1 in 2 workers at small businesses want health benefits over pay raise: survey

'Despite the financial challenges Canadians have faced this year, health remains a top priority'

1 in 2 workers at small businesses want health benefits over pay raise: survey

Many workers employed by small businesses are putting much more importance on health benefits than pay raises.

Overall, 49 per cent of these workers would choose health benefits over the extra cash, found a survey by Blue Cross of Canada.

“Despite the financial challenges Canadians have faced this year, health remains a top priority,” says Tim Bishop, managing director. “These findings were unexpected during times of high inflation and reinforce the inherent value Canadians place on health benefits.”

Legislation around Canada’s universal pharmacare program is coming before the end of this year, if things go as planned, according to the Ottawa health minister.

Savings for employers offering health benefits

Catering to workers’ desire for health benefits can be a money saver for employers, according to the 2023 Blue Cross Small Business Benefits Study, based on a survey of over 2,000 small business decision-makers with fewer than 100 employees.

Over a third (36 per cent) of employees surveyed would rather have health benefits over a $40,000 raise.

Over two in five (41 per cent) would rather have health benefits over a $25,000 raise and 50 per cent would rather have health benefits plans over a $10,000 raise.

Also, while 39 per cent of Canadian small businesses cite cost as a key barrier to offering health benefits plans, the average cost is just $1,822 per employee annually, according to the Blue Cross report.

Health benefits can also be the difference between employee retention and turnover.

Eighty per cent of employees consider a company’s health benefits before accepting a new role, and 73 per cent of those with a health benefits plan would stay with their current employer even if offered more money elsewhere, found the survey.

Meanwhile, 76 per cent of employees without health benefits would leave their current job in favour of one with a better health benefits plan, and over 160,000 small businesses in Canada (one in eight) have seen at least one employee resign for a better health benefits plan. 

Small businesses without health benefits are also at risk of lower employee productivity (21 per cent) and falling behind the competition (19 per cent), according to the report.

How many employers offer health benefits?

Currently, 72 per cent of Canadian small businesses offer health benefits to their employees.

Over nine in 10 (91 per cent) of employees value their benefits plan's impact on their overall health and wellbeing, and 89 per cent say their benefits plan is important to their financial health and security. Peace of mind (37 per cent) is the top reason why employees appreciate health benefits.

“As inflation and affordability concerns remain top of mind, Canadians are seeking stability and security,” says Bishop. “Offering health benefits can foster a healthier, more engaged workforce and provide employees with the reassurance that their health and the health of their loved ones is covered.”

By modelling inclusive, health-centred behaviours to ensure workplace norms support health and wellbeing, and allowing for the necessary flexibilities that enable access to care, employers can make a significant difference across company cultures, one doctor previously claimed.

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