The voluntary benefit that's addressing a major employee concern

When an employee’s thoughts are focused outside of work, it can quickly affect productivity. Not being able to pay the bills is one of the biggest stress-inducers there is — especially if that person has a family to support.

“Employers recognize that financial stress can impact an employee’s performance, and we are seeing more interest from employers in offering financial education to their workers to help them better manage their finances,” says Jennifer Douglas, associate research director, LIMRA Developmental and Strategic Research.

Employers put voluntary benefit offerings on hold while they wrestled with the Affordable Care Act when it was first enacted, but now they have a better handle on the health care law and are turning their focus to voluntary, says Sharla St. Rose, director of voluntary benefits at NFP. And financial services programs are topping the list of non-insurance offerings employers are asking about, she says.

“Employees are stressed financially,” St. Rose says. In fact, 82% of Americans are carrying debt, according to LIMRA, and four in 10 have no rainy day savings and are not saving for retirement. As such, many employers are interested in providing financial education and access to low-interest loans, she says.

“Consumers with the highest stress levels are looking for basic financial education, like budgeting, reducing debt and understanding employee benefits,” Douglas says. “Effective financial wellness programs should address these fundamental topics, as well as retirement planning and other long-term interests.”

A lot of employers recognize that need. About two-thirds of full-time workers have access to educational programs — and 72% of those take advantage of such programs, LIMRA found. Six in 10 employees have retirement planning assistance through their employer.

“American workers are responsible for so many day-to-day financial decisions that can have a significant impact on their overall financial wellbeing for the rest of their lives,” says Douglas.  “Our study shows that employees are interested in receiving help on various financial topics and when they take advantage of them at work they are generally happy with the results.”

College education a concern

Many younger workers enter the workforce with student debt — and that’s exactly what a large portion of Generation Y employees are worried about for their own children. Nearly half (45%) of millennials are “extremely concerned” about paying for their children’s college education, according to MetLife’s 13th annual employee benefit trends study. Other major concerns are having enough money for a spouse to be able to stay home with their kids (40%) and not getting a promotion or losing their job in a crowded workplace (29%).

Childcare is another area of interest among employees when it comes to non-insurance offerings, St. Rose says. Identity theft protection and legal services are other popular products as well, she says. Providing these voluntary plans adds value to employers in the eyes of their employees, she says.

The same is true for brokers. While such plans might not be the main focus of a meeting, brokers should at least mention non-insurance products, because what’s important to employers varies from client to client, St. Rose says. 

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