LAS VEGAS -- Are poor physical health and poor financial health connected? The benefits industry is making the link, if you consider how many deals between health-related benefits companies and retirement providers have occurred lately.
Obviously, the poor, at least in America, have a more fragile state of health than the more affluent. And as we age, the potential for unplanned health events to hurt us financially increases -- and that's important for retirement advisors and plan sponsors to remember. But what about your typical employees who are neither poor nor elderly?
A study in the journal Psychological Science looked at worker attitudes and actions to find out whether poor physical health and poor financial health might be linked, and how.
The researchers studied employees who were given an employer-sponsored health exam and were told they needed to change certain behaviors to improve their health. Which employees made the changes and who blew them off?
The researchers accounted for external factors such as different levels of income and physical health, and differences in demographics. Yet the results were still startling:
“Employees who saved for the future by contributing to a 401(k) showed improvements in their abnormal blood-test results and health behaviors approximately 27% more often than noncontributors did,” the researchers concluded in Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise: Retirement Planning Predicts Employee Health Improvements.
The employees who made the behavior changes to better their physical health were also the ones who were taking action to better their financial health.
Employee attitudes about the future and how much control they have over it affect whether they take care of their physical health and their financial health. That sense of control, or conversely, that feeling of no control, and thus, no investment in long-term results, is one reason why some employees might not participate in retirement plans, and, maybe, wellness and well-being programs.
What if, along with the retirement health-care cost calculators many retirement plan providers offer, there was a fatalism calculator too? That way you could see right away each person’s sense of control or feelings of inevitability about their future and help them more efficiently.
Because if someone is more fatalistic, telling them about their 401(k) match or pension options isn’t going to make them enroll in a retirement plan. Scaring them with statistics about the high costs of health care in retirement isn’t going to do the trick either. Instead, consider the following points for such employees:
They can be helped to see that the future is a lot more unpredictable (and complex) than they realize, both negatively and positively.
They can be helped to realize that even the smallest actions they undertake can have a big impact in the long term.
They can be helped to understand that seemingly unobtainable goals can be broken down into steps and tackled bit by bit.
Look behind employee behavior for the unexamined biases and long-held assumptions that are causing it. If they can see that it’s not who they are that determines their future but what they do, it's a start.