The big story in 2014 for employee benefits — after health care reform — is the substantial role that voluntary benefits plays for employers and their employees.  Both traditional and nontraditional voluntary benefits are making their way to the forefront of the benefits package that employers will offer next year.

See also: Health care reform: The voluntary benefits opportunity of a lifetime?

1. Voluntary benefits will be indispensable.

Today’s benefits landscape is still shaping up as health care reform plays out over the next year.  But whether employers choose to offer compliant group health insurance or send their employees to the health care exchanges, voluntary benefits will be taking a role, coming to the forefront as a solution to helping round-out the employee benefits package.

As a result, a wider array of traditional voluntary benefits will be included in the employee benefits package starting in 2014. Among the traditional voluntary benefits employers will add are gap coverage, short-term disability, cancer, critical illness, prescription, dental, life insurance and hospital supplemental policies.

Employees want an array of voluntary benefits2. Employees want an array of voluntary benefits that meet their diverse needs. Employee benefits remain an important driver of employee satisfaction. Well-designed benefits plans based on desires and needs of employees can enable companies to strengthen their ability to attract and retain workers. More than three-quarters of employees responding to the Employee Benefit Research Institute’s “2013 Health and Voluntary Workplace Benefits Survey” say the benefits package an employer offers prospective employees is extremely or very important in their decision to take the job.

See also: Voluntary products poised for takeoff in 2014

Employees already started speaking out in favor of voluntary benefits this year and will do even more so in 2014 with the impact of health care reform and to meet their diverse personal needs. A TNS Omnibus survey reported that 86 percent of employees say it is important to be able to customize all of their benefits to fit their individual lifestyle.

With voluntary benefits, employees can customize their benefits package and choose what suits their individual needs. They can build a financial safety net by adding on traditional voluntary insurance products as well as nontraditional voluntary benefits such as employee purchase programs, financial education, pet insurance, legal plans and identity theft policies.

Nontraditional voluntary benefits will become more mainstream3. Nontraditional voluntary benefits will become more mainstream.     

While employers have become more familiar in recent years with traditional voluntary benefits, this past year has seen nontraditional voluntary benefits offered more frequently in the benefits package. A recent Eastbridge Consulting survey shows that employee purchase programs are among the most popular, with 13 percent of employees owning the product through work. Next is legal plans with 8 percent; identity protection at 3 percent; and pet insurance at 1 percent.  Eastbridge notes that ownership of these products is low because many have only just begun to be accepted as employee benefits.

Look for this to escalate in next year. Nontraditional voluntary benefits offer workers a way to obtain items and services through convenient payroll-deduction. Most of the nontraditional offerings provide workers with immediate tangible benefits which further increase their appeal as they can be used year-round to obtain something that an employee needs, rather than many core benefits that employees only appreciate when they are sick or injured.

Nontraditional voluntary benefits such as group legal plans, financial planning, and employee purchase programs will continue to grow in popularity as viable financial-support tools.

Employers will add more financial wellness benefits to their voluntary benefit offerings4. Employers will add more financial wellness benefits to their voluntary benefit offerings.

Employees’ financial problems are employers’ problems, too, because employees don’t leave their financial problems at home. They bring them to work not only in the form of stress, but they also deal with their financial issues while they are at work. If employers want their business to run smoothly, they have to consider how to obtrusively help their employees with their finances

A growing number of companies have discovered they can build employees’ loyalty, increase their productivity and improve job satisfaction by providing programs that help them achieve financial wellness. Many have discovered new, no-cost and easy-to-implement options to help employees develop healthier relationships with money.

They’re offering financial education and financial wellness programs at work in an attempt to help employees change their money behaviors and increase their financial literacy, including on-site money management, financial planning seminars and employee purchase programs. 

Nontraditional voluntary benefits will continue to diversify5. Nontraditional voluntary benefits will continue to diversify.

Among the latest nontraditional voluntary benefits on the market are financial planning and online educational services, including college courses, certifications and career development courses for health care professionals.

Empowering employees with educational benefits can be a valuable addition to the benefits package. Look for more to emerge in 2014, such as GME and GMAT offered on the educational side. Also coming will be affordable solutions for work-life balance such as vacations available through employee purchase programs.