Tech Survey: ‘Despair’ among employees

HOUGHTON – Constant changes and reductions to Michigan Technological University’s benefits package are starting to negatively affect employee morale, according to a survey conducted recently by the University Senate’s Fringe Benefits Committee.

Committee Chair Nancy Barr presented the findings Wednesday night after a benefits presentation by Tech administrators. The Senate held a special meeting for both presentations in a larger room, R.L. Smith Building (ME-EM) Room 111, to invite more input from the campus community.

“I’ve been at Michigan Tech six years, and the benefits package has changed completely since I first arrived,” Barr said. “It’s been incremental, but it has changed a lot in a short period of time. It seemed like a good time to get some feedback on how this was impacting people. We also wanted to provide the (Benefits Liaison Group) and benefits office with some ideas for ways to improve the current benefits package. There are a lot of ideas out there.”

The seven-member Fringe Benefits Committee sought input from employees about how they use their current benefits packages and what they value most. A written report will be drafted soon detailing the results, which will be posted at least in summary form at the Senate website,

Of the 1,289 people invited to take the survey, 824 completed it and 106 others did not finish but answered some questions – a 64 percent response rate of benefits-eligible employees. The survey contained 27 multiple-choice and four short-answer questions, but one overarching sentiment came through, according to Barr.

“One person used the term ‘despair.’ There’s a lot of despair on campus about the current compensation package,” she said. “You have to remember it’s been several years since people feel they’ve had meaningful raises. There have been several years in a row where health insurance has changed, premiums have increased, deductibles have increased, co-pays have increased, the (Health Savings Account) contribution has gone away, they now have to pay for parking, people have lost sick time.

“All these things have come in a short period of time and it’s created an atmosphere – at least as reflected in the survey – of people are tired of seeing their benefits cut. … I think people understand there are constraints on the budget, but they’re tired of bearing the cost for this.”

According to the survey, 66 percent of respondents rated salary and fringes of equal importance in their compensation package. In all, 56 percent of people said the benefits package was a very important factor in their acceptance of an offer of employment at Tech, compared to just 48 percent saying the same of salary.

One “disturbing” response, according to Barr, was that nearly 54 percent of respondents said Tech health plans caused them or someone in their family to delay health care.

“This might be something we want to drill down into further at some point,” Barr said.

A range of other quantitative and qualitative results were reported, and Barr stressed the importance of Tech administrators using the results.

“There’s a lot of really good, solid feedback here,” she said. “Considering the response rate and previous surveys done over the last 15 years, I think this is the most comprehensive. You really get a flavor for how people feel about things.

“… In the campus community right now, I would have to say morale is pretty low in general, and I think (change to benefits) is a big part of that.”

She also stressed to the benefits office or Senate to do what they can to better inform people in the campus community, since many do not seem to understand the constraint Tech is under of not being allowed to pay more than 80 percent of health care costs.

Some benefits Tech offers, as detailed in the earlier benefits presentation, include, in addition to health/dental/vision plans, an array of wellness programs, life insurance, accidental death and dismemberment packages, short- and long-term disability, matching retirement program and employee education and assistance programs.

More benefits details can be found at