How Prudential used benefits to reduce workers’ financial stress

NEW YORK — When Prudential surveyed its workers in 2009, they found out a surprising thing for a financial services company. Prudential’s own employees were stressed out about their finances.

The company found that 34% of its workforce was feeling financially stressed — about five percentage points higher than the WebMD national benchmark of 29% at the time. This stress carried into the workplace and employees were less productive and more likely to struggle with mental health issues like depression, said Matthew Bahl, vice president of financial wellness customer strategies at Prudential.

“We saw that there were discrete sources of financial stress that were not adequately addressed within the confines of our existing benefit plans,” he said speaking Tuesday at Spark HR, an HR and finance forum in New York.

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So Prudential decided to double down on its benefits. The company added budget coaching and made plan design changes to its healthcare, retirement and disability plans. They also expanded childcare reimbursement, paid parental and caregiving leave, which can also place a burden on worker finances, Bahl added.

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About 32% of Americans said issues with money prevent them from living a healthy lifestyle, the American Psychological Association’s Stress in America survey finds. Financial stress is not only impacting the health of individual employees, but the workforce as a whole, and can lead to lower productivity and higher healthcare costs. By giving employees tools to more efficiently manage their personal finances, employers can gain increased productivity and a more focused, satisfied workforce, Bahl said.

“Overall well-being is connected to financial health,” he said. “Those who experience debt-related stress have more ulcers, migraines and heart attacks.”

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Financial well-being programs can help employees prepare for retirement, pay down student debt, better manage their budget and enhance savings and investment. If what employers are offering aligns with employees’ own priorities, it can also increase employment engagement, he said.

“More places are shifting to employment engagement, because what’s a better way to measure our workforce? The employees’ emotional connection to their job,” Bahl said. “People are not robots, so they don’t just show up at work and shed their private life.”

So what happened after instituting benefits changes? Prudential employees began to report lower levels of stress. By 2016, only 16% of employees said they were financially stressed at work. Bahl says employers should institute benefits that can inspire behavioral change for employees. Much like healthcare, companies should continue to think about ways they can improve workers’ finances.

“Think about what you can do on a financial wellness program that you can’t do on the healthcare side,” he said. “You cannot transport someone directly into a doctor’s office to get a checkup, but you can automate retirement savings.”

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