Why financial wellness is becoming an even bigger benefit trend

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The expansion of workplace health and wellness programs over the last decade has led to an astonishing proliferation of wellness strategies, gadgets and technologies that help employers reinforce healthy habits among their employees. Companies have embraced worksite wellness because they know that healthier employees cost less and are more productive.

But employee wellness isn’t limited to lowering blood pressure or the accrual of 10,000 steps of daily walking. More employers than ever are now focusing on an important component of the well-being puzzle: Financial wellness.

The main reason why? Financial stress can have a negative impact on health and productivity, and it’s a problem that affects a lot of people. A recent PricewaterhouseCoopers study shows that 52% of employees are stressed out about dealing with their financial situation. And the younger the worker, the more likely they are to be worried about finances. Sixty-four percent of millennials say they are stressed by their finances, which could have long-term implications.

See also: How millennials are redefining retirement

One study shows that about a quarter of employees must rely on credit cards to buy necessities that they wouldn’t be able to afford otherwise, an issue that’s occurring at all income levels. In fact, the variance between those earning over $100,000 (22% rely on credit cards for necessities) and those earning under $30,000 (31% rely on credit cards for necessities) is only 9%, according to PwC. It’s fair to say that employees have trouble with money and are not sure what to do about it.

They also spend a lot of time worrying about finances instead of taking action. Nearly half (45%) of those who are distracted by their finances at work say they spend at least three work hours each week thinking about or dealing with issues related to their personal finances. The number of employees dealing with these challenges continues to increase each year. For a 100-person company, this distraction could result in over 4,300 hours of lost or decreased productivity, which is equivalent to operating with two fewer full-time employees.

There’s no doubt that financial stress is impacting the lives of employees and their ability to be productive at work. The International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans found that credit cards and debt, trouble saving for retirement, saving for a child’s education expense and meeting basic household needs are the top challenges facing those with financial stress. Employers participating in the IFEBP study felt that half of their employees were not financially savvy.

The heavy use of credit cards to buy food and other daily necessities is indicative of the need for employer-sponsored financial education and support options. So, what’s a company to do? Some are following the example of the early adopters of worksite wellness programs. They have already embraced the idea that a financially aware and secure employee is a happier, healthier and more productive individual. IFEBP found that two out of five employers already realize the importance of educating employees on money matters in addition to stressing the importance of saving for retirement.

See also: Why employers must double down on financial wellness

Companies are starting to include money in the budget for financial counseling. Fourteen percent of employers surveyed currently have a budget for financial education, and another 25% are looking to add budget dollars for these programs. But as with health and wellness programs, it can be daunting to encourage upper management to allocate dollars for financial education and support programs and then motivate employees to participate once executives give the nod. How well your plan is designed can impact employee participation. Consider these questions during the design phase of a financial wellness plan:

· How will we measure the success of the program? These programs will almost always compete with 401(k) and health benefits for resources, which will automatically put them at a disadvantage because the outcomes will be less apparent and not as easily quantified as health and retirement benefits.

· How in-depth will the program be? Financial wellness programs can range from group educational sessions to individualized online programs to personalized coaching sessions with a financial professional. Obviously the more individualized your program is, the more effective (and expensive) it will be.

· Will your program be mandatory? If not, what incentives will be given for participation? This speaks right to one of the major concerns about financial wellness programs: Will they be used? You can’t force an employee to comply with a financial wellness program, so we see incentives used more frequently. Those incentives can range from small, one-time bonuses to subsidized sessions with a financial planner.

As with most benefits programs, an effective financial wellness program won’t be one-size-fits-all and will depend heavily on the resources made available to it.

The bottom line: Financial stress affects health and productivity. It is in everyone’s best interest to offer employees the tools and education to improve their financial health.

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