By Wendy King and Michelle Clark
Employers are starting to realize that providing their people with a fair and regular paycheck and sweetening the pot with a 401(k) just isn’t good enough to ensure their financial health. And it is their problem.
We’re in the middle of a financial literacy crisis that’s affecting the financial health – and overall wellness – of every generation of worker. Too many just don’t know the ins and outs of managing their money and as a result are facing financial stress that is taking over their attention at home and now on the job.
Once employers put themselves in their workers’ shoes, they start to get it. That is what’s behind a growing shift in their perspective of employee benefits. Increasingly, the move is to augment the traditional wellness model with a strategy that’s more well-rounded and holistic, centered on the individual’s total personal health.
It’s a shift that’s good not just for employees. It’s good for the business. Many people just don’t have a lot of expendable income. Nearly 90-95% of their gross income is needed to cover the basics, leaving a paltry 6 to 8 percent for things like clothes, food, fuel, and maybe some entertainment. Worrying about money is the top cause of lost productivity. It’s a distraction for some 29 percent of U.S. employees, who may spend over three workday hours a week stressing over their money issues. And for 32 percent of Americans, financial concerns push healthy behaviors like exercising and eating onto the back burner.
No generation is immune, either. Baby boomers are still trying to recover from the dent to their retirement savings caused by the Great Recession. Generation Xers are grappling with the emotional and financial toll of simultaneously caring for growing children and their aging parents. For Millennials, student debt is crushing.
And that retirement plan? Many employees borrow against it (not understanding the penalties) for routine expenses that they can’t cover from their paychecks – things like household costs (37 percent of employees) and medical expenses (18 percent).
Finding a fix starts with recognizing the financial health problem to begin with, and its impact on the employee and the workplace. Once employers understand the specific pain points of their employees and the scope of the problem, a variety of tools are available to address them. Some may be employer-sponsored, while others may be offered up as low-cost voluntary benefits.
For example, employee purchasing programs help workers buy big ticket items through payroll deductions – avoiding credit card debt, hidden fees and interest charges. They are voluntary benefits that cost the employer nothing, and are administered through payroll deductions. Other services make low interest installment loans – better than the going rates in the open market – available when employees need to cover unexpected expenses. It helps them avoid predatory payday loans that can compound the financial press.
If your employees are like many, they are living paycheck to paycheck. Helping them out of this bind poses a win for everyone. Your HUB advisor can help you understand the extent and nature of the financial pressures affecting your employees and the variety of options you can put in place to relieve them.