It’s not often you get to speak “fashion” in the insurance industry. But new research finds vision benefits are most definitely “in” with employees right now and the type of lens materials coverage is a surprising key consideration in workers' personal style.

Transitions Optical, Inc. recently conducted its annual Employee Perceptions of Vision Benefits survey and found several trends on the growing popularity of vision benefits, impact of competitive packages in attracting and retaining top employees, and the elements of vision plans that employees are finding appealing – including fashionable lenses and frames.

Steady growth

The big picture trend coming out the 2016 survey is steady growth of vision enrollment. Findings show vision benefits remain a popular election among employees, with eight in 10 employees who are offered a vision plan through their employer choosing to enroll in one. In fact, according to a year-over-year comparison of the data, vision is the only benefit to experience increased enrollment; all other standard offerings (medical, dental, life, 401K programs) saw slight decreases compared to 2015. It is also the first time throughout Transitions Optical's history of surveying employees (beginning in 2010) that vision benefits ranked as the No. 2 most popular election, tying with dental election. Of those who enrolled, the majority (85%) purchased their plan from their employer, while 9% purchased directly from a vision provider and 4% through a health exchange.

The survey also showed that vision is even more popular and valued among millennials than other generations. Millennials were the demographic group most likely to take full advantage of their vision benefits. Nearly 30% of employees aged 18-34 said they used the vision benefits more than once to pay for an eye health appointment in the past year, compared to 18% of Gen Xers and 17% of baby boomers.

Benefits in general are of immense importance to millennials, with more than half (52%) of these employees saying they have, or have known someone who has, accepted a new job in the last year because it offered a competitive benefits package, versus 26% of Gen Xers and 17% of boomers. And one in four millennials say they themselves have accepted a new job to have more competitive benefits. What's even more intriguing is one in four millennials say vision is the most appealing element of the package.

Premium options

Employees place high importance on vision benefits that cover more premium options. In fact, 90% of employees agree that a vision plan is more competitive if it covers premium lens brands, and an equal percentage agree that coverage of premium brands and lens materials helps them select stylish eyewear.

Employers have long assumed that offering a generous frame selection as part of a vision benefit package is important to their style-conscious employees, but this new research suggests that employees’ definition of stylish eyewear extends to lens choice as well, with 39% identifying lens color and tint, and 30% citing lens technology.

An overwhelming majority (87%) said that options such as impact-resistant polycarbonate lenses, photochromic options and anti-reflective coatings were important when selecting a vision plan. Not only do employees – especially millennials – appreciate the look of these options – thinner, barely there lenses, with quality color options – they also can benefit from the light protection they offer, which can reduce the eyestrain and fatigue that plague the digital workforce.

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