Voluntary benefits are becoming a mainstay in the employee benefits package. I don’t think anyone — brokers, employers or even employees — doubt that today. Voluntary benefits are popular because even though employees are paying for these benefits, they can get what they want by customizing their benefits package for their own particular needs. 

Traditional voluntary benefits include products that complement company-sponsored core benefits and round out a benefit portfolio that suits employees’ individual needs. With non-traditional voluntary benefits, employees can even further personalize their benefits package, choosing optional benefits that resonate the most with their needs and lifestyles. 

That’s an important consideration today. With a thriving economy and positive job market, attracting and retaining employees is a bigger challenge for employers than it has been in years. With a diverse workforce and employees’ desire to “want it their way,” companies are recognizing the role that both traditional and non-traditional voluntary benefits can play in distinguishing their employee benefits package. 

We’ve all known that traditional voluntary benefits have a place in the benefits mix. Now, non-traditional voluntary benefits are becoming standard inclusions in employee benefits packages. Not only are the non-traditional voluntary benefits a true differentiator for employers, but they also allow employees to extend their financial safety net as well as enhance their personal lives. The ability to have these choices engages employees more than other benefits. 

So what should we expect in 2017 in non-traditional voluntary benefits? Here are six trends to look for: 

1.  Employers will offer more non-traditional voluntary benefit options. 

A selection of non-traditional voluntary options is a must-have for companies who want a competitive benefits package. Non-traditional voluntary benefits — including services such as identity theft protection, cyber security insurance, financial counseling services, tuition assistance and elder care — 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 non-traditional voluntary benefits, there’s no reason for employers not to offer a variety. There are new non-traditional voluntary benefits appearing every year. And I predict that we should look for more options to emerge, including the more innovative ones like egg harvesting that showed up a few years ago. 

A recent benefit trends study from MetLife showed that the more voluntary benefit options employees have, the happier and more loyal they are. This certainly demonstrates to employers that they need to offer a variety of voluntary benefits. In fact, the MetLife study reported that employee satisfaction is found at companies that offer 11 or more benefits. 

2.    Customization will go to a new level. 

There’s more to customizing benefits than employee age alone. While looking at the 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. Looking closer at personas within the generations based on lifestyle and buying preferences provides a method for employers to further customize benefits that are important to their workforce.  

Organizations that take customization of benefits to heart and embrace this 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. The coming year will see employers taking customization to another level by segmenting the generations.

3.    Digitalization will expand even more. 

Now that millennials dominate the workforce, they 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. 

4.    Financial wellness offerings will increase. 

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. Therefore, companies are looking for ways to treat their employees’ financial flu. 

Companies are increasing their financial wellness offerings, adding non-traditional benefits that help employees address their financial questions and overall understanding. 2017 will see more companies adopt these types of benefits, including financial education, budgeting tools and advice and counseling services; employee purchase programs; employee discount programs; and short-term loans. 

5.    Wellness technology continues to prove its value. 

Wearables and other wellness technology items are re-invigorating the popularity of wellness programs. With data emerging in 2016 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. 

6.    Online education benefits will empower employees. 

Online education benefits will come to the forefront in 2017 both as a method to reduce student debt and 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. Non-traditional 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 non-traditional voluntary benefit. Look for more use of this type of benefit in 2017. 

Employers are increasingly embracing non-traditional voluntary benefits and I believe 2017 will see much more of this endeavor as employers look for innovative ways to differentiate themselves to current and prospective employees. Let’s see how the year plays out!