MetLife's study examines financial 'illness'

In the aftermath of the global economic crisis, men and women are experiencing financial stress, according to MetLife’s 9th Annual Study of Employee Benefits Trends.

Fifty-eight percent of employers surveyed state that financial “illness” plays a role in employee absenteeism and 78 percent said that concerns over financial problems while at work can have a negative impact on employee productivity.

In response to this stress, more employers are providing their employees with financial education programs. MetLife, in coordination with the Boston College Center for Work & Family, released a white paper called “The MetLife Study of Financial Wellness Across the Globe” to examine how two large multinational companies, American Express and EMC, have taken strategic measures to address the financial wellness of their employees.

"Financial wellness is a relatively new but growing concept, and there is an increasing recognition, across the globe, of the negative impact of financial distress on employee health and productivity," said Michael Malouf, senior vice president of global strategies and sales at MetLife. "The MetLife white paper provides insights into how multinational employers can address the financial wellness of their employees by providing them with the financial education they need to successfully manage their personal financial, retirement and savings plans."

The report looked at financial wellness programs at the companies’ sites in Hong Kong, India, Ireland, Mexico and the U.S.

"American Express recognizes that financial distress can negatively impact employees' productivity. In response to what we perceived as a need for employees to better manage their financial future, we instituted the Smart Saving program to provide them with financial education, as well as financial planning services that include one-on-one financial counseling sessions, at no cost to them," said Barbara Kontje, director of global retirement at American Express. "We believe that the program has had a positive impact on their financial wellness and are very pleased with the results we've seen. Since the launch of Smart Saving, there has been a 71 percent increase in calls to the financial planning counseling service and an 8 percent increase in 401(k) participation."

Kevin Close, vice president of global compensation and benefits at EMC, added that, "At EMC, we believe that there is a direct correlation between financial security and physical health. That is why we provide services in both areas. WealthLink was developed with an objective to increase our employees' financial acumen. It provides them with personalized and action-based tools to understand and optimize their compensation and benefits. We see it as an important tool to attract and retain the best employees and to keep EMC positioned as an employer of choice. During the 2008- 2009 recession, we were gratified to see that among WealthLink users, there was no scale back in contribution to 401(k) programs, as compared to a 7 percent decrease among non-users."

The white paper highlights that:

  • Financial difficulties can have a negative effect on worker productivity. There is evidence that financial distress may have a direct impact on employee health and well-being which can reduce worker productivity and increase absenteeism.
  • Carried out correctly, financial education can have a beneficial effect on employee wellness. Financial education programs have the potential to lower financial stress, reduce absenteeism, increase productivity and lead to a more loyal workforce.
  • Consumers are generally poorly prepared to make good investment choices. Consumer financial illiteracy is widespread globally and consumers are not sufficiently committed to their own financial well-being. While most people recognize that the government will not provide them with an adequate retirement income, this realization does not translate into increased savings or investments.

Interviews for the paper were conducted from March to July 2011.

MetLife is a subsidiary of MetLife, Inc., a leading global provider of insurance, annuities and employee benefit programs, serving 90 million customers in over 50 countries.

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