A lot of employer time and effort goes into providing education and training for employees regarding retirement savings in company-sponsored settings, but not enough time is spent addressing the wellness aspect of financial planning. Financial wellness is not just about employees achieving their long-term savings goals; it addresses the body’s responses to financial stress and the effects of those stressors on your organization.

Does financial stress have an effect on an employee’s physical health?

A recent Consumer Financial Protection Bureau study finds 61% of employees cited finances as their number one stressor. Of these respondents, 45% said the stress was overwhelming and 52% said they had experienced changes in sleep quality and quantity or irritability issues from this stress. This financial stress increases their likelihood for heart conditions like high blood pressure, ulcers and digestive issues. The cost impact on your benefits claims experience and absences or disability leave can be significant.

Read: Most employees stressed by financial worries

What about an employee’s mental health? Stress, anxiety and depression are some of the most common mental health conditions affecting our workforce and are commonly influenced by financial stress. Employees may experience weakened resiliency against these conditions if they don’t properly handle this stress, which can lead to neglect of their physical health.

What is the financial impact you can expect when your employees are not financially well? Sixty-seven percent of employees have admitted to dealing with financial issues at work. Extremely financially burdened employees estimate they spend one hour per day at work dealing with personal financial issues while moderately financially burdened employees spend approximately 1.5 hours per week. That amounts to approximately 17,000 hours of lost productivity per year in an organization with 200 employees. At $30/hour, the lost productivity cost is more than $500,000 per year. This number does not even take into account employee absences.

Read: Financial wellness programs increase savings

Almost all employers have a goal of boosting company morale, reducing absenteeism and having a healthy workforce. What can those employers do to help employees and their families as well as reduce the unproductive hours created by financial stress?

Employers can start by implementing an education program that is based not only on long-term savings but handling day-to-day financial issues as well. Offering a variety of resources will ensure you reach your entire employee population while being respectful of your overall budget. Live education sessions featuring an array of topics are typically preferred as 86% of employees have stated they would find this type of education useful, as opposed to the traditional investment education seminars. These sessions should include topics such as debt management, budgeting, cost of borrowing, increasing resiliency, managing stress, etc. Education sessions have had the most success when they are provided by external resources rather than an internal educator. Employees are more likely to respond to an external speaker who is professional, accredited, experienced and objective.

Read: Employees worry more about finances

Another resource to take advantage of if you have one is your employee and family assistance plan for their financial section of articles, podcasts, budget and planning templates as well as counseling services. Pension provider websites also have many tools available such as budgeting and saving calculators and professional advice. Having these resources available will also aid in attraction of new employees; the new generation of workers wants to know their employer cares about their overall well-being and will help them achieve their financial goals.

Employees should be encouraged to start with small steps towards financial wellness. People are much more likely to adjust their behaviour by modifying small habits one at a time rather than trying to make large, sudden changes because they seem achievable and not overwhelming. Taking your own coffee to work versus buying a cup each day or increasing contributions to savings in staggered steps are the kind of behaviours that are likely to change.

Scott Anderson is the vice-president of retirement at HUB International STRATA Benefits Consulting. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of Benefits Canada.
Copyright © 2017 Transcontinental Media G.P. Originally published on benefitscanada.com

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