Think "small" means close-knit? Think again: Small business employees aren’t feeling as loyal to their employers as one would think, says a new study.

Employee loyalty in small businesses has dropped from 62 percent in 2008, to 44 percent last year, according to MetLife's 9th Annual Study of Employee Benefits Trends, released Monday. The New York insurance firm surveyed 1,412 small-business workers for the study. The loyalty rate at large businesses is 50 percent, according to the study.

Just over a third (34 percent) of small business employees surveyed would like to work for a different employer. "A Workforce Ready to Take Flight," read one headline. At both small and large businesses, one in three employees hopes to be working elsewhere in the next year. A major indicator of loyalty: the quality of employee benefits.

Nearly three-quarters (72 percent) of small business employees who are very satisfied with their benefits feel a very strong sense of loyalty to their employer, while 50 percent of small business employees who are not very satisfied with their benefits want to be working elsewhere. (Meanwhile "employers think all’s well with their workforce," according to a parallel survey. "Despite these changes in the benefits and workplace environment, employers assume that job satisfaction and benefits satisfaction are on par with previous years.")

Over the past three years, small firms have held benefits steady or trimmed them. Since 2007, the number of employers offering prescription drug and disability benefits stayed roughly the same, but slightly fewer offered medical, dental, and life insurance, said the survey.

"The study is a reality check for smaller employers who may still be viewing their workforce through rose-colored glasses," Jeffrey Tulloch, vice president of U.S. business at MetLife, said in a statement. "Economic recovery will not only present opportunities for employers but also for top performers. One area small businesses may overlook is whether their benefits programs are designed as strategically as they could be."

The study suggests one cost-effective approach for small business employers is to increase voluntary benefits. About half of employees surveyed wanted key benefits such as dental and disability, even if they have to foot the bill themselves.