A group of restaurant workers stand around a woman seated at a table outside of a restaurant. The four restaurant employees are three men and a woman. One of the men is wearing a chef's jacket and hat; the rest of the restaurant employees are wearing aprons. The woman at the table is wearing a black-and-white-striped shirt and holding a digital tablet. Some papers are spread on the table in front of her. All five people are facing the viewer and smiling. In the background is the space outside of the restaurant, with the business's building off to one side, some trees and other buildings off to the other side, and a glass-paneled awning extending over the sidewalk above the group of people.
Investing in voluntary benefits allows businesses to provide options that match the needs of their unique workforces. — Getty Images/Hispanolistic

Some small businesses may face challenges when it comes to retaining employees’ satisfaction and loyalty. However, by investing in voluntary benefits programs that cater to the individualized needs of their teams, business owners can show their commitment to their employees’ well-being.

Data from MetLife’s 2023 U.S. Employee Benefit Trends Study sheds light on the importance of offering a range of benefits and tailoring them to individual needs, simplifying administration, and effectively communicating these offerings. By doing so, small businesses can cultivate a happier, healthier workforce and compete with larger organizations in terms of employee satisfaction and loyalty, ultimately securing their future success.

“Small businesses may not have the financial ability to provide ‘big business’ benefits, particularly during times of economic uncertainty,” said Cynthia Smith, Senior Vice President of Regional Business at MetLife. “However, even a small investment in workplace benefits and programs can improve outcomes for employees, particularly when employers focus on the benefits most in demand among today’s talent.”

[Read more: Employee Care: 5 Engagement Tactics for Growing Successful Teams]

Why invest in voluntary benefits?

Today's workforce is increasingly diverse, and employees are looking for benefits that align with their unique circumstances.

“Offering expanded benefit choices, including employee-paid voluntary options, helps employees get the protection they need at competitive group rates,” Smith explained. “In turn, stand-out benefits can help to recruit and retain the top talent that small businesses need to succeed.”

Voluntary employee benefits, such as non-medical benefits and wellness programs, offer small businesses a competitive edge in attracting and retaining talent. These benefits, while optional, demonstrate a commitment to employee well-being and work-life balance, making the company more appealing to potential hires.

“Non-medical benefits such as dental, vision, life, disability insurance, or legal plans are a huge value-add for any small business,” Smith explained. “In fact, over half (56%) of small business employees state that employee benefits/workplace benefits offered to them make them feel more engaged at work, and 62% report that they make them feel more loyal to their employer.”

Furthermore, these additional benefits contribute to higher employee satisfaction and retention rates by fostering a sense of value and support. Voluntary benefits allow employees to customize their coverage by providing options that align with their individual needs and preferences, ultimately leading to a more engaged workforce.

The top voluntary benefits for small businesses

MetLife's extensive customer base provides valuable insights into the voluntary benefits most valued by today's workers. Among the top preferences are dental insurance (74%) and vision care (67%). These traditional benefits continue to be crucial for employee satisfaction and well-being.

The 2023 U.S. Employee Benefit Trends Study also found that there is growing interest in emerging benefits. Over half of employees express interest in disability programs (54%), and demand for pet insurance (21%) is on the rise compared to data from 2022. Moreover, more than 3 in 10 employees desire benefits such as critical illness insurance (41%), accident insurance (38%), disability insurance (35%), and financial planning tools/workshops (34%) that their friends, family, and colleagues have.

[Read more: Mental Wellness Benefits That Could Help Employee Retention]

Non-medical benefits such as dental, vision, life, disability insurance, or legal plans are a huge value-add for any small business.

Cynthia Smith, Senior Vice President of Regional Business, MetLife

Exploring voluntary benefits with MetLife

For businesses considering voluntary benefits for the first time, it can be difficult to know where to begin. Speaking with a professional from a trusted provider like MetLife and receiving concrete answers to your questions can provide some clarity.

“By working with MetLife, small business owners have access [to] MetLife’s experience in this market as well as its small business experts,” Smith explained. “The dedicated small business team works with over 40,000 small businesses, each with its own needs.”

Here are a few of Smith’s top tips to help streamline the enrollment process:

  1. Contact a representative. To kickstart the process, contact an expert to guide you.
  2. Ask questions. Inquire about the range of benefit offerings, customization options, and the flexibility to meet the needs of your business and employees.
  3. Evaluate and compare plans. Request comprehensive information on available plans, their features, and associated costs. Gathering this information will help you make an informed decision about your most suitable option.
  4. Partner with a broker or benefit consultant. In some cases, you can partner with a broker or consultant who will provide you with expert guidance and ensure you make the most of your benefit offerings.

One common misconception is that implementing and administering group benefits can be too time-consuming for small business owners who often wear multiple hats. However, providers like MetLife can simplify the administration of benefits by consolidating multiple coverages with a single carrier, thereby increasing efficiency and saving you time and money.

[Read more: Managing Your Own Payroll & Benefits? Why It Might Be Time to Consider a PEO]

How to implement and communicate a voluntary benefits program

Implementing a new voluntary benefits program is only part of the equation; effectively communicating it is equally crucial. As employers add voluntary benefits offerings to their employee experience, they should communicate these options clearly and provide personalized information.

To enhance employees' understanding and build a happier, more loyal workforce, employers should engage employees through various communication channels and incorporate personalization into their benefits communication strategies.

“At a time when workplace dynamics are driven by financial stress, small businesses have an opportunity to stand out by anticipating and adapting to employees’ ever-changing needs,” Smith said. “Workplace benefits and programs play a central role in the employee experience and can be a powerful lever with which to bolster loyalty, satisfaction, and happiness.”

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.