As the market is preparing for the health care exchange system in 2014, voluntary benefits are expected to play a larger role, says Andrea Meyer, benefit manager of WorkSmart Systems Inc., a professional employer organization in Indianapolis. Even under health care reform, medical insurance is projected to continue with its high deductibles, and voluntary benefits complement these plans

Among the most valued voluntary benefits by employees are life insurance, short- and long-term disability, critical illness, health savings accounts and flexible savings accounts, Meyer says. These voluntary benefits are especially valued because they provide a sense of financial protection as employees are increasingly responsible for a larger share of their health care costs

It’s important to people because they’re not getting coverage through their major medical plans in the same way that these voluntary benefits assist,” Meyer says. “Ultimately, voluntary benefits offer a sense of comfort and security in the event of any illness or disease

Offering voluntary benefits can also improve employee engagement and retention, Meyer adds. Potential and current employees alike value well-rounded benefits programs as a major influencer in job satisfaction, especially with today’ high health care costs.

In fact, according to a recent survey by Aflac, a supplemental insurance carrier in Columbus, Ga., 73 percent of employees who say they are extremely or very satisfied with their benefits are also highly satisfied with their jobs. Meanwhile, only 33 percent of respondents who report being dissatisfied with their benefits are highly satisfied with their jobs. This is significant as the survey finds that respondents who are highly satisfied with their benefits are six times more likely to stay with their employers as opposed to respondents who are dissatisfied with their benefits.

Of course, employees can only value their voluntary benefits if they understand them; thus, an employer must focus on creating a communications plan that hits several angles throughout the year, not just during enrollment, Meyer says. With employee groups of various generations and backgrounds, one message through a single platform isn’t enough to target those different viewpoints

We have different audiences that we need to target, so multiple means of communication, whether it’s a hardcopy mailer, an email blast and a webinar, can target your varying perspectives,” Meyer says

When crafting the communication, an employer should make sure the messaging is informative without being pushy, Meyer says. Voluntary benefits certainly have their advantages, but enrolling for all products is not necessary for every employee. Rather, voluntary benefits are there to address the unique needs of each employee

A low-pressure environment allows employees to really take a look at their needs,” Meyer says. “You don’t want employees buying so many voluntary products that their paychecks are minimal. It’s about finding out exactly what their needs are.”

While there are still questions left regarding health care reform, health care costs are rising, and even health care reform can’t stop those higher prices, Meyer says. But voluntary benefits can play an important part in keeping those costs down