Vision Care: Cost Reduction Through a Different Lens

Digital eyestrain, eye-rest breaks are on the rise

By Smith Wyckoff August 7, 2014

Eye exams provide the opportunity to detect both eye and systemic disease (diabetes, high blood pressure) early, when these conditions can be better managed or even prevented, dramatically improving health outcomes and reducing health care costs. However, many employers overlook a second powerful cost savings outcome of providing vision benefits—increased productivity.

While it intuitively makes sense that you can’t work well if you can’t see well, there has been relatively little research speaking to the scope of the issue. One widely quoted study from the University of Alabama School of Optometry cited a productivity loss of up to 20 percent on specific tasks performed at the computer when vision is miscorrected so slightly the employee wouldn’t even notice it. But few other studies have documented the impact of vision problems on the ability to stay focused.

New findings from Transitions Optical’s annual Employee Perceptions of Vision Benefits report indicate it is more important than ever for employers to understand this issue—and to see that it is having a significant (and increasing) impact on businesses. Below are highlights from the research showing why the right vision insurance is important for employees’ health and productivity.

Digital Eyestrain Now Common

Almost 80 percent of employees encounter at least one visual disturbance that bothers their eyes at work. Topping the list of complaints, nearly half (47 percent) of employees report having tired eyes. This makes sense, given that a common cause for eye fatigue is computer use, which is steadily increasing among workers, along with screen time from personal devices.

Nielsen research shows the average American spends 11 hours per day with electronic media . The Vision Council of America, a trade group for the optical industry, reports that due to digital eyestrain:

  • Nearly 90 percent of employees who use a computer for three or more hours a day experience vision problems.
  • Nearly 10 million eye exams a year are prompted by computer-related eye problems.
  • Causes for eyestrain and fatigue include bright light and glare.
  • About a third of employees are bothered by light reflecting off their computer screen or bright, glaring light.
  • 16 percent have trouble with light reflected off personal devices.
  • Another 16 percent are bothered by reflections off outdoor surfaces.

Although eyewear technology like anti-reflective coatings and photochromic lenses make it possible to better manage the amount of light that reaches the eyes, an employee who does not have access to a benefit that covers these options may not choose to add them. Additionally, less than half of employees know what lenses are covered in their vision plan—a clear opportunity for education, since employees who do not know about lens options covered are obviously less likely to take advantage of this aspect of their plan.

A significant 29 percent of all workers say they suffer from headaches as a result of visual disturbances. According to the National Headache Foundation, headaches cost the nation $17 billion in absenteeism, lost productivity and medical expenses. The foundation also reports that while 90 percent of employees say headaches affect their work performance, only 33 percent tell their employers, indicating a potentially bigger issue than employers realize.

Eye-Rest Breaks Are Up

More than half (53 percent) of employees in the Employee Perceptions of Vision Benefits survey admit they take at least one break during their workday to rest their eyes because they hurt or feel uncomfortable. In 2011, only 29 percent of employees were reporting breaks. That means there has been a 45 percent increase in people taking breaks during their workday to rest their eyes.

The average employee takes two breaks per day, but nearly one-third (32 percent) are taking three or more breaks, and 13 percent are taking more than five. Just a one-minute eye-rest break, taken twice a day, can result in a full day of lost time per employee per year.

A Cost-Effective Benefit

The American Optometric Association estimates that adding a vision plan to their health care benefit packages can save employers $7 for every $1 spent. This is good news for the increasing number of employers whose employees are taking advantage of their vision benefit.

The Employee Perceptions survey showed that:

  • 83 percent of employees who were offered vision coverage by their employers chose to enroll in 2013, compared to 78 percent in 2012 (a 6 percent increase).
  • 8 out of 10 employees used their vision benefit over the past year for a comprehensive eye exam—55 percent once, and 24 percent more than once. This is up from 6 out of 10 using it in 2012.

Employees are recognizing the value of not only enrolling in a vision plan but also using it for an eye exam. Doing so benefits employers in two ways: by ensuring workers are getting the preventive care they need to reduce costs, and also so workers have updated lens prescriptions to enable crisp, clear vision. Employees can also be advised on the right eyeglass lens options to address visual disturbances that they are regularly encountering at work.

For example, an employee bothered by reflections off a computer screen may need an anti-reflective coating to help reduce glare. Employees who spend a lot of time outdoors, or frequently transition from indoors to outdoors, may need photochromic lenses to adapt to the level of darkness to alleviate light sensitivity and improve overall quality of vision. Outdoor workers are more likely to be exposed to ultraviolet rays and to be bothered by light while at work. They are also more likely to use their vision plan, making vision a highly valued benefit for this group.

Knowing this, employers should look at the materials coverage side of the vision benefit to make sure it includes eyewear that enhances sight and provides eye protection in accordance with occupational needs. Education about the importance of regular eye exams and wearing the right eyewear can help prompt employees to make good use of their coverage.

A variety of employee- and employer-focused education materials can accessed free of charge at

Smith Wyckoff is the key account manager of managed care/online retail at Transitions Optical Inc., a provider of photochromic lenses to optical manufacturers. The Healthy Sight Working for You program is dedicated to promoting the value of eye care and eyewear through a vision plan by providing tools and resources that promote eye health in the workplace. ​

Related SHRM Articles:

Eye Strain at Work Is Up, Lowering Productivity,SHRM Online Benefits, February 2014

Three Reasons to Jump on the Vision Benefits Bandwagon, SHRM Online Benefits, July 2012

Aging Workforce Values Vision Benefit, Doesn't Use It Fully, SHRM Online Benefits, February 2012



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