By Andrew Brickman | Director of Benefits Administration, Corporate Synergies | 1.24.2017 and Mark Lamoriello | President, LAMCO Financial Plan Advisors | 1.24.2017
The expansion of workplace health & wellness programs over the last decade has led to an astonishing proliferation of strategies, gadgets and technologies that help employers reinforce healthy habits among their employees. Companies have embraced worksite health & wellness programs because they know that healthier employees cost less and are more productive.
However, employee health & wellness is not limited to lowering blood pressure or the accrual of 10,000 steps of daily walking. Financial stress can have a negative impact on personal health and productivity, and it’s a problem that affects a lot of people. A recent study shows that 52% of employees are stressed out about dealing with a negative financial situation.¹ And the younger the worker, the more likely they are to be worried about finances. Sixty-four percent of millennials say they are stressed by financial issues, which could have long-term implications.²
About a quarter of employees are relying on credit cards to buy necessities that they wouldn’t be able to afford otherwise, an issue that’s occurring at all income levels. In fact, the variance between those earning over $100,000 (22% rely on credit cards for necessities) and those earning under $30,000 (31% rely on credit cards for necessities) is only 9%.³ It’s fair to say employees have trouble with money and are not sure what to do about it.
They also spend a lot of time worrying about finances instead of taking action. Nearly half (45%) of employees who are distracted by their finances at work say they spend at least three work hours each week thinking about or dealing with issues related to their personal finances.4 The number of employees dealing with challenges continues to increase each year. For a 100-person company, this distraction could result in more than 4,300 hours of lost or decreased productivity, which is equivalent to operating with two fewer full-time employees.
The International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans (IFEBP) found that credit cards and debt, trouble saving for retirement, saving for a child’s education expense, and meeting basic household needs are the top challenges facing those with financial stress. Employers participating in the IFEBP study felt that half of their employees were not financially savvy.5
The heavy use of credit cards to buy food and other daily necessities is indicative of the need for employer-sponsored financial education and support options. So, what’s a company to do? Some are following the example of the early adopters of worksite health & wellness programs. They have already embraced the idea that a financially aware and secure employee is a happier, healthier and more productive individual. IFEBP found that 2 out of 5 employers already realize the importance of educating employees on money matters in addition to stressing the importance of saving for retirement.6
Companies are starting to include money in the budget for financial health & wellness counseling. Fourteen percent of employers surveyed currently have a budget for financial education and another 25% are looking to add budget dollars for these programs.7 But as with health & wellness programs, it can be daunting to encourage upper management to allocate dollars for financial education and support programs and then motivate employees to participate once executives give the nod. How well your plan is designed can impact employee participation. Consider these questions during the design phase of a financial health & wellness plan:
- How will we measure the success of the program? Financial wellness programs will almost always compete with 401(k) and health benefits for resources, which will automatically put them at a disadvantage because the outcomes will be less apparent and not as easily quantified as health and retirement benefits.
- How in-depth will the program be? Financial wellness programs can range from group educational sessions to individualized online programs to personalized coaching sessions with a financial professional. Obviously the more individualized your program is, the more effective (and expensive) it will be.
- Should the program be mandatory? If not, what incentives will be given for participation? This speaks right to one of the major concerns about financial wellness programs: Will they be used? You can’t force an employee to comply with a financial wellness program, so we see incentives used more frequently. Those incentives can range from small, one-time bonuses to subsidized sessions with a financial planner.
As with most employee education & communication initiatives, an effective financial wellness program won’t be one size fits all and will depend heavily on the resources that support it.
The bottom line: Financial stress affects employee health and productivity. It is in everyone’s best interest to offer them the tools to improve their financial wellness.
1-4 PWC, “Employee Financial Wellness Survey, 2016 Results”
5-7 International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans, “Financial Education for Today’s Workforce, 2016 Survey Results”
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