Don’t Ignore Your Employees’ Financial Struggles

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Jan 18, 2019

It’s conventional wisdom that workplace wellness programs lead to a more engaged and productive workforce. And savvy HR professionals understand that the most effective wellness programs must go beyond physical wellness and incorporate mental health programs too because, according to Deloitte, 77% of employees have experienced symptoms of poor mental health.

But it’s the most forward-thinking HR professionals who understand that financial wellness must be part of the package as well. After all, financial wellness is a significant part of the mental and emotional health of working adults and the fact is, too many workers are worried about money.

According to PwC, 54% of workers report feeling stressed about their finances. It’s no wonder. The Federal Reserve found that 41% of American adults could not cover a $400 emergency with cash, savings, or a credit card they could pay off entirely when the statement came in. So, if the car breaks down, the lease is up, and they need to pay a security deposit; a long-distance relative is sick and they need to get on a plane; or they break a tooth and don’t carry dental insurance, they are stuck. And stressed. One financial crisis can completely disrupt their lives.

No doubt about it, that stress spills over into the workplace. The same PwC survey reports half of workers spend three hours or more thinking about, or dealing with, financial issues. As a result, these employees are more likely to take unplanned absences, experience presenteeism: they’re at their desks but their minds are elsewhere, and struggle to meet deadlines and maintain standard levels of productivity and quality work.

It’s not just problem-solving that has these employees preoccupied: How will I get to work without a car? Or how will I afford the dentist bill? It’s shame too. They may feel embarrassed by their situation or humiliated by their need to seek help. Admitting they are struggling financially makes them feel not only socially vulnerable, but financially vulnerable too.

It’s a vicious cycle. Employees fear that their financial woes will impact their ability to earn and their hope of ever climbing out of a hole. They worry that if their personal problems are revealed it could lead to rejection or, worse, termination. Employers expect their employees to be able to manage their lives, they tell themselves. This stress can affect the quality of the employee’s work, thereby triggering fear about job security, and a downward spiral begins. Compounded with this anxiety, is the fact that workplace benefits are out of reach for many low- to moderate-income Americans.

Retirement savings may not be a priority for younger workers, but it should and HR can change that. See It’s Up to You to Get Your Workers Planning For Retirement.

Employees who make between $30,000 – $60,000 are most affected by financial insecurity, especially female employees, and as a result stand to gain the most when employers step up and address financial wellness as part of a holistic wellness program. Knowing this, organizations must take steps to help employees establish financial security, or at least access financial safety nets or risk an overburdened, underproductive and disengaged workforce. To do so, organizations should:

  • Remove the stigma of discussing money and build culture. Your employers are at work for many reasons; making money is one of them. Cultivate an environment where talking about money is accepted. In order for employees to feel safe sharing their personal challenges, focus on creating a culture of trust, transparency, authenticity, respect and emotional safety. Start at the top. Maybe members of your management team were once credit invisible, unable to get approved for a credit card or a loan. Maybe they struggled with financial insecurity. Encourage them to share their stories so employees can learn from each other.
  • Offer personal finance and credit coaching. A complete wellness program should provide access not only to nutritionists, fitness coaches and mental health experts, but also credit coaching to provide insight on how to improve a credit score or manage a monthly budget.
  • Provide access to rainy day funds. Partner with a provider of non-predatory, zero interest loans that help your employees not just manage crises but actually build their credit.

Taking steps to deliver a robust wellness program that goes beyond physical and mental health support to offer financial support, helps organizations support and retain employees who are not yet established financially (an alarming number of American workers). The more organizations invest in the whole person, not just the employee, the more engaged and productive the workforce will become.