing.

Second, time seems to matter a lot to workers. Hence the high scores for having flexible work hours and vacation time. Health and retirement plans do not have the oomph of time relevance or immediacy. Their reach is more intermediate to long-term (although you could argue that health benefits are immediate for someone who is sick — until their health improves, that is).

Finally, it pays to remember that the survey found that approximately two-fifths of workers do experience “complete satisfaction” with their health and retirement plans. In view of the intangible, distant and “time-less” nature of such plans, this is not all that bad, especially considering that the plans got higher complete satisfaction rankings than something that is very immediate and tangible.

That something is the “amount of money earned.” It came at 12th place, suggesting workers are none too happy with their salaries.

Gallup polls get a lot of attention due to the firm’s reputation for credible research. For that reason, insurers, benefits brokers and advisors might want to provide employers with their insights into the survey findings.

This could open up a silver lining. That would be meaningful conversation with employer clients about the importance of assessing such rankings in context. It might also trigger discussion about possible tweaks and upgrades to existing plans. Or it could reveal a need to educate employees once again on plan benefits, making those benefits come alive with “immediacy,” if you will.

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Linda Koco, MBA, is a contributing editor to InsuranceNewsNet, specializing in life insurance, annuities and income planning. Connect with Linda →

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