The American worker is stressed out about work, finances and debt like never before, according to a new Fidelity Investments survey. The solution may be for U.S. companies to take a stronger hand in crafting more comprehensive and inclusive wellness programs to ease that pain.
Stress related to work and finances impacted just about all employees who took the survey, regardless of age, gender or income. Nearly all respondents (98%) reported feeling stressed in the past three months, with “job” and “finances” topping the list of the biggest stress points for employees.
For employers, financial wellness needs to be an integral part of broader benefit programs and a top priority for companies today, says Jeanne Thompson, head of global workplace insights at Fidelity Investments. “Taking a holistic view of financial and health wellness, in addition to work and life, provides a more complete assessment of employee wellbeing, which can help employers provide the right benefits to the right person at the right time,” Thompson says.
While 77% of respondents in a recent Fidelity financial wellness assessment were considered “well” when it comes to their overall wellbeing, more than two thirds (68%) of employees were “unwell” in at least one of the four domains of wellbeing (financial, health, work and life). Employees were most likely to report high levels of stress caused by their job (47% of participants), saving for the future (34%) and paying off debt (33%), according to the survey.
Employee debt was linked to lower productivity at work, the reported noted. Employees with the highest levels of debt are twice as likely to be absent compared to those with the lowest levels of debt. They also miss an additional full week of work more when comparing the two groups.
When looking at various types of debt, past-due medical bills were the leading indicator of workplace absenteeism, with one in eight workers reporting struggling with unpaid medical bills. Gao-Wen Shao, director of retirement and personal wealth solutions at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, warns that employers need to consider their entire workforce when designing financial benefit packages. “Employee financial wellness needs are not all the same, so the onus is on employers to ensure programs address a wide range of financial needs — not just retirement,” Shao says. “Financial wellness programs need to fully account for employees’ diverse financial goals, challenges, life paths and experiences.”
Two-way conversations between employees and benefit/HR managers are critical to the success of any financial wellness program, continues Shao. Such communication “allows employers to be continuously adapting programs to the evolving needs and preferences of employees — whether it calls for more personalized advice, formal feedback, one-on-one support or other financial wellness needs,” she says. “Employers can also boost awareness and participation in these programs by actively promoting them across channels and communicating their benefits to employees regularly.”
For employers strategizing at putting a new program in place, Shao says to put personalized advice at the center. “Employees are speaking loud and clear about their desire for personal financial assessments and guidance, supported by specific actions to take,” she adds. “Financial wellness programs need to offer personalized and tailored approaches that account for unique and varied financial circumstances.”