If you thought you looked a little older this morning as you got ready for work, you’re not alone. According to a 2008 Business & Education Resources Study examining shifting workplace demographics, the percentage of employees who are 40+ has increased year after year. In 1990, 40% of the workplace fell into this distinguished category. In 2000, 48% of workers were 40+, and by 2010, 51.4% of U.S. workers will be older than 40. These increases reflect the aging of the 78 million baby boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964.
The increase in life expectancy amplifies the boomer effect. Only 100 years ago, the average life expectancy was 47; compared to 77 years today. As we live longer, we may begin to experience increasing age-related changes in hearing, vision, and even dexterity. The sometimes gradual degeneration of vision or hearing can profoundly affect an individual, both personally and in the workplace.
Normal changes in the aging eye include decreased ability to focus at short range, reduced acuity, a need for better lighting, and reduced contrast sensitivity and depth perception. Left unchecked, such problems can result in expensive errors and even accidents, creating the potential for high costs for employers.
According to the American Society on Aging, 15% of the overall population suffers from some type of hearing loss, with 60% of this group over the age of 55. Hearing loss can be a trickier situation to manage than vision degeneration, because it may go undetected or ignored for longer periods of time. Employees with untreated hearing impairment are more likely to miss some of what is being said in group or one-on-one discussions. Verbal instructions may be misunderstood and not followed correctly, which can result in errors or accidents. Overall workplace information exchange can suffer.
Regular visits to an optometrist or ophthalmologist are the best way to promote healthy eyesight, and a good first source to screen for hearing problems is a general practitioner, with referral to a specialist if appropriate. Most hearing and vision problems are readily correctable through hearing aids or corrective lenses. Be that as it may, many employees delay seeking treatment for hearing or vision loss for financial reasons. Postponing treatment can result in the kinds of workplace costs and risks discussed above.
To encourage employees to take care of these important senses, employers can offer vision and hearing coverages as voluntary benefits. Voluntary benefits are paid in full by the employees who choose to purchase them. However, employees typically save money because the benefits are offered at group discount rates, and often save time by learning about the benefits while they are at work. (Some employers do choose to make a contribution to the coverage.)
Voluntary vision care plans are plentiful, and can offer a variety of choices to employees. Usually, vision care plans cover eye exams and corrective lenses (either eyeglasses or contacts). Plan enhancements could include safety eyewear for individuals in certain industries; laser or Lasik surgery; and polycarbonate lenses for children and active adults.
How a vision benefit is provided also varies according to the plan that is selected. Some plans offer discounted fee services and lenses through a list of exclusive providers or retail outlets; others use a preferred-provider approach and pay a larger or smaller benefit depending on the provider used; and still others pay according to a fee schedule.
Hearing care plan benefits might include discounts on audiologists’ fees, and compensation for hearing aids and related products and services (for example, batteries and cleaning).
Voluntary vision and hearing benefits become ever more valuable with an aging workforce, creating a win-win situation: Employees as well as their employers are likely to benefit from better hearing and vision health in the workplace.
Contact Us to discuss how we can help you to communicate with your employees.