04 May Your new office workout: Financial fitness
Don’t be so quick to gloss over those employee benefit missives from HR. They might offer valuable help for getting your financial house in order.
More employers are looking beyond retirement resources to help employees with other financial issues, from budgeting and debt management to investing, health care and saving to buy a home.
More than half of employers — 55 percent — already offer a program to aid employees in at least one of those areas, according to a new report from benefits consulting firm Aon Hewitt. By the end of the year, they estimate, 77 percent of large- and mid-size companies will offer at least one such financial wellness program, and 52 percent will offer them in three or more categories. (See chart below for a breakdown.)
Source: Aon Hewitt
The financial wellness program offers vary.
“It’s easy to push tools, but I think now they’re getting smarter about it,” said Virginia Maguire, director of retirement product and solutions at Aon Hewitt. Personalized initiatives are becoming more popular, like solo sessions with a financial planner, for example, or education and incentives tailored to worker concerns (i.e. student loan help for a younger workforce).
The interest comes amid other reports painting an increasingly gloomy picture of employees’ finances. In Bank of America’s 2016 Workplace Benefits Report, 75 percent of employees gave indications they aren’t financially secure via measures like whether they can always pay their rent or mortgage.
Just over half of workers say they are stressed about their finances, and 45 percent say their worries have worsened over the last 12 months, according to a PricewaterhouseCoopers survey released this month.
(It’s worth noting that Bank of America and PwC happened to conduct their surveys during periods of market volatility. Executives from both firms told CNBC.com that timing could have influenced workers’ stress.)
Worker financial strain isn’t lost on the boss.
“Companies recognize that there’s an issue,” said Kent Allison, national leader of PwC’s Employee Financial Wellness Practice. Programs often stem from company concerns about workers not saving enough for retirement. “They didn’t ask the question on the front end, ‘Why aren’t they saving in the first place?'” he said.
Of course, bolstering your bottom line, they hope, might improve theirs, too. Aon Hewitt found 44 percent of employers adding or expanding financial wellness programs were doing so to “decrease employee time spent addressing financial issues.” In the PwC survey, 17 percent of workers said a financial problem had affected their work productivity, and 8 percent said it had caused them to miss work.
Yet workplace financial wellness programs often fly under the radar. In Bank of America’s survey, nearly one-third of employees of large companies said they didn’t know if their employer offered financial wellness initiatives. Participation rates are often low, too.
“Employers provide these benefits and they get frustrated because the employees don’t take advantage of them,” said Carolyn McClanahan, a certified financial planner in Jacksonville, Florida. “It’s just not something that’s on their to-do list.”
Participating could pay off quickly with a better understanding of how to navigate current benefits, she said. There might also be a tangible financial payoff. A 2015 Bank of America report found that among employers with financial wellness programs, a quarter offer incentives — such as cash, gift cards and insurance discounts — for getting financially fit.
Programs might also represent an opportunity for squeezing more cash out of your employer. Base salary increases have been flat in recent years, as more companies shift toward bonuses that reward only their best-performing employees.