Why Are Workers Happy with Fewer Benefits and Longer Hours?

  • Share
  • Read Later

To begin with, they know that such a position is better than having a job without benefits—or not having a job at all.

By way of an AP story, a MetLife study reveals a mixed bag of stats from recession-era employer-employee relationships. Such as:

The study found that employers have mostly held the line on core benefits, such as life insurance, and matching workers’ 401(k) plan contributions despite the worst economic turbulence in decades. Only 18% of surveyed companies with more than 1,000 employees reduced any benefits from late 2008 to late 2009, while 19% reduced or suspended 401(k) matches.

Retaining those benefits comes at a price for many employees, however; they’re being asked to do more to justify their benefits.

MetLife’s annual study on employee benefits trends found that 40% of employees surveyed said their workload had increased in the past 12 months.

Only 18%? Seems like a pretty significant figure to me—too big to justify the only. Especially because this doesn’t factor in the all-too-common scenario of late, in which employers have eliminated full-time employees and replaced them with “perma-temps” of “disposable workers” who most certainly receive no benefits.

A decrease in benefits and an increase in work: You’d assume that such an ugly combo would result in anger and outrage, or at least some discontent. That’s not the case:

Despite the heavier workload, workers indicated more satisfaction with their benefits than at any time since 2007. A total of 42% of employees said they were highly satisfied with their benefits, compared with 37% a year earlier.

How could this be? The answer seems pretty simply to me. Having benefits—even if they’re less generous than in the past—is better than not having benefits. And increasingly, benefits are becoming scarce.

The WSJ reports that workers shouldn’t expect benefits to return to their pre-2007 form anytime soon either:

A survey of 522 human resources professionals conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management in February 2009 found that fringe benefit offerings—which include stock options, paid family leave and business class airfare—have decreased significantly since 2005.

And some firms are still cutting. An October 2009 survey of 371 companies by SHRM found 39% of respondents were either “somewhat likely” or “very likely” to reduce benefits offerings in the next six months.

As long as unemployment remains high, there will be little incentive for employers to bring back perks that have been lost, experts say.

The main reason workers aren’t disgruntled by the idea of working more and receiving less is that there isn’t much out there in the way of alternatives. Workers with benefits know that, compared to their neighbors who are unemployed or float insecurely from gig to gig, they’re actually pretty darn lucky.

Bob Herbert’s column in the NY Times is loaded with stats demonstrating just how lucky full-time, fully-benefited employees are:

More than 44 percent of unemployed Americans have been out of work for six months or longer, the highest rate since World War II. Perhaps more chilling is a new analysis by the Pew Economic Policy Group that found that nearly a quarter of the nation’s 15 million unemployed workers have been jobless for a year or more…

One of the more striking findings of the Pew study was that a college education has not been much of a defense against long-term unemployment.

“Twenty-one percent of unemployed workers with a bachelor’s degree have been without work for a year or longer,” the report found, “compared to 27 percent of unemployed high school graduates and 23 percent of unemployed high school dropouts.”

… Blue-collar job losses during the so-called Great Recession surpassed 5.5 million, and many of those jobs will never be seen again.

In light of numbers like those, it’s unsurprising that workers feel content with their benefits packages, diminished though they may be. Heck, by comparison, it’s nice to receive a “perk” like a salary.