Which Benefits Drive Employee Satisfaction?

While traditional benefits such as retirement plans and health insurance are an important part of most employers’ benefit packages, the perceived value of supplementary offerings such as leave and work-life benefits make may a bigger difference when it comes to employee satisfaction.

Respondents to the 2020 Employee Benefits Survey were asked whether their participants were satisfied with their benefits offerings. The following examines the most substantial differences in retirement, health and supplemental benefits such as paid leave and wellness programs, among corporate and single employer respondents who reported that their workers were “satisfied” or “unsatisfied.”

Which Benefits Drive Employee Satisfaction?

Retirement Plan Offerings

DB and DC Plans

  • Responding organizations stating that workers were satisfied with their retirement benefits were about three times as likely to offer a defined benefit (DB) pension compared with their counterparts who reported unsatisfied workers (20% vs. 7%).
  • While the prevalence of defined contribution (DC) plan offerings is similar among organizations with satisfied and unsatisfied groups overall, those with satisfied workforces are more likely to offer profit-sharing (20% vs. 8%) and 403(b) plans (12% vs. 4%).
Annual Employee Benefits Conference

Simplified Retirement Plan Features

Organizations with satisfied retirement plan members were more likely to offer a number of simplified plan features to encourage participation and ensure adequate retirement security.

  • These respondents were more likely to offer target-date/lifecycle funds (86% compared with 71%). These funds automatically reset their asset allocations as plan members approach retirement.
  • Respondents from organizations with satisfied workers were also more likely to offer automatic portfolio rebalancing (41% vs. 13%) and managed accounts (36% compared with 21%).

DC Distribution Options

Another feature differentiating retirement plan satisfaction is DC plan distribution options.

  • Organizations with satisfied workers are more likely to offer lump-sum payments (83% vs. 63%) and installment payments (54% vs. 21%) as final distribution options than respondents with workers who are unsatisfied with their retirement benefits.

Financial/Retirement Planning Benefits

There were considerable differences between organizations in the area of financial/retirement planning benefits.

  • Organizations with satisfied workers were more likely to offer education initiatives to enhance worker understanding of retirement/financial issues (60% vs. 32%) and formal financial planning/counseling services (44% versus 29%).

Health Care Benefits

In addition to retirement benefits, responding organizations were asked whether their workers were satisfied with their health care offerings. There were noticeable differences in satisfaction levels when looking at factors such as the types of covered dependents as well as deductible and premium levels.

Types of Dependents Covered

  • Organizations that stated that their workers were satisfied with their health care benefits were more likely to offer coverage for both unmarried opposite sex (48% vs. 35%) and unmarried same-sex domestic partners (49% versus 38%).

Deductibles and Premiums

  • Unsurprisingly, responding organizations that cited satisfied worker populations were more likely to have no deductibles for single (7% compared with 0%) and family (7% compared with 0%) coverage. This pattern is echoed for premiums.
  • Larger proportions of organizations with satisfied populations cite a 0% premium responsibility from workers for single (5% versus 0%) and family (5% versus 0%) coverage.

[Upcoming Webcast: The Results Are In: Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder Benefits | September 15, 2021]

Supplementary Offerings

While there are stark differences in the health and retirement offerings between satisfied and unsatisfied workers, the biggest differences exist in supplementary benefits such as life insurance, paid and unpaid leave, and work-life benefits.

Life Insurance

Respondents who stated that workers were satisfied with their supplementary offerings are more likely to offer life insurance benefits.

  • Almost all (96%) respondents with satisfied employees offer these benefits, while only three in four (77%) of organizations that had employees who were unsatisfied with supplementary offerings offered life insurance.

Paid Leave

There were substantial differences in worker satisfaction when examining paid leave offerings.

  • Organizations with satisfied workforces were more likely to provide paid maternity (38% compared with 15%) and paternity leave above and beyond legal requirements (35% vs. 12%).
  • These organizations were also more likely to offer paid leave for volunteering/community service (37% vs. 15%), to vote (32% vs. 15%) and to attend a child’s activities (12% versus 4%) in addition to offering paid family/caregiving leave (17% vs. 4%).

Unpaid Leave

Leave does not have to be paid in nature for it to be valuable for workers.

  • Organizations with satisfied workforces were more likely to offer unpaid parental/family leave beyond Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requirements (37% compared with 15%), unpaid adoption leave (26% vs. 12%), unpaid leave to attend a child’s activities (24% vs. 12%) and unpaid leave related to a miscarriage (14% vs. 4%).

Vacation/PTO Options

In addition to more robust vacation and paid-time-off (PTO) offerings, organizations with satisfied workforces offer more flexibility within those options.

  • Employers of satisfied workers are more likely to allow workers to carry over earned vacation/PTO to subsequent years (65% vs. 50%).
  • These organizations are also more likely to allow leave donation to workers in need (19% vs. 9%) as well as to allow workers to sell excess time off (15% compared with 5%).
  • Finally, organizations with satisfied workers are more likely to allow additional vacation/PTO days to be offered to midcareer hires, either automatically or on a case-by-case basis (offered by 12% of satisfied workforces compared with only 5% of unsatisfied).

Short-Term Disability (STD) Benefits

Short-term disability benefits remain one of the most important benefits offerings to employees.

  • Respondents from organizations with satisfied workers (87%) were more likely to offer short-term disability benefits than their counterparts with unsatisfied workers (65%).

Work-Life Benefits

As the modern workplace continues to evolve, work-life balance benefits continue to grow in importance.

  • Workers from organizations with satisfied workforces were more likely to offer telecommuting/work-from-home options (76%) compared with respondents from organizations with unsatisfied workers (54%).
  • Organizations with satisfied workforces were also more likely to offer flexible workhours/compressed workweeks (50% vs. 15%), flexible work schedules for religious observances (19% compared with 4%) and financial assistance for adoption (18% vs. 4%).

Wellness Benefits

Wellness programs are designed to promote safety and good health among workers, increasing worker morale and reducing the costs associated with accidents and illness leading to absenteeism, lower productivity, and higher health care expenses. These offerings are a key driver in worker satisfaction.

  • Organizations citing a satisfied workforce were more likely to offer employee assistance programs (EAPs) (89% vs. 65%), flu shot programs (71% vs. 54%), smoking-cessation programs (47% vs. 27%), and on-site fitness centers and/or subsidized fitness (39% vs. 15%).
  • Responding organizations with satisfied workers were also more like to host walking/exercise programs (32% vs. 15%) and offer on-site massage programs (21% versus 4%).

At-Work Perks

One of the most visible groups of benefit offerings are at-work perks. Coincidentally, these offerings drive large disparities between satisfied and unsatisfied workers.

  • Organizations with satisfied workforces are more likely to offer service award programs (60% vs. 39%), educational assistance plans (47% compared with 23%), discounted tickets to sporting, recreational or cultural events (40% vs. 23%), and host employee/family events including picnics, fairs and concerts (38% vs. 23%).
  • This trend continues with large discrepancies between organizations that offer employee product discounts (37% vs. 15%), matching charitable gift programs (24% vs. 4%), on-site and/or takeout meals (22% vs. 4%), relocation benefits (22% vs. 8%) and host “Take Your Child to Work” days (20% vs. 4%).

Benefits Are Valuable to Employees

Whether you are reconsidering your benefits offerings now or in the future, hopefully this gives you an idea of which benefits are more or less important to potential hires and your existing talent pool. A well-rounded and generous employee benefits package continues to be a solid strategy for attracting and retaining great employees.

You can read more about the 2020 Employee Benefits Survey here.

[Related Reading: Will Employers Rethink At-Work Perks With the Return to the Office?]

Justin Held, CEBS
Senior Research Analyst at the International Foundation 

Art & Science of Health Promotion Conference

The latest from Word on Benefits:

Justin Held, CEBS

Senior Research Analyst at the International Foundation

Favorite Foundation Service: Foundation Research Surveys


Benefits Related Topics That Interest Him Most: Behavioral economics, socially responsible investing, apprenticeship training


Personal Insight: Justin loves everything baseball, visiting and checking off ballparks as he travels. In this free time, he enjoys hiking at national parks, cycling and reading about U.S. history.

Recommended Posts

Legal & Legislative Reporter: Medical Provider May Not Bring Claim on Behalf of Participants and Beneficiaries

Guest Contributor

Every month, the International Foundation releases the Legal and Legislative Reporter, a compilation of new employee benefits–related case summaries. Below is a summary we thought you’d be interested in. Content provided by Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP. The U.S. District Court for the … Read more

Five Steps to Nurture Belonging in the Workplace

Guest Contributor

Benefits Magazine Extras articles provide you with bonus content on a mix of benefits topics as well as deep dives and analyses on the latest benefit trends and compliance issues. Visit ifebp.org/benefitsmagazine to see the latest Benefits Magazine Extras as well as the bimonthly print … Read more

Navigating Uncertainty

Christine Vazquez, CEBS

In today’s business environment, change is constant. Earning a Certified Employee Benefit Specialist® (CEBS®) designation can help benefits professionals improve their ability to manage organizational change. The self-study CEBS courses provide critical knowledge and skills to scan the environment and strategically tailor benefit … Read more

DOL Guidance on Mental Health Parity: Proposed Rules for NQTL Comparative Analyses

Jenny Gartman, CEBS

Many health plan sponsors continue to struggle to comply with the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act (MHPAEA), particularly the requirement to conduct a comparative analysis of nonquantitative treatment limitations (NQTLs) that has been effective under the 2021 Consolidated Appropriations Act … Read more