As you may already know, June is National Employee Wellbeing Month. And since money struggles follow Americans into the workplace, it’s only logical that employers have taken notice. One of the results has been a hot new employee benefit—financial wellness.
Whether it’s the pain of losing workers to a slightly higher paycheck across town or seeing them spend work time on the phone juggling money problems, employers agree the widespread lack of financial wellness is impacting the workplace and harming business.
Just how bad has it gotten financially for the average American worker? The numbers say it all:
- One in five Americans owe more in credit-card debt than they have saved for emergencies.(1)
- Most are in the habit of barely getting by: nearly four out of five workers live paycheck to paycheck at least sometimes, and 40% either usually or always do. (2)
- Nearly half (49%) of Americans spend time at work on their personal finances.(3)
- Financial troubles persist across the income spectrum—even among six-figure earners, 10% struggle to make ends meet.(4)
All that strain has gotten employers’ attention and sparked a movement to help their teams replace financial anxiety with real wellness. And that’s great news.
What Is Financial Wellness?
You may be wondering why we’re calling financial wellness a new idea in the workplace. After all, there’s a long tradition of offering employees certain financial benefits:
- a company retirement plan of some kind
- an annual seminar on investing
- maybe a few tools to help get workers started in a 401(k)
So what’s new about financial wellness? It’s pretty simple, but it has the potential to reshape how the average employee handles their money.
True financial wellness is based on the growing recognition that in order to help people make progress with their money, just sharing the facts isn’t nearly as important as helping them change their behavior.
As I like to say, personal finance is only 20% head knowledge and 80% behavior.
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For years, retirement programs have emphasized financial facts and statistics. From a look at average debt loads, weak emergency funds and poor participation in retirement plans, it’s clear that knowledge isn’t the problem. The reason the traditional benefits are missing the mark is because there’s no discussion about the underlying problem—bad money choices.
Your company may offer an annual workshop or 401(k) seminar to help educate people about retirement and wealth-building—and that’s a great start.But annual workshops aren’t nearly enough to motivate the kind of change necessary to see real progress. Neither are one-on-one meetings with financial advisors or the most generous matching funds in a 401(k). What the average American worker really needs is change in behavior that can transform the way they view and spend money.
Financial Wellness Means Behavior Change
Real financial wellness is what happens in an employee’s life when they replace constant worry about money with the hope that they can get out of debt and build some real margin in their lives. Instead of dreading budgets and bills, they begin to view money as a tool, and they know exactly how to use it to build wealth.
When employees achieve real financial wellness, they gain the confidence of knowing they’ll never have to worry about money again. And there are lots of things employer-provided financial wellness programs can do to create that kind of hope:
- An environment for success. One of the main obstacles of the annual workshop approach is that most people just aren’t willing to discuss their financial problems with their coworkers. After all, it’s a pretty personal topic, and who wants to share those details with people they work with?
Real behavior change begins in a setting of trust. That’s why the best financial wellness program will offer employees online access to a variety of platforms, so they can interact with the content when and where they’re most comfortable. And if their spouse can learn and benefit from the materials, all the better!
- Inspiring and motivating content. From there, it’s time to keep building employee’s trust by providing them with teaching from experts who talk with authority about money and show them how to move from despair to hope. Ideally content will come in a variety of formats, from articles to teaching videos and even useful infographics.
- Clear action steps toward wealth and generosity. Until people have a plan that makes sense, including clear action steps that lead to meaningful positive outcomes, they’ll never experience real financial wellness. The best programs teach about budgeting, debt elimination, saving for emergencies, and investment and giving, and they will clarify how those steps fit together to form a complete, long-term picture of financial wellness.
- Personal stories of life change. There’s something about hearing the stories of people who took on money problems and won. It makes us all stand up and cheer. That’s the kind of life change a financial wellness program should communicate to employees—stories that pull at the heart strings and instill hope.
- Crystal-clear education around money. Flexible online access, inspiring content and clear action steps make up the heart of a great financial wellness program. But that doesn’t mean employees don’t need any education about smart money habits. Without a doubt, the best programs will include clear explanations of debt, credit cards, taxes, insurance, investment, college funding, and real estate.
Financial Wellness Is a Win-Win for Companies and Workers
A workplace benefit to improve financial wellness is a win-win for any business. It not only helps workers, but also employers who see greater retention and fewer unplanned absences. Those are just two of the issues many employees face by being deeply in debt and lacking a long-term game plan for their money.
Every day more employers are recognizing that their workers both need and welcome guidance in making better money choices--including getting ready for retirement.
In 2016, Ramsey Solutions found the most common way American workers learn about retirement is from their employers. (5).
Chances are your own company already offers a corporate wellness program, and it probably includes a financial component. If so, you owe it to yourself to check it out and see how it can help you on your journey to greater financial wellness.
If your workplace is looking for a financial wellness benefit, did you know we have our own financial wellness program? It’s called SmartDollar, and it’s been helping people nationwide to improve financial outcomes for both businesses and employees for over a decade. Interested in bringing SmartDollar to your company? Contact our team today.
Or if you’re looking to get back on track with your finances right now, check out our EveryDollar budgeting tool.