Why More Employers Are Focusing on Employees' Overall Financial Well-Being

Nearly half of American full-time workers say they worry about personal finances during work hours, while 29 percent say they deal with personal financial issues on the job -- often for two to three hours a week.
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Businessman working on a new idea with a laptop
Businessman working on a new idea with a laptop

For many of us, the holiday season has come and gone, and, unfortunately, for some shoppers, the consumerism of the holidays took over your wallet and now that the credit card bills are trickling in, you realize maybe you spent more than you should have.

It's no surprise, financial stress ranks high among today's workers. In fact, recent surveys show the number one cause of stress globally is, indeed, money. According to the American Psychological Association, nearly three-quarters of Americans experience financial stress at least some of the time, and nearly a quarter of us are experiencing extreme financial stress. That's calculated to a $300 billion dollar yearly cost in lost productivity and absenteeism, reports the World Health Organization.

Another whammy, student loan debt has surpassed personal debt. Day-to-day financial concerns continue to pervade people's lives, taking its toll on the lives of individuals and their families.

You don't need to be a rocket scientist to make the connection that any type of stress will impact a person's ability to focus on the job, and financial worries certainly add to the distractions. Nearly half of American full-time workers say they worry about personal finances during work hours, while 29 percent say they deal with personal financial issues on the job -- often for two to three hours a week. Coming out of the Great Recession, many employers began to take this connection more seriously, especially as they were placed in the situation of having to often add to this stress by freezing or cutting wages, suspending employer retirement matching contributions, and reducing or eliminating other rewards programs.

As employer-sponsored benefits programs shift greater responsibility onto workers, and organizations require individuals to make more decisions around complex issues, employers can play an important role in helping their employees feel more financially secure by offering financial well-being benefits. Aon Hewitt found that a growing number of employers realize basic money management plays a critical role in an individual's financial well-being. Helping a workforce improve their money management skills can, also, raise organizational productivity. A study by Towers Watson found that when companies focus on both employee health AND financial well-being, it results in increased productivity, a competitive edge in the marketplace, and an improved ability to attract and retain talent.

Just as many employers offer traditional wellness programs today that focus on nutrition, exercise, and other health-related activities, there clearly are linkages that show the impact financial worries can have on one's physical and emotional health. According to the 2015 WorldatWork survey, Total Rewards and Employee Well-Being Practices, only 28 percent of surveyed employers offer financial wellness programs, outside of retirement-specific education. Therefore, there is lots of room for growth in this area. Every employer can customize their programs to meet the unique needs of their workforce, their organizational culture, and budgetary resources. Employers should begin with basic financial education, such as employee education around establishing a budget, reducing debt, understanding employee benefits and developing financial goals. Make sure senior leadership is on board and provides ultimate support.

Employers may wish to conduct an assessment similar to a health-risk assessment, providing employees with a "financial wellness" score that shows them how they may fare, relative to specific financial risks. In addition, some organizations have begun to offer "wellness dollars" as contributions into individual health savings accounts for the completion of specific health-related tasks as part of an employer's overall wellness program. This same concept might be applicable for the completion of certain financial wellness activities, such as attending a budgeting class, or viewing a webinar or e-learning on cash flow management, insurance basics, investments, or some other financial topic.

Helping employees to better manage their personal finances is a win-win value proposition for both organizations and their employees. With the many financial challenges inherent in the shifting of more retirement funding to employees in the face of stagnant wages and increased out-of-pocket health-care costs, financial well-being programs offer employers an opportunity to assist their employees with learning effective money management skills that they can use to increase their financial security.

Wouldn't it be great if certain components of a financial wellness programs were a required part of the school curriculum?

This post is part of an editorial series produced by The Huffington Post as part of our monthlong "Work Well" initiative, which focuses on thriving in the workplace. The goal of the series -- which will feature blogs, reported features, videos, and more -- is to present creative solutions you can use to take care of yourself as you take care of business. The effort is also part of The Huffington Post's "What's Working" solutions-oriented journalism initiative. To see all the content in the "Work Well" series, visit here.