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April 29, 2010 Volume 31, No. 29

UM benefits survey provides new level of employee input in planning process

Rich data

Different demographic groups have different preferences

When the University of Missouri System surveyed faculty and staff about their pay and benefit preferences this past February, the survey generated millions of pieces of data that will help the UM System develop its long-term strategy of the university’s benefit and retirement program.

The survey isn’t intended to be used to cut or reduce the overall amount spent on University benefits, said Betsy Rodriguez, UM vice president for human resources. Rather, the goal is use the survey information to help “ensure that University resources are being spent according to the priorities and preferences of its employees,” Rodriguez said.

She shared some initial findings from the survey with the Board of Curators at its April 15 meeting in Rolla. Rodriguez stressed that the survey data is so large and so rich that they are still analyzing and “drilling down” into the results.

No recommendations to the board are expected before next year, Rodriguez said. “We will not be making any recommendations for changes without substantial review and discussion with campus leadership and faculty and staff groups.” 

“We have never had anything quite this strong before in terms of employee input,” said Mike Paden, UM’s associate vice president for benefits. “The data will allow us to generate an almost unlimited number of ‘what-if’ scenarios.”

Rodriguez said that her office and consulting firm Hewitt Associates, which developed the survey, consider the 37 percent response rate a good one. Nearly 7,000 employees — 6,000 staff and 1,000 tenured or tenure-track faculty members — out of a total of 19,000 benefit-eligible employees participated.

The response rate ranged from a low of 29 percent at UM-Kansas City to a high of 51 percent UM System employees. Mizzou had a 39 percent response rate and University Hospitals and Clinics had 34 percent. 

The demographic profile of those who responded to the survey matches almost exactly with the University’s overall demographics. Half are in hourly positions making less than $50,000 a year. Twenty-five percent will be eligible for retirement in the next five years, and 40 percent are not vested in the retirement plan because they have been employed at the University for fewer than five years.

The average age is 46, and 92 percent are enrolled in UM’s medical plan while 60 percent cover a spouse or children in their families. 

Not surprisingly, Rodriguez said, different employee demographic groups expressed different preferences for benefit offerings, although pay increases were a top priority for all age groups.

For instance, younger and lower-paid employees preferred more immediate benefits — such as pay increases and lower medical premiums and out-of-pocket medical expenses — than longer-term benefits such as pensions and retiree medical programs.

Survey respondents were polarized on the issue of extending University benefits to same-sex domestic partners if additional resources become available. A total of 34 percent either agreed or strongly agreed that those benefits should be extended; 34 percent disagreed or strongly disagreed.

As an interesting side note, nearly 1,200 faculty and staff members did not answer the domestic partners question. On other questions, only 50 to 100 employees did not answer. 

And responses to several other questions could raise future concerns: 44 percent indicated they were either excelling or performing in health behavior, while 56 percent said they were trying or failing. A total of 32 percent felt they were competitively paid by the University compared to other places they might work; 41 percent indicated that the University inspires them to do their best work every day.