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Financial Wellness: An Important Component of Employer Wellness Programs

Today's post comes to us from Workforce Institute board member Neil Reichenberg.

A survey titled Mind Over Money, released in January 2020 by Capital One and The Decision Lab, found that 77% of Americans report anxiety over their financial situation, with 58% believing that finances control their lives. More than 40% stated that their financial stress makes it difficult for them to concentrate at work. Similarly, the 2020 Workplace Benefits Report issued by Bank of America found that less than half of employees are feeling financially well, which is a 12% drop from two years ago. Almost 60% of employees say they do not have control over their debt.  

The Bank of America study also found that 62% of employers feel extreme responsibility for their employees' financial wellness, which is up from 13% in 2013, while more than 80% of employers believe financial wellness leads to greater productivity, more loyal employees, and more engaged and satisfied employees. Employees cite lack of access to guidance as the greatest barrier preventing them from making progress towards their financial goals.  

Given these facts - which echo our own December 2019 survey - on a similar topic - it was with great interest that I read a recent report by The Center for State and Local Government Excellence (SLGE) titled Financial Literacy Programs for Local Government Employees which highlights the financial well-being programs of two local governments. A previous SLGE survey found that while only 26% of state and local governments offer a financial literacy or education program, 68% of state and local government employees said they would be likely to participate if one was offered.  

The City and County of Denver, CO was one of the local governments discussed in the report.  Denver restructured its employee well-being program to be data-driven and allow targeting of those wellness areas that are employee priorities. The well-being initiative had the support of Denver's top leadership. The program is based on four wellness pillars: financial, mental, physical, and professional. Data was collected and aggregated based on different metrics. The data was provided to the 32 governmental agencies on the four pillars and how each agency compares to the rest of the city.

To address financial well-being, Denver identified several potential interventions:

  • Increase benefits education, focused on where to find care.
  • Promote participation in benefits communication focus groups.
  • Increase management promotion of “lunch and learns” around financial health, including the Denver Employees Retirement Program, Denver Community Credit Union, and College Invest.

Areas that may be targeted include low retirement savings by providing more education so that employees understand how a deferred compensation retirement plan can supplement the city's pension plan and how to take advantage of the pre-tax benefits when participating in the flexible spending accounts for health care, dependent care, and parking. Denver provides annual financial incentives to employees who participate in its wellness program that can include earning a $600 health spending account deposit or health insurance premium reduction for 2021. Denver provides employees with short, interactive, financial-focused learning experiences online.  

Each agency has a wellness champion who coordinates the agency's activities, communicates activities and incentive details, and works with the HR office to ensure access to programs and resources. Wellness champions network with each other to share ideas on ways to keep employees engaged with this initiative. Agency leaders determine which leading and lagging measures they can use to determine progress and when they may need to change the course of action. By returning a portion of annual premium payments, the city's healthcare providers are an ongoing source of funding that keeps the program operating.

The Bank of America report noted the business reasons for expanding financial wellness programs. The report stated, “Employees now want to see education and support that will help them not just save for retirement, but also help with everyday financial decision - from making retirement savings last to managing healthcare costs, managing debt more effectively, using budgeting and saving techniques and balancing competing financial goals.”

In a year like the one we find ourselves in with a global pandemic and widespread unemployment and economic hardship, helping employees feel more in control of their finances is something all employers should be striving to do. Recognizing that financial well-being is a critical component of overall employee health will help employers better serve their employees and keep them happier and more loyal.

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