How COVID-19 is shaping the future of voluntary benefits

With so much uncertainty these days, employees may be looking for new ways to feel secure and stable. By their nature, employee benefits often provide that – a financial cushion if you become sick or disabled, protection for your family if something happens to you, or resources to deal with stress and anxiety. As employers struggle to make payroll and keep their businesses going, voluntary benefits may be a solution. Because voluntary benefits are offered by the employer but paid for by the employee, they provide a way for employers to offer coverages they might not otherwise be able to afford.  This allows employees to get the coverage they need personally and for their family, in the amounts they want.

COVID-19 drives greater need for and interest in voluntary benefits

Doug Dalziel, Principal at OneDigital, a Health and Benefits broker, believes the COVID-19 pandemic will increase the need for voluntary benefits in at least the near future. 

“We’re starting to talk to employers that are 1/1/2021 renewals and voluntary benefits are coming up. If they want to add benefits, now is not the time to add new costs, so the ability to add voluntary benefits to help employees cover gaps in their protection is important,” says Dalziel.

A recent study by Eastbridge Consulting Group, Inc. confirms this idea.1 According to the study, 39% of brokers believe employers will be more enthusiastic about voluntary benefits over the next 12 months with 36% believing more employees will enroll in voluntary benefits. 

“I think we’ll see an increase in hospitalization benefits and for companies who don’t have a robust disability policy, I think people are seeing the need for that now,” said Dalziel. “They’re seeing that this could really affect me. It’s times like these – during a crisis – when vulnerabilities get exposed.”

It’s because of those vulnerabilities that technology is also leading the way in voluntary benefits these days. 

Pandemic exposes the need for self-service enrollment

Just a year ago, a study showed that 80% of employees were not knowledgeable about their benefits package, and a full 30% were outright confused.2 Not more than a few months ago, the group’s benefits broker might have sat in a room with the employees, face-to-face, handed out a brochure and talked through the benefits, step by step. That was before COVID-19. 

Now, even if employers run an essential business or have been allowed to open up their offices and bring their employees back to work, most are not willing to risk that face-to-face exposure. So, they turn to technology to help answer their employees’ questions and get them enrolled in the right plan.

“Even the concept of having an open enrollment meeting, where everyone’s got six-foot social distancing, is just not possible,” said Dalziel.  “You’d need a football field for a large company. That’s why the push toward digital and having everything online makes sense. You’ll access all of your benefits materials online, you’ll enroll online. We’re projecting more online business, more video conferencing and entirely online enrollments.” 

According to the Eastbridge study, brokers anticipate 44% of employers plan to make additional self-service enrollment options available for voluntary plans with nearly 10% planning to implement self-service enrollment options exclusively.

And these days, with nearly everyone using the internet to communicate, hold meetings, and conduct everyday business, voluntary benefits with enrollments online may just be the standard in the benefits world.

1 Broker Perspectives on the COVID-19 Pandemic and Voluntary Frontlinetm Report, May 2020


All group insurance products are issued either by Equitable Financial or Equitable America, which have sole responsibility for their respective insurance and backed solely by their claims-paying obligations. Some products are not available in all states.

GE-3143279 (06/2020) (Exp. 06/2022)