(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

Hartford Financial Services Group Inc. – a company that has focused on the group disability insurance market for years — is shifting more toward the voluntary market.

Hartford Financial, Hartford (NYSE:HIG), still sells even voluntary long-term disability and short-term disability plans using a group chassis, but the company has just come out with a Web-based tool – the MyTomorrow system – to help consumers learn about disability benefits online.

In addition to a cute, animated biplane, the site includes videos to help tell consumers what disability insurance is and why they need to think about protecting their income.

Hartford can make customized versions of the page for employers with as few as 4 plan enrollees, and the customized versions can refer to, and only to, the benefits an employer actually offers.

An employer can include information about non-Hartford benefits as well as Hartford benefits, according to Mike Fish, a Hartford group benefits vice president.

Given the soft state of the economy and the uncertainty about the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 (PPACA), “we’re seeing more active shifts to voluntary,” Fish said during a visit to the LifeHealthPro offices in Hoboken, N.J.

Most employers that have traditional employer-paid or contributory group plans are keeping those plans in place, but more are biting the bullet and jumping over to voluntary, and most employers adding new disability plans are adding voluntary plans, Fish said.

“Employers don’t want to take on any additional costs for themselves,” Fish said.

Disability insurance executives have talking about the need to “market to the worker” for more than a decade, but the industry is still struggling to adapt to courting the employee, rather than the employer, Fish said.

Employers may understand from first-hand experience what having disability insurance might mean to a worker who suffers a catastrophic illness or injury not covered by workers’ compensation, but many workers do not and may not understand the importance of protecting their ability to earn an income, Fish said.

When Hartford commissioned a worker survey, it found, for example, that workers were more likely to say they want dental insurance and vision benefits than life insurance or disability insurance.

Hartford, which has been active in selling supplemental health products through associations and financial institutions, is seeing increased employer and employee interest in products that can help workers fill in the gaps left by high-deductible health plans, Fish said.

Hartford is already filing a critical illness policy aimed at the voluntary benefits market, and it soon will be filing an accident product and a hospital indemnity product, Fish said.

THE MEAT GRINDER

About 66% of U.S. workers say they are feeling high stress levels, and 29% say they come to work feeling too stressed to be effective on 5 or more days per year, according to ComPsych Corp., Chicago.

ComPsych, an employee assistance plan (EAP) company, has based those figures on results from a survey of employees who seek help from the EAP.

Workers name their workload as the top cause of stress, followed by people issues and difficulty with finding time to fit in family responsibilities with work.

Dr. Richard Chaifetz, the chairman of ComPsych, said employers are still trying to do more with fewer workers, and that is leading to stress.