Employees are under financial stress — big time. In fact, 56 percent of them are stressed about their financial situation, and more than half of them say it’s taking a toll on both their ability to focus and their productivity on the job.
That’s according to the latest Bank of America Merrill Lynch Workplace Benefits Report, which finds that not only are 53 percent of stressed employees having trouble concentrating on their work, the cost of health care is a big shadow cast over workers’ financial situations. And that’s already an issue, with 43 percent of employees owning up to spending 3 or more hours a week while at the office dealing with personal financial matters.
As more employees find themselves shelling out more from their own pockets to pay health care bills — 69 percent of workers said so in 2015, but 79 percent said so in 2016 — it’s no surprise to hear that health care costs are up 10 percent since 2015. No wonder they’re stressed; salaries certainly haven’t risen to match.
Those rising health care costs are taking a bite out of most employees’ other financial goals — among workers who have experienced increasing health care costs, 56 percent are having to save less toward other objectives.
Women in particular are abandoning more discretionary spending and debt management to cover health care costs than men, with 72 percent chucking spending on recreation or entertainment, compared with 59 percent of men; 63 percent saving less for retirement, compared with 62 percent of men; and 50 percent paying down less debt, compared with 46 percent of men.
And the more expensive health care becomes, the more employees appear to appreciate employer-provided health coverage — with workers ranking health benefits as their top employer benefit (40 percent), followed by their 401(k) plan (31 percent).
Even among employees who class themselves as optimists about their financial futures, worries about health care and its cost are weighing them down. And as might be expected, money woes weigh more on women than men, even — or perhaps especially — when it comes to health care. While 52 percent of men say that becoming seriously ill and unable to work is a major concern (even larger for men than having to work longer than they planned), 58 percent of women fear illness and subsequent absence from the workplace.
And more than half of employees say that financial stress is negatively affecting their physical health. Different generations feel the effects more, with 51 percent of boomers, 56 percent of Gen Xers and 68 percent of millennials saying money worries are literally making them sick. Employers need to be aware of this and take steps to deal with it, particularly since it translates into a toll not just on workers but on the employer’s bottom line — via higher absenteeism rates and higher health care costs.