The economic ills of the past few years have not had a significant impact on employers’ ability or willingness to provide workplace benefit programs. And employees, especially those among the Gen X and Gen Y set, are relying more heavily on those benefits to help them with their financial needs, according to MetLife’s 10th Annual Study of Employee Benefits Trends.

The study was conducted during September and October of 2011 and consisted of two distinct studies fielded by GfK Custom Research North America. The employer survey comprised 1,519 interviews with benefits decision-makers at companies with staff sizes of at least two employees. The employee sample comprised 1,412 interviews with full-time employees age 21 and over, at companies with a minimum of two employees.

According to the survey results, nearly half (49 percent) of all employees said that because of the economy they are counting on employers’ benefits programs to help with their financial protection needs, and that percentage climbs to 55 percent for Gen X workers and 66 percent for Gen Y.

According to MetLife, the study results are an indicator that the past several years have eroded employees’ retirement savings. Further, the percentage of employees who have fallen behind schedule in their progress toward retirement savings increased from 45 percent in 2004 to 50 percent in 2011. More than one-third of surveyed Baby Boomers (35 percent) say that as a result of economic conditions they plan to postpone their retirement.

On the employer side, 60 percent of those surveyed reported that economic conditions are creating additional opportunities to leverage workplace benefits programs to achieve their objectives, and only about 10 percent, regardless of company size, say they plan to reduce benefits.

Among the employers that see additional opportunities to leverage their benefits programs, 91 percent feel strongly that benefits can be used to retain employees, 86 percent say that benefits can greatly increase employee productivity, and 80 percent feel that benefits can greatly help attract employees – all key objectives, notes the insurer.

“The workplace has changed rather dramatically over the last decade since MetLife began doing its annual Study of Employee Benefits Trends. Ten years ago, many Baby Boomers were planning to retire at age 65, Gen Y workers were just entering the workplace, and communication vehicles like Facebook and Twitter didn’t exist. However, employers’ top benefits objectives have remained consistent, and the study highlights ways employers can evolve their strategies to cost-effectively attract and retain a talented and productive workforce,” says Anthony Nugent, EVP, MetLife.

Pat Speer writes for Insurance Networking News.