employee financial wellness

Many employees are financially unwell. Here’s how employers can help

Organizational wellness programs, long considered a way to boost productivity and engagement, reduce medical spending, and recruit top talent, have traditionally focused on employees’ physical and emotional wellbeing. Onsite health screenings, yoga, and weight loss support, along with free gym memberships and smoking cessation programs, are but a few of the options typically offered.

Though these can be helpful, what employees also want and need – maybe even more — is help with their financial health.

According to a recent PwC survey on employee financial wellness, financial unwellness among U.S. workers is relatively widespread. For example, less than half of the survey’s 1,600 respondents thought they’d be able to retire when they want to and nearly two-thirds believe they won’t have enough support from retirement plans and Social Security (or aren’t sure). About half of the survey’s participants also indicated that they’re stressed about their finances. In fact, noted PwC, finances cause them more stress than health concerns and relationships combined.

Further supporting this is another recent survey from Bank of America Merrill Lynch. This one, which required respondents to be participating in a 401K plan (though not necessarily through them), found that nearly 40 percent feel “less than financially well.”

“Employees are hungry for help from employer-offered employee financial wellness resources,” the survey report adds, and nearly 90 percent say “they are very or somewhat likely to participate in an employer-offered financial wellness program, if offered.”

21st Century Pressures

While financial concerns have plagued us for eons, what we face today are “uniquely 21st Century pressures” says the Aspen Institute, which has established a Financial Security Program to help address America’s financial woes.

These pressures include widening wealth gaps, stagnant wages, and record levels of student debt, Aspen says. It also notes that in the U.S., many have no retirement savings or pensions and nearly one in two adults could not pay an unexpected $400 expense.

Clearly, many of us need financial guidance, and fortunately more employers are taking note. Employee financial wellness programs have gained considerable traction over the last few years, with “growing numbers of employees” taking advantage of these says PwC.

“We find that employees who use these services get help with a wide array of financial needs and are most likely to seek financial help when they have an important decision to make or upon finding themselves in financial crisis,” PwC noted. “The more employers can encourage employees to use employee financial wellness programs on an ongoing basis, the more positive the outcome, as studies continue to show that those who engage in financial planning on a continuous basis are far better off than those who do not.”

They’re not only more productive and engaged, as financial worries are lessened, but physically healthier, as high levels of stress are consistently linked to poor health. This means fewer sick days as well as time taken off for more extended periods due to stress-related illness or mental health issues.

Based on that alone, it might even be argued that an effective financial wellness program can do more for employees’ overall health than the traditional wellness program, which studies like this one have found lacking.

Resources

Companies that don’t have these programs, but want to offer them, have many resources at their disposal. Examples include Prosperity Now, a nonprofit that works to expand economic opportunity for U.S. families and communities, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), and this white paper from Charles Schwab, which includes tips on program design.

Other resources include:

Tips from MetLife

Employee Wellness Blog

Where to Start

Workplace Financial Wellness Services

Financial Wellness at Work Initiative