Until recently, most employee wellness programs have focused only on physical health: How often do employees visit the doctor? How often do they exercise? Do they smoke?
But that is changing as it becomes increasingly clear that financial stress is also a major driver of higher health care costs-to say nothing of lost productivity and absenteeism. According to Aon Hewitt’s 2017 Hot Topics in Retirement study, 59 percent of employers are “very likely” to explore benefits that focus on employee financial wellbeing and that go beyond just retirement planning. Another 33 percent said they’re “somewhat likely” to do so. Total: 92 percent.
This switch from simple “wellness” to a focus on overall “wellbeing” is essential for attracting top talent. Job seekers are looking for employers who see them-and their lives-holistically. They know their money problems-student debt, no emergency savings-aren’t going to be solved by a 401(k). They need tools, guidance and resources to help them build a budget, pay down debt and save.
It’s easy for HR managers to say that employees’ money issues aren’t the company’s problem; that employees need to deal with those concerns on their own time. The problem with this approach is that data shows employees’ financial stress impacts their work.
A PricewaterhouseCoopers study released last year found 64% of millennial workers are financially stressed and 37 percent said their financial issues distract them from their work. Among employees of all ages, 52 percent said they were stressed about finances. They said financial stress had negative impacts on their physical health (28 percent), home relationships (23 percent), workplace productivity (17 percent) and work attendance (8 percent).
When companies see and respond to these additional needs, everyone wins. Employees are less stressed, and employers benefit from more focused workers, less absenteeism, lower health care costs and better retention rates.
That’s why offering a 401(k) plan and encouraging employees to use it isn’t enough anymore. Employees know they have financial issues beyond simply saving for retirement.
They’re trying to make ends meet and save for the future, but somehow there’s never enough money left at the end of the month to do both. A 2016 Bankrate survey found 63 percent of Americans were so broke they couldn’t cover a $500 emergency expense. Where did their money go?
These employees need a solution to help them budget, pay down debt and save for the future on a day-to-day basis, not just a financial tool for long-saving, like a company‐sponsored retirement account.
These solutions also need to fit seamlessly into employees’ lives. A financial wellness program doesn’t do any good for employees if they can’t access it where and when they need it. That’s why it’s essential for HR managers to seek out mobile-friendly solutions employees can take with them and access wherever they go. Having a comprehensive budget on their desktop computers is a great place to start, but it won’t help them when they’re in the grocery store checkout line worrying about whether they’re going to go over budget.
The switch in focus from simple wellness to overall wellbeing-particularly financial wellbeing-is a huge step forward for employers and employees. But in order to be effective, these programs must help employees identify and fix the behaviors that are hurting their finances today, rather than focusing solely on long‐term savings.