Making Your Voluntary Benefits Program a Success

Both employers and employees have much to gain from a solid voluntary benefits program. 

For employees, being able to enroll in an insurance product through a workplace voluntary benefits program offers them the advantage of group pricing, the convenience of paying through payroll deduction, and perhaps access to insurance that would be difficult to get on an individual basis.

For employers, offering a range of voluntary insurance products can help increase employee satisfaction – along with loyalty and morale – and make the business more competitive in attracting and retaining the best talent.

These advantages alone, however, do not ensure that a voluntary benefits program will be a success. Careful planning, including the selection of benefits to offer, choice of vendors and well-crafted communications, are keys to program success. Consider the following:

Get the right mix – Bring in the kinds of benefits that employees want and will enroll in. Survey employees as to what types of additional benefits they would participate in if given the opportunity. Depending on your employee demographics, these could include additional life insurance options, long-term care – or even pet insurance.

Voluntary benefits enable employees to self-customize an individual benefits package that is uniquely appropriate to them.

Look for gaps – Look for gaps in your company’s current benefits coverage, and consider how voluntary benefits plans can be used to fill them. 

For companies that have had to scale back on their regular benefits package, voluntary benefits can be particularly helpful. If your benefits budget is tight and, for example, needs to be dedicated to helping fund medical benefits, offering dental and vision on a voluntary basis gives employees easy and affordable access to these benefits.

Get the word out – While we can often supply some communications materials, your internal communications concerning the program will help to incorporate it into your overall benefits program in the eyes of employees, making it more likely they will enroll. 

Consider announcing new voluntary benefits offerings in a communication from top management, which will demonstrate the company’s commitment to the program.

Make voluntary benefits enrollment a part of your annual enrollment process, and incorporate descriptions and information on voluntary benefits offerings into the communications materials for your core plans.

Work closely with us – We are here to help you make a selection that best fits your company’s needs, and to help you communicate with your employees and enhance enrollment.

This will be particularly important if any of the voluntary benefits have minimum participation requirements. We can come in for presentations, individual meetings or enrollment sessions, all of which can be very effective in increasing participation in these programs.

The takeaway

Voluntary benefits can be a great add-on to any company’s benefits program. Careful planning and consideration of the various issues that can affect participation can increase the chances of program success.

Dental and Vision Benefits Are Inexpensive, and a Big Hit with Workers 

Employers nationwide are looking for ways to attract and retain talent and differentiate themselves from competing employers, and many are looking to the two most popular voluntary benefits: employee dental and vision plans.

That’s important in today’s tight job market. After all, a recent survey from CareerBuilder found that 55% of workers believed an employer’s menu of benefits was more important than salary when considering a job position or offer.

Here’s why dental and vision benefits are so popular and why, if you don’t already do so, you should consider offering them as well.


For many years, dental and vision plans were employer-paid. They were just part of a standard package available to full-time workers at little or no cost to themselves.

However, as businesses have tightened their belts, many of them moved dental and vision plans to the voluntary benefits side of the ledger, with employees picking up some or all of the premium costs via payroll deduction.

Even when workers are covering the costs, dental and vision plans are overwhelmingly popular with them, because of the relatively low out-of-pocket premiums and the terrific value they provide.

Appeal to workers

Employees like vision and dental benefits because they provide real savings that they and their families are able to see every year — because they actually use the plans. 

That’s compared to other voluntary benefits like major medical, life insurance and disability insurance, which employees may need many years down the road, if ever.

According to the “2021 MetLife Employee Benefit Trends Survey,” 68% of employees consider dental insurance and 49% consider vision benefits to be among their “must have” benefits.

Their employers like them because they can provide these benefits, cementing the bond of loyalty between the employer and employee, for a small fraction of the overall compensation budget. Indeed, dental premiums have been falling in recent years.

Appeal to employers

Employers are also embracing dental and vision care as research is increasingly pointing to good dental and vision health as correlated to overall health — hopefully improving worker productivity and reducing eventual health care costs. 

For example, diabetes and high blood pressure are increasingly being discovered during routine eye exams. Optometrists across the country are commonly finding early warning signs of hypertension from observing ocular pressure — a nearly invisible symptom outside of eye exams.

Their patients armed with this knowledge are able to seek intervention before their condition worsens and results in bigger claims against the employer health plan. A study by HCMS Group found that:

  • 34% of all diabetes cases are first identified via eye exams, at a saving of $3,120 per employee, according to HCMS Group.
  • 39% of all hypertension cases are first identified via eye exams, at an average saving of $2,233 per employee.
  • 62% of high-cholesterol cases are first identified through eye exams — saving $1,360 in eventual health care costs thanks to early detection.

Finally, simply offering something like a vision plan — especially to workers who are at high risk of eye strain from staring at a computer for hours every day — sends an important message to workers that you care about their wellness. 

Who pays premiums?

According to the National Association of Dental Plans:

  • Only 6% of employers are currently paying the entire cost of employee dental benefits.
  • At 24% of employers, the worker pays 100% of the cost via a payroll deduction program.
  • 70% of employers share the premium cost with staff who sign up.

Plan structures

Furthermore, about 80% of group dental plans are preferred provider organizations, or PPOs, which aim to control costs by contracting with a limited network of providers willing to cut their rates to plan members in exchange for the promise of a steady stream of plan referrals.

The percentage of plans embracing the PPO model has been increasing, while dental HMOs and old-fashioned indemnity plans have been losing market share. 

Pandemic Brings Voluntary Benefits to Fore

One major repercussion of the COVID-19 pandemic is that employees are embracing the voluntary benefits their employers are offering them, but they’d like to see more choices and issues such as mental health and voluntary benefits have risen to the fore.

The Hartford’s “2021 Future of Benefits Study” found that before the pandemic, benefits were mainly viewed as a means of attracting and retaining talent. But the pandemic changed all that due to the stress of having our work and personal lives upended, as well as the widespread suffering and grief that the coronavirus has caused. 

The most significant shift that The Hartford noted has been in what employees value most and they would like to see employee benefits cover better:

  • Voluntary benefits,
  • Mental health and well-being,
  • Engagement and technology, and
  • Paid leave.

Solid voluntary benefits

Most everyone has felt the personal effects of the pandemic, either contracting COVID-19 and being hospitalized or seeing family or friends get sick and check in for treatment. Many have had loved ones die from the disease. 

As a result, voluntary benefits have become a larger priority for many workers.

In addition, employees are expressing more interest in supplemental benefits such as critical illness insurance, hospital indemnity insurance and accident insurance. Employers listened and during the last year:

  • 36% of companies surveyed added accident insurance, half of them due to the pandemic.
  • 32% added hospital indemnity insurance, nearly two-thirds of them adding the coverage in response to the pandemic.
  • 29% added critical illness insurance, 84% of which did so due to the pandemic.
  • 27% added life insurance, three-fourths of which did so due to the pandemic.
  • 21 added long-term disability, nearly two-thirds of them doing so due to the pandemic.

A new focus on mental health

Besides the physical toll that the COVID-19 pandemic took on people who contracted the disease, many have been dealing with mental health and work-balance issues, particularly if they were suddenly thrust into working from home.

That coupled with the overall stress that the pandemic has had on people, has prompted a greater demand for employers to prioritize mental health for their staff. The study found that:

  • 59% of workers said their company’s culture has been more accepting of mental health challenges this past year.
  • 27% of employees said they struggle with depression or anxiety most days or a few times a week (up from 20% in March 2020).
  • 70% of employers now recognize that employee mental health is a significant workplace issue, up from 59% in June 2020.

While the pandemic has brought greater attention to the mental health challenges many workers face, it has also shed light on the opportunities for employers to support their team.

This can be done by ensuring that your health plans include a mental health component, offering your workers an employee assistance program and providing staff with resources, help and education that address wellness and mental health.

Engagement and tech

There was a quantum shift in 2020 to virtual benefits enrollment due to the logistics and danger of turning open enrollment meetings into super-spreader events.

Employers were left having to figure out how to conduct open enrollment and provide benefits education most effectively if a significant portion of their staff was now working remotely. Most employers opted for remote educational and open enrollment events that include teleconferencing and online portals for choosing or renewing health plans. 

The survey predicts that the reliance on technology will only increase, with 75% of employers saying their company’s open enrollment strategy will depend more strongly on online resources this year.

The Hartford said that personalization would be key to the success of any employee benefits program:

  • 58% of workers surveyed said they would like a personalized recommendation for what insurance benefits they should be buying.
  • 76% of employers said that they are offering personalized benefit recommendations during open enrollment, up from 71% in June 2020.
  • Story-driven enrollment tools can offer an employee context. Presenting the material in a relatable way and tailoring the message based on an understanding of an individual’s benefits needs, influences and life stage, can help someone better evaluate whether a certain benefit is right for them.

Paid time off

Paid time off has become a much hotter topic since the pandemic started. COVID-19 prompted a number of states as well as the federal government to support paid time away from work through new laws and regulations.

Employers also took note, and 75% of them ended up increasing the types of paid time away from work they provided, beyond state and federal requirements.

Here’s what happened:

  • 46% of employers expanded their paid medical leave.
  • 46% expanded their paid sick time.
  • 39% expanded paid family leave.
  • 30% expanded paid parental leave.
  • 30% expanded paid time off or vacation time.