As the American dream of financial security continues to slip out of reach for many U.S. workers, employers — seen as trusted partners by employees — will need to step up to restore faith in retirement readiness.

Only 22% of individuals described themselves as feeling financially secure, Prudential says in its new research paper, and there is growing acceptance among employers that there is significant value in improving employees’ financial wellness.

Aspirations are modest, says Clint Key, a research officer in financial security and mobility at The Pew Charitable Trusts. Between economic mobility or financial stability, an overwhelming 92% of workers say they want stability.

“Four in 10 don’t have the resources to pay for a $2,000 expense,” he said Tuesday, at a joint financial wellness roundtable sponsored by Prudential Financial and the Aspen Institute in Washington, D.C. More alarmingly, employees don’t have the income to last a month if they were to lose their job.

Still, Key adds, it isn’t so much the number of dollars in the bank, but the peace of minds that savings buy them.

And employers are feeling the repercussions of the growing stressors in the workplace.

“People who are stressed about finances are five times more likely to take time off from work to deal with personal finances,” added Diane Winland, a manager with PricewaterhouseCoopers. “Three to four hours every week go to handling personal finances, and these employees are more likely to call out sick from work.”

The security levers once in place, such as home equity, are going away and it’s becoming much more difficult for workers to handle a financial emergency, she added.

The good news, however, is employers get it, she said. “They understand employee financial wellness is tied to the bottom line and it behooves them to invest in their employees,” said Winland. “The conundrum is how to deploy and what to deploy in their programs. Is it counseling? Coaching? Is it a new snazzy app that comes out. The key is there is no silver bullet.”

So, what is there to do?

Each employer has a unique business model and employee base, and, therefore, faces different challenges when implementing a financial wellness approach, Prudential’s paper notes. “Employers should design financial wellness programs that are informed by insights into the unique financial needs of their employees, successfully educate and engage employees, and help employees take concrete actions to improve their financial health. We encourage employers to discuss financial wellness with their benefit consultants or advisers.”

And, added Robert Levy, managing director at the Center for Financial Services Innovation, just talk to your employees. “They’re open to discussing their financial challenges,” he said, and employers can engage these conversations through numerous ways: surveys, one-on-one talks, focus groups.

Prudential stepping up

To try to change the current unease in financial security, Prudential Tuesday also announced its expansion of worksite tools for employers to enable them to analyze the financial needs of their workforce and offer the employees a personalized interactive experience that includes videos, tools, webinars and articles that empower them to manage their financial challenges.

In addition, Prudential has launched a $5 million, three-year program in partnership with the Aspen Institute — a Washington, D.C.-based, non-partisan educational and policy studies organization — to promote employees’ financial security.

“The investment highlights the need to increase the national discourse about greater economic access for employees as they bear increasing risk and responsibility for their short-term and long-term financial security,” said Prudential.

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