Benefits survey reveals satisfaction and suggestions

More than 90% of employees who responded said the benefits offered by Iowa State meet their needs, according to results from the benefits survey administered last fall.

Available Nov. 11-18, 2022, university human resources (UHR) collaborated with consulting firm Mercer to design and conduct the benefits survey in hopes of gaining insight into the overall perception of the university's benefits as well as employee concerns. The response rate was 42% with 2,780 faculty and staff completing the survey.

Feeling good

Seventy-eight percent of employees said they felt proud to work for ISU and 74% would recommend it as a great place to work and feel motivated to help the university succeed. Overall benefits satisfaction also was positive -- 86% of respondents agreed that the benefits are competitive with those in the geographic area, while 65% felt the benefits are competitive with other higher education institutions.

Table: Benefits satisfaction
Benefit Iowa State satisfaction US Norm (provided by Mercer)
Total benefits package 88% 76%
Medical plan out-of-pocket costs 76% 46%
University match for mandatory retirement options 87% 73%
Paid time off 88% 76%
Choice of medical plan options 89% N/A
Medical plan cost deductible 79% N/A

Benefits play a significant role in attracting and retaining employees, particularly professional and scientific (P&S) and merit positions. Sixty-five percent of employees considered benefits as a factor when choosing to work at ISU -- of that total, 48% of faculty report benefits as an attraction factor. While 69% of faculty consider benefits when it comes to retention, more than 80% of P&S and merit employees indicate benefits as an important reason to stay.

Responses to the open-ended question "Which benefits most contribute to your satisfaction with ISU?" highlighted appreciation for the accessibility and affordability of health care, amount of vacation and sick time, work flexibility and retirement plans.

Ed Holland, UHR director of benefits, said it was gratifying to see the overall positive responses.

"The university invests a significant amount of money to provide a great benefits package," he said. "It's clear that employees notice."

Room to grow

The survey results also included feedback from employees detailing the potential for improvement in some areas. The primary concerns, in order of frequency, were work-life balance, job security, ability to retire and personal fulfillment. Planning for monthly expenses and mental/emotional health tied for fifth on the list. Top concerns varied by job family -- work-life balance was first for P&S employees and faculty, while planning for monthly expenses was prioritized by employees in merit positions.

Employees who provided comments for the question "What is one thing that could make ISU benefits better?" noted a desire for more advancement opportunities, competitive pay and recognition for high performers as well as improved vision and dental benefits.

While the results show room for growth in certain areas, Holland said it's to be expected and part of the reason why it's important to gauge employees' understanding and perceptions of the benefits program.

What's next

Next steps based on the 2022 survey are underway as UHR leaders identify possible initiatives and build out an action plan. Some items already are being addressed, such as those around the UHR benefits website. Though 77% of respondents felt they had a good understanding of their benefits, only half of respondents viewed the UHR benefits website as easy to navigate when looking for answers. Holland said UHR was in the process of introducing ALEX, the virtual benefits counselor shortly before the survey was administered and have since updated the benefits education page.

Similarly, support for parents emerged as a concern in the survey and resulted in parenting support resources being made available through Adventure2 in January. Holland said they also anticipate releasing a suite of financial well-being services in Adventure2 in response to the survey data. There's more good news for those considering or already engaged with Adventure2 -- Holland noted that employees in Adventure2 consistently responded more positively throughout the survey.

"The results will continue to guide us as we review and consider our current benefit structure," Holland said. "Overall, it was overwhelmingly positive but this is why you do surveys -- to uncover areas where we can fine-tune our offerings."