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Employees Favor Retirement Benefits to Health Care


While wellness and health care are currently hot topics in the benefits space, employers might want to keep their focus on retirement benefits.

The 2017 Global Benefits Attitudes Survey by Willis Towers Watson revealed that a majority of responding U.S. employees are willing to sacrifice more of their paycheck for greater employer-provided retirement benefits, but far fewer are willing to make a similar trade-off for more generous health-care benefits. The survey also found that while a majority said their benefit packages meet their needs, many want more benefit choices and flexibility.

According to the survey of nearly 5,000 U.S. employees, two-thirds of respondents (66%) said they would be willing to pay more each month for larger, more generous retirement benefits, while 61% would give up more pay to have guaranteed retirement benefits. The same is not true for health-care benefits. Only 38% are willing to pay more each month for a more generous health-care plan; 46% are willing to pay more to have lower, more predictable costs when using health-care services. Employees are even less open to paying for tools and services. Less than a quarter are willing to pay for tools and services that help them live healthier lifestyles (24%) or help improve their finances (19%). 

“While employees continue to feel vulnerable about their long-term financial prospects and say they are willing to pay more for greater retirement security, health-care benefits evoke a much different response,” said Steve Nyce, senior economist, Willis Towers Watson. “Employees, who continue to see their health-care costs increase annually, are basically saying ‘enough is enough’ as far fewer are willing to pay more each month for more generous health benefits and more predictable costs.” 

However, a majority of responding employees are happy with their core benefits — 59% think their retirement plan meets their needs; 66% said their health-care plan does. However, appreciation for noncore and well-being benefits lags. Only 43% said their package offers a wider variety of choice and flexibility that meets their needs, while 27% think initiatives to help them manage their finances meet their needs.

Beyond their core retirement and health-care benefits, employees are expressing a strong interest in a broader array of benefits, including more time off. Nearly six in 10 employees (58%) would take more time off in exchange for an equivalent change in pay, while the same number would take a more generous retirement plan for an equal change in pay. 55% would accept a more generous health-care plan in exchange for an equivalent change in pay. 48% would welcome more financial protection benefits, reflecting a growing interest and need for benefits to help employees address their financial needs. In addition, access to decision support is valued by workers. Nearly nine in 10 employees with benefit choices and access to decision support said their benefit programs meet their needs, which is more than twice that of those without choices. 

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