Mercer recently released its 2011 What’s Working—Inside Employees’ Minds survey on employee engagement. The survey asked more than 2,000 Canadian workers for their views on various aspects of the employment deal, including pay, benefits, careers, leadership, performance and engagement. The survey analyzes differences by workforce demographics and includes a conjoint analysis to determine what employees value most.

Some of the more interesting observations from the survey include the following:

  • One in three Canadian workers is seriously considering leaving his job—as such, employers may face a loss of valued talent as the economy and job market improves.
  • One in five Canadian workers is disaffected—she is committed to neither staying nor leaving the organization.
  • Base pay is at the top of 13 elements that employees value, but only 58% of survey respondents believe they are paid fairly.
  • Employee benefits rank in the lowest third of the most valued elements of the employment deal. In addition to base pay, factors such as retirement/savings, type of work, respect for the organization and incentive compensation are valued more than benefits.

To state the obvious, Canadian employers have a significant employment engagement issue. The employment deal is changing, with company loyalty at all-time lows and employees—now more than ever—prepared to vote with their feet. Getting base pay right is clearly key to winning the hearts and minds of employees, with employee benefits being somewhat of an afterthought.

Employee benefits do not drive employee engagement. It pains me to say these words, but the conclusion in itself is not startling—most of us in this business know that cash is king. However, admitting that benefits are not front and centre in the war for talent does not mean benefits are unimportant. A benefits plan has become the price of entry—you need to have a plan in place just to play the game.

  • One in two Canadian workers says his benefits meet his needs, although there is a growing perception that his plan lags behind other organizations.
  • Approximately half of Canadian workers say benefits play a significant role in their decision to stay with their organization.

Most employees have only a passing appreciation for their benefits plan until they need to make a claim, and then they are grateful for the protection it provides. Conversely, a poorly designed benefits plan or the absence of coverage can become a significant source of dissatisfaction or, worse, a public relations nightmare.

The opportunity for organizations is not to reduce benefits to save money (believing that benefits do not matter) but to make benefits more relevant in the employment deal. Consider the following actions:

  • Provide meaningful choice in plan design to respond to different needs, wants and expectations of employees and their families.
  • Repackage benefits to appeal to different workforce demographics and broaden your benefits horizon. We tend to think of benefits in very narrow and traditional terms—there is so much more that could be considered.
  • Enhance your communication efforts to boost awareness and employee satisfaction. Use technology to reach employees in new and innovative ways—create a buzz about your benefits program and its value. Without awareness and understanding, your employees won’t value the program.
  • Employees are increasingly more willing to spend more to get more. Enhance your benefits plan through additional employee-paid options and/or the introduction of voluntary benefits.
  • Employees want to feel like they belong and that their employer cares. Health management programs are gaining traction not only because they make sense from a future cost management perspective but also because they resonate with employees across all generations. Investing in employee health demonstrates to your employees that you care.
  • Create a stronger linkage between benefits and total rewards, and move toward more flexibility and employee choice across the entire rewards spectrum.

Employee benefits absolutely make a difference in employee engagement—in a supporting role. Benefits can be relevant and part of an employer’s unique value proposition for employees. There are tremendous opportunities to make them more relevant and to make them work better for the employer as well. Those who are successful will have a significant edge in the war for talent.

Brian Lindenberg is a senior partner and the health and benefits leader at Mercer Canada.. He has more than 30 years of experience in the employee benefits field.

These are the views of the author and not necessarily those of Benefits Canada.

Copyright © 2020 Transcontinental Media G.P. Originally published on

Join us on Twitter

Add a comment

Have your say on this topic! Comments that are thought to be disrespectful or offensive may be removed by our Benefits Canada admins. Thanks!

* These fields are required.
Field required
Field required
Field required