A growing number of companies are paying employees to get their financial lives in order, reflecting concern over the impact money problems are having on employees’ stress and productivity levels.
Aetna Inc., AET -1.27% Pitt Ohio LLC, SunTrust Banks Inc. STI -0.10% and others are handing out cash and other inducements to workers who take steps to shore up their finances by reducing debt, funding emergency-savings accounts, and attending financial-education classes and meetings with advisers.
Among U.S. corporations with so-called financial-wellness programs, which are designed to teach employees basic money-management skills, 17% offered incentives for participation in 2016—the most recent year for which data is available—up from 10.7% in 2014. An additional 8% said they were considering such a move, according to the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans.
Pitt Ohio, a Pittsburgh trucking company that employs 1,800 drivers, in 2016 began offering $56 to employees who contribute at least $19 a week for six months to an emergency-savings account without making withdrawals. Employees who maintain that for another six months qualify for a second $56 payment. Pitt Ohio executives grew alarmed about employees’ finances after researchers at the University of Pittsburgh discovered in a 2016 survey that drivers who reported financial stress are more distracted and had more accidents, inflating the company’s total by about eight accidents a year.
In response, Pitt Ohio set a goal for every employee to have a $1,000 rainy-day fund, said Chief Operating Officer Jim Fields, who added that the company prides itself on its safety record.
Mr. Fields said half of eligible employees have participated in the voluntary program, 92% of whom received the first $56 payment, and most received the second payment as well. The company has spent more than $100,000 on the incentives, he said.
Carrie Leana, a professor of organizations and management at University of Pittsburgh, said participants reported significant declines in their financial worry and increases in both their physical and psychological health.
Fueling companies’ focus on financial well-being is concern about their employees’ retirement funds. Half of U.S. households are at risk of being unable to maintain their standard of living in retirement, according to Boston College’s Center for Retirement Research.
Executives have become aware that “employees are coming to work with a cloud hanging over their heads,” said Julie Stich, associate vice president at the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans, a nonprofit organization. “They are distracted by student loans and credit-card debt. The strain of living paycheck to paycheck is impacting productivity, stress and well-being.”
According to a survey published in 2015 by the American Psychological Association, 72% of adults say they worry about money. The Federal Reserve says 44% of adults lack the funds to cover a $400 emergency.
To tackle this, companies are using incentives to boost participation in financial-wellness programs. These typically combine financial education with customized advice delivered by mobile apps and human advisers. The goal: to teach employees basic money-management skills and remind them—via text messages, emails or one-on-one meetings—to stick to budgets, pay bills and save more for everything from emergencies to retirement.
Currently, 17% of large companies offer financial-wellness programs that incorporate online tools and 42% offer one-on-one consultations, up from 9.2% and 35%, respectively, in 2015, according to investment-consulting firm Callan LLC. More than half of employers say they plan to take steps this year to create or enhance these programs, says a recent survey from 401(k) record-keeper Alight Solutions LLC.
Some employers are offering incentives to specific groups of workers. Aetna recently began matching up to $2,000 a year of student-loan repayments for full-time employees who graduated from college after Dec. 1, 2013. (The health insurer caps the benefit at $10,000 per employee.)
Other incentive programs target all employees. SunTrust Banks of Atlanta gives employees $1,000 if they complete a financial-education course on topics including budgeting and reducing debt and make automatic contributions to emergency savings. Employees can use the $1,000 to reduce debt or fund an emergency, 401(k) or health-savings account.
More than 20,000 of the bank’s current and past employees have participated, SunTrust Banks said. The bank—which has 24,000 employees—has spent over $9 million on the incentives, it said.
SunTrust Banks offers the program at cost to more than 80 other companies, includingDelta Air Lines Inc. and Home Depot Inc. One-third of these companies offer financial incentives of their own. More than 95% of participants at these companies now have emergency-savings accounts, up from 68% at the time of enrollment, with an average increase in the balance of $1,254, SunTrust Banks said.
“We know that stress is the No. 1 cause of health-related issues, and the No. 1 cause of stress is money,” said SunTrust CEO William Rogers Jr. “If we can attack financial stress, we can improve our employees’ physical well-being as well.”
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