In today’s business landscape, employers recognize the need to engage employees from a whole-person view of health. They understand that employee well-being extends beyond physical health and includes social, emotional, financial and environmental dimensions.
Employers offering wellness programs that address all dimensions of employee health can help boost employee engagement by making healthy actions possible for more of their employee population — something that we at HealthFitness refer to as Well-doing for more people.
One topic that’s gaining interest among employees and employers alike is financial well-being.
A look at financial well-being
Financial well-being can be defined in many different ways but I look at it this way: having enough money to meet basic needs as well as building financial security for the long-term. Plus, people who are strong in financial well-being consistently make choices and money decisions that are in line with their values. For example, if you highly value financial security, have you created emergency and retirement funds?
If not, it’s likely to be a source of stress since that type of financial security is important to you. Unfortunately, despite best efforts and intentions, many Americans are struggling with this dimension of well-being.
According to the latest Stress in America survey conducted by the American Psychological Association, almost three-quarters (72 percent) of adults report feeling stressed about money at least some of the time, while 26 percent report feeling stressed about money most or all of the time. In the same survey, 32 percent of respondents indicated that their finances or lack of money prevent them from living a healthy lifestyle.
The impact of financial stress is too big to ignore. If one is experiencing stress over financial concerns, they may experience multiple physical impacts (headaches, muscle tension/back pain, high blood pressure, stomach ulcers and sleep troubles). Productivity and performance can also be impacted when employees are struggling with money problems.
Money talk challenges
Talking about money is not only uncomfortable, it’s still a taboo subject for many people. A recent NerdWallet survey found that 26 percent of respondents listed money as the topic they are least comfortable discussing with friends and family — even more so than religion (25 percent) or politics (18 percent).
Another challenge is that each demographic segment — millennials, Gen Xers and baby boomers — has their own attitudes, learning preferences, challenges and priorities as they relate to money. Here are some examples:
Millennials —In general, this generation distrusts financial institutions. One market research study found that 71 percent of respondents from this generation would rather go to the dentist than listen to what banks have to offer.
Gen Xers —This group tends to have the most financial worries as they struggle to maintain a delicate balance between saving for the future and taking care of current financial needs.
Baby boomers —According to the Insured Retirement Institute’s fifth annual survey of Retirement Preparedness of the boomer generation, only 60 percent report having money saved for retirement. This is down sharply from previous surveys.
Boosting financial well-being
While these challenges may appear discouraging, the good news is that we can improve behaviors around money similar to how we would approach behavior changes within the physical dimension of well-being. In fact, recognizing that our choices and decisions related to financial matters work the same way as they do with other behaviors can remove some of the mystery/stigma.
Just like when someone is starting to improve their eating habits, we apply behavior change processes to help participants take charge of their financial health. Here are four tips that I have found helpful:
Take stock. Where are you financially strong and where could improvements be made? Which aspect(s) of money or finances cause you the most stress? Being aware of your current financial situation can be as simple as recognizing that you haven’t been setting aside money for an emergency fund. Or, it can mean tracking expenses and income as well as your assets (home equity, bank accounts) and your liabilities (debts) to get a full picture. Think of it like you would your physical health – where am I right now and what could be better?
Identify barriers. Once you know which aspects of your financial life you’d like to improve, ask yourself this question: what’s getting in my way?
Financial emergencies (unexpected illness, job loss, or household/car repairs) and too much debt are common challenges. Another barrier is financial literacy – many people aren’t sure how to create a spending plan, build strong credit, buy a home, or save for a child’s education or retirement.
Or, we may have to examine our attitudes about money as this can be a subtle yet powerful barrier to financial well-being. Some people shop or spend money to alleviate stress or we might feel pressure to live a certain lifestyle. The good news is there are many educational resources and tools available (often through company EAP providers, financial organizations, and online).
Track it. No matter how much money you have, it seems to go so much faster than it builds up! And it’s not just the big purchases. Tracking every penny spent for a certain amount of time can be eye-opening. Just like calories can sneak up on us, even small amounts of money add up quickly. Tracking where money goes, and just as importantly, how much comes in not only builds the foundation for a spending plan, it also helps you find places to cut back and keeps you accountable. Tracking can be as simple as writing everything down in a notebook or using an Excel spreadsheet. Some people choose to use financial apps such as Mint or Level Money that help manage spending, cash flow, budgets and more.
Create a plan. Once you know where you want to go, create a path to get there. Whether it’s to decrease spending, pay down debt, build up emergency, tuition, or retirement funds, each of these goals can be achieved with small changes. Take small steps so you stick with it and see your efforts have an impact. Here are just a few examples:
Skip a $5 daily coffee habit just twice a week and save over $500 per year
Have just a small amount of money (even as little as $5 or $10) automatically transferred into a savings account every paycheck
Write down your financial goal(s)—be very specific—and put it somewhere visible (your desk, computer, fridge)
Get the family involved and challenge each other to look for ways to save money. Put any savings into a jar to watch it build up towards your goal.
Making healthy actions possible for more of an employee population requires that employers address all dimensions of employee well-being, including financial well-being. Having an open dialogue with employees, providing actionable tips and offering access to available resources are key steps in empowering and supporting behavior change around finances.