Employees are Stressed About Finances. How Employers Can Help

Companies need to step up with financial wellness programs—or risk big problems in the workplace.
By: | August 2, 2019 • 3 min read
Close up of a father and daughter in their kitchen

Employees’ personal finances used to be hands-off for employers.

No more, said Robert Stewart, HR administrator at Brigham Young University of Idaho. A rise in financial stress among workers is having a big impact on the workplace—and putting the onus on employers to help.

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“For many employees, financial stress isn’t just challenging; it’s not just difficult; it’s the No. 1 stressor in their life,” he said this week during Human Capital Institute’s Employee Engagement Conference in Denver. “If I’m having a hard time paying my bills … I’m going to view how you’re taking care of me as an employee. If you’re not, I’m more likely to leave.”

Also read: How one company went from a ‘sweat-shop mentality’ to Best Place to Work

Data from financial firm John Hancock shows that 69% of workers are stressed over their finances, with 72% admitting to worrying about their personal finances at work, and one in three doing that more than once a week.

“This is a large problem, and we may not know it because we don’t hear a lot of chatter about it in the workplace,” he said. “But invisible doesn’t mean it’s not real.”

Not only does financial stress take a big toll on employees’ health—it can result in everything from depression and anxiety to migraines, ulcers and heart issues—but it also takes a hard hit on employers, too. Employees with money issues typically suffer from presenteeism and absenteeism and are less productive, Stewart explained. In fact, American businesses are losing $500 billion per year due to employees’ personal financial stress, according to a survey of more than 10,000 Americans by Salary Finance.

“Employees are often private or embarrassed [about these issues],” he said. “When someone asks you how you’re doing, you don’t say, ‘I’m almost bankrupt.’ It’s challenging and almost taboo in that we don’t want to dive into their personal business and yet we are paid to care about the bottom line and we care about their lives.”

Employers are in a position to help employees with these issues by offering financial wellness programs, incentivizing them to participate in financial programs, forming better relationships where they can feel open about talking about their issues and leading them to other benefit resources that may help.

“Off-the-shelf resources exist, but you can also cobble something together yourself,” he said.

More employers are turning to financial wellness programs and offering other resources to employees as they realize the toll stress is having on their personal and professional lives.

According to the most recent benefits data from the Society of Human Resource Management, 36% of employers offer some kind of non-retirement financial advice for their employees, either online, in a group/classroom or one-on-one. Other employers are offering student loan repayment benefits to help employees get out of debt faster. Student debt is one of employees’ biggest financial concerns, according to the John Hancock research.

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Employee assistance programs and fostering good relationships between managers and employees, where workers can feel comfortable explaining issues that may be affecting their performance, also can be beneficial.

“Provide some good assistance to your employees. If nothing else, do it because you have a big heart and you care about your employees,” Stewart said. “But it really makes a big impact on the bottom line as well.”

RELATED: HRE’s Health and Benefits Leadership Conference will take place in April in Las Vegas.

Kathryn Mayer is HRE’s benefits editor and chair of the Health & Benefits Leadership Conference. She has covered benefits for the better part of a decade, and her stories have won multiple awards, including a Jesse H. Neal Award and honors from the American Society of Business Publication Editors and the National Federation of Press Women. She holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Denver. She can be reached at [email protected]