Business policies that help employees balance their jobs and the rest of their lives are mutually beneficial, finds the newly released MetLife Employee Benefits Trends Study, a survey of thousands of companies and employees. The problem? Many employers don’t recognize just how important these benefits are to their workforce. As a result, they fail to see how valuable the work-life balance policies such as paid leave, flex-time and the opportunity to work from home are for retaining employees. The awareness gap validates the strategy of President Obama’s workplace flexibility efforts and to efforts by cities like Houston to promote the benefits of workplace flexibility to employers.
According to the survey, employees overwhelmingly believe that work/life balance programs would improve their job productivity, favoring these benefits over health and wellness programs or financial advice programs. And while many employers recognize the productivity benefits, the study indicates that “Employees appear to highly value work-life balance programs more than employers do,” meaning that companies may be missing opportunities to retain employees by preserving and enhancing these benefits.
Employees report that their workload has increased in the last year, and many now plan to delay retirement due to financial concerns. Yet MetLife reports “[Employees] did not cut back on their benefits participation in the workplace, despite tight budgets. They value benefits as part of their financial safety net, and the workplace is the primary source for obtaining those benefits.” The emphasis workers place on health, retirement, and work/life balance benefits belies the notion that they are a “fringe” element of compensation, to be reduced or eliminated without much consequence.
As we’d expect from survey produced by an insurance and financial services company, the MetLife reports a sunny pro-corporate tone throughout, but the “safety net” language is telling. In the absence of a strong public safety net, a robust workplace safety net is the only thing that keeps working people and their families from a dangerously precarious economic life. That’s why it’s necessary not only to encourage employers to recognize their self-interest in providing benefits that improve retention and productivity but also to mandate a certain level of minimum provision of benefits. The recent health care reform took vital steps toward doing this for health benefits. Now it’s important that the U.S. follow the lead of San Francisco and other cities and require that employers provide paid sick days and other fundamental workplace benefits as well.
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