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Why your company needs a financial wellness program

Employee wellness is broadening to include personal finances. Here's why that's happening and what you should know to help ensure a successful financial wellness program.

If your company is taking its corporate wellness program seriously but neglecting to boost your employees' financial health, you may want to rethink that strategy. Indeed, there's a good chance your employees are stressed and worried over money.

Forty-nine percent of employees said they're concerned, anxious or fearful about their finances in the 15th annual study from MetLife on employee benefit trends. In a different look at the subject, according to the 2017 PwC Employee Financial Wellness Survey, 53% of employees reported being stressed about money, with 46% pointing to finances as the top stressor in their life.

And that worry takes a toll. Indeed, according to the PwC survey, employees who are stressed about finances are more likely to be distracted at work thinking about their finances (48%), are more likely to miss work (16%), say financial stress has affected their health (35%) and spend at least three hours at work dealing with finances (50%) -- to name just a few negative effects.

Small wonder, then, that more businesses are adding a financial well-being program to their employee wellness offerings. A 2017 survey conducted by the National Business Group on Health, in partnership with Fidelity Investments, found that 84% of large and midsize companies are offering financial wellness programs, up from 76% a year ago.

Besides the lowered productivity issue, companies are recognizing that finances impact health and are doing something about it. "Today's programs take more of a 'health meets wealth' approach and reflect a blend of financial, physical and social/emotional programs to provide maximum support for members," Adam Stavisky, senior vice president of Fidelity Benefits Consulting, said in a press release for the survey.

employee health snapshot

For years, employers have offered employees financial planning, to one degree or another. MetLife, for instance, has offered workplace financial planning programs to its employer clients for at least 20 years, said MetLife Vice President of Life and Income Funding Solutions David DeGeorge. Today, however, employers are "beginning to offer a holistic approach" to wellness that combines physical and financial programs, DeGeorge said.

So, what this means is that, rather than focus narrowly on saving for retirement, for example, a workplace financial wellness program tends to help employees with issues such as budgeting and managing debt.

And with the pervasiveness of the internet, mobile apps and smartphones, more companies are focusing on delivering a positive and easy user experience to employees.

"Everyone expects things to be online now," said Sharon Reese, retirement program manager for Puget Sound Energy, which provides electricity and natural gas to customers in Washington state's Puget Sound region. "We wouldn't have the level of engagement we have in our financial wellness program without technology."

Piquing financial wellness program interest

In June 2016, Puget Sound Energy began providing all employees free access to SmartDollar, an online and app-based financial wellness program that employers can provide to their employees. The brainchild of personal money management guru Dave Ramsey, SmartDollar walks users step by step through the processes of saving for emergencies and retirement, paying down debt and other financial goals.

"We knew money can be a major stress in people's lives," Reese said. The company had already been offering an employee wellness program from employee engagement company Limeade. So, adding SmartDollar seemed like a good fit, especially since it's a turnkey program that didn't require much setup, Reese added.

To promote the use of SmartDollar, Puget Sound Energy mailed postcards to employees at home, emailed announcements and hosted two in-person meetings at its Bellevue office. The results: Almost immediately, 10% of Puget Sound Energy's 3,000-some employees signed up for the program, Reese said, a percentage that jumped to 20% within 10 days. Currently, 38% of employees are in the program.

With SmartDollar, employees follow seven "baby" steps, some of which are easier (setting aside $1,000 for emergencies) than others (funding your kid's college tuition). The program mixes video tutorials, quizzes and a point system for rewards, along with email inspiration and reminders. (Puget Sound Energy was already using Limeade's point-based reward system and opted not to offer SmartDollar's rewards program, too.)

Employees are encouraged to complete a financial wellness survey to assess their progress in the program, as well as their financial health. The survey results are aggregated (anonymously) into an overall employee financial wellness scorecard. None of the personal data submitted to SmartDollar is reported back to Puget Sound Energy, Reese added.

Helping employees dig out of debt

An exact ROI is "almost impossible" to determine, Reese said. "We can't pinpoint that SmartDollar was the single reason an employee felt less stressed. It's more likely a variety of reasons."

Through the wellness survey scorecard, however, Reese has learned the following:

  • 17% of participants feel more secure and confident about their financial well-being from the program's start in June 2016 to today.
  • 12% feel more confident about their retirement plans.
  • 5% report a decrease in credit card dependency.
  • 4% say they're less stressed about their finances.

In total, employees have eliminated nearly $6,300 on average in debt and increased savings by an average of about $8,400.

Financial literacy info anywhere, anytime

We saw some employees taking out loans on their 401k plans and felt they could benefit from some personal finance education.
Kathy JacobyVP of Marketing and Member Experience, Delta Dental of Colorado

In May 2017, Delta Dental of Colorado began providing a financial wellness program to its employees. "We saw some employees taking out loans on their 401k plans and felt they could benefit from some personal finance education," said Kathy Jacoby, Delta Dental of Colorado's vice president of marketing and member experience.

Delta Dental of Colorado provides its employees with free access to Best Money Moves, a mobile app-based program designed to help users measure their financial stress via its Stressometer. The tool measures 14 categories to better target financial pain points.

The Best Money Moves program provides tools and tutorials to help employees get beyond their money stresses. "We've hired a lot of younger millennials lately, and they particularly like having the mobile tool," Jacoby said. "It's always at their fingertips. And it's highly customizable." Older employees have taken to using the digital tools as well, she added.

Delta Dental of Colorado's original goal was to have 50% of its employees using Best Money Moves -- a goal that has been exceeded, as 165 of its 180 employees are enrolled. In addition, about 65% are actively engaged in the program, Jacoby said. (Enrollment and active participation aren't always the same thing.)

The high level of employee participation in Best Money Moves shows the need for such a program, especially one that's mobile and can fit easily in employees' daily lives, Jacoby said. She feels it's helping workers be more engaged and productive at work as well.

In addition, Delta Dental of Colorado offers in-person appointments with a financial counselor through Principal, its retirement plan and insurance provider.

Workplace financial wellness programs tips

  1. Get your CEO involved: You'll get more engagement if your CEO takes a prominent role in the program and conveys a sincere interest in employees' financial well-being, Jacoby said.
  2. Gauge success through employee surveys: The data collected in workplace financial wellness programs must be anonymous or hidden completely to the employer, for privacy reasons. So, how do you assess success? By asking participants to anonymously answer periodic financial well-being surveys, Jacoby said.
  3. Offer in-person financial wellness training: Especially at the beginning of a digital financial wellness program, in-person communication is critical. When rolling out a digital platform, mobile app or other tech tool for financial well-being, host one or more meetings where employees can learn more and ask questions, Reese said. If you're going with a specific provider, such as SmartDollar, ask if a representative from the provider can be present at meetings to answer questions.
  4. When possible, combine "high-tech" and "high-touch": Delivering financial education and well-being programs via technology helps employees take advantage of a program on their own schedule, MetLife's DeGeorge said. And digital tools provide greater access. But high-tech tools may not drive employees to take action as much as a high-touch approach -- such as in-person financial planning or money management experts available by phone, he added.
  5. Don't get hung up on ROI: Proving the ROI of a financial well-being program is tough, DeGeorge said. Focus instead on value of investment, or VOI, which is more about reducing stress and boosting morale in order to help employees be more valuable to the company.
This was last published in December 2017

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