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6 nontraditional voluntary benefit trends to watch in 2017
Predicting or forecasting about uncertain events isn’t based on extrasensory perception or an informed guess. And it’s usually not a scientific explanation. Most of the time, predicting trends is based on experience or knowledge.

In the case of employee benefits, it’s more about understanding the industry and what the players in the industry — including the workforce, employers, brokers and providers — are saying and doing.

We’re seeing a thriving economy and positive job market right now which means attracting and retaining employees is a bigger challenge for employers than it has been in years. Today’s diverse workforce, coupled with employees’ desire to choose benefits that are important to them, means that companies are recognizing the role that nontraditional voluntary benefits can play in distinguishing their employee benefits package. There’s no doubt that traditional voluntary benefits that supplement core benefits are important. However, with a workforce dominated by millennials — who clearly want it ‘their way’ — the availability of nontraditional voluntary benefits provide a way for employers to engage employees in all generations.

What’s ahead in 2017 for nontraditional voluntary benefits? Here are the six trends I believe we will be seeing.
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1. Variety shines.
A selection of nontraditional voluntary options is a must-have for companies who want a competitive benefits package. Nontraditional voluntary benefits — including identity theft/cyber security insurance, financial counseling services, tuition assistance and eldercare — have risen in popularity in recent years because they allow the employee to choose benefits that meet their changing needs and lifestyles. Since employees pay the entire cost of nontraditional voluntary benefits, there’s no reason for employers not to offer a good variety. And look for more options to emerge, including the more innovative ones like IVF egg harvesting that emerged a few years ago.
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2. Customization 2.0 is here.
There’s more to customizing benefits than employee age alone. While looking at the common characteristics of the generations is valuable, over-generalizing the generations doesn’t foster customization because it fails to take into consideration differences in lifestyles, financial habits and more. Organizations that take customization of benefits to heart and embrace further segmentation of the generations will be able to structure their benefits in a way that will attract, retain and engage the talent they need for the future. 2017 will see employers taking customization to another level by segmenting the generations.
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3. It’s going digital.
Millennials are driving the digitalization of benefits education and benefits communication. In 2017, look for even more use of mobile, video, social media, benefit portals and interactive tools for benefits education and communication. Optimizing benefits information and mobility to multiple screens will generate higher engagement and satisfaction with today’s employee base.
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4. Financial flu gets treatment.
In the past few years, employers have come to realize that financial health is just as important as physical health. Study after study confirms that employees who are financially stressed are distracted by their finances at work and are less productive. Companies are increasing their financial wellness offerings by adding nontraditional benefits that help employees address their financial questions and overall understanding. 2017 will see more companies adopt these types of benefits, such as financial education and counseling services, employee purchase programs, employee discount programs and short-term loans.
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5. Wellness technology dominates.
Wearables and other wellness technology items are reinvigorating the popularity of wellness programs. With data emerging revealing improved wellness ROI from fitness tracking devices, even more employers will promote their use. In the last few years companies began either subsidizing or allowing wearables to be obtained through payroll deduction and this will escalate with costs savings and positive health impact being shown.
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6. Online education scores.
Online education benefits will come to the forefront in 2017 both as a method to reduce student debt and to bolster career development. Empowering employees with educational benefits can be a valuable addition to the benefits package, especially when it is offered as a voluntary benefit at no cost to their company. Nontraditional voluntary benefits that provide options for employees or their children to access online college courses are an alternative to mounting student debt. Likewise career development opportunities available to workers including professional certifications and career diplomas can be available through a nontraditional voluntary benefit. Look for more use of this type of benefit in 2017.

In 2017, we will see more companies embracing nontraditional voluntary benefits because employers have to look for innovative ways to differentiate themselves to current and prospective employees.