Adding vision care benefits is a great way to perk up a boring benefits package.

Vision care benefits can increase worker productivity, and they appeal to most employees.

Perhaps more important, many talented employees who have come to think of employer-paid major medical, group dental and life insurance as routine still think of vision care benefits as a valuable extra.

Jobson Optical Group, New York, reports that eye conditions affected six in 10 Americans–more than 175 million people. As a result, 72% of adults 18 years and older require some form of vision correction.

The National Eye Institute says the cost of eye and vision disorders is a staggering $68 billion a year, not including the impact on jobs and productivity. What’s more, the number of Americans with age-related eye disease and visual impairment is expected to double over the next three decades.

Employers are starting to take note.

The percentage of employers offering some type of vision benefits increased to 77% in 2005, from 50% in 1997, according to Hay Group, Philadelphia, a personnel consulting firm.

Other trends affecting interest in vision benefits include a major demographic shift and a growing recognition that providing basic vision benefits improves workers’ overall health.

In many industries, thanks to the aging of the baby boomers, the typical worker is now over age 40.

About 30% of U.S. adults over 40 either have presbyopia–an age-related condition that causes difficulty focusing at close range–or will develop it by 2014.

Workers who have presbyopia need reading glasses. Otherwise, they may miss important details in work-related documents or make more typos than usual in their own letters and reports.

Meanwhile, employers are discovering that eye care is an important component of any comprehensive health care program.

An annual, in-depth eye exam by a qualified eye doctor not only ensures clear vision but also can detect early warning signs of disease. Symptoms of diseases such as multiple sclerosis, cardiovascular disease and diabetes can be detected in their earliest stages during a comprehensive eye exam.

Regular eye exams are particularly important for older workers with diabetes and high blood pressure. These patients are at risk for age-related eye diseases, such as macular degeneration, that silently can impair vision and ultimately lead to blindness.