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Employees working longer hours

CHICAGO — If it seems like you’re working harder than you used to, it’s probably not your imagination.

Many companies have increased employees’ workloads and put a higher priority on productivity since the recession began, according to a MetLife Inc. study released today.

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 percent of surveyed companies with more than 1,000 employees reduced any benefits from late 2008 to late 2009, while 19 percent 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 percent of employees surveyed said their workload had increased in the past 12 months. Employers did not dispute that, with 36 percent saying productivity improved as they put a higher priority on getting more out of their workers.

The focus on productivity was the highest in the eight years of the survey, with 84 percent of employers describing it as a very important objective, up from 79 percent a year earlier.

Bill Raczko, senior vice president of MetLife’s U.S. business, credited companies for avoiding the temptation to cut employee benefits in the face of bottom-line pressures.

“Employers’ concern never turned into panic and they retained their long-term view on benefits,” he said.

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

The study found a strong correlation between benefits satisfaction and job satisfaction, MetLife noted.

“Employees have come to increasingly value their benefits packages, and they really are precious in a recession,” said Raczko.

What’s more, financial concerns have continued to weigh on workers. About two-thirds of employees surveyed, or 68 percent, said they were affected in the past 12 months by increased feelings of job insecurity, a decrease in the quality of their work or being distracted at work because of financial worries.

MetLife said 45 percent of employees surveyed said they live paycheck to paycheck, an increase from 37 percent in 2006.

However, employees’ overall concerns about financial security have subsided to pre-recession levels or below after soaring in the 2008 survey.

On retirement issues, 52 percent of employees said they were behind where they hoped to be in saving for retirement, up from 47 percent in 2007. Only one in four respondents said they felt they were on track to save enough for retirement.

Many have a solution in mind: working longer. Fully 59 percent of employees surveyed said they now plan to work past age 65, up from 53 percent a year ago.

The study by New York-based insurer MetLife, was based on separate surveys of employers and employees in the fourth quarter of 2009.

Both sets of interviews were conducted by Gfk Custom Research North America. More than 1,500 interviews were conducted with benefits decision-makers at companies with two or more employees, and more than 1,300 interviews were conducted with full-time employees age 21 and over at companies with a minimum of two employees.

The study has a statistical margin of error of plus or minus 3 percent.


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