Employees’ worsening financial well-being is also having a negative effect on their productivity, engagement and health. (Photo: Shutterstock)

The markets might be casting a rosy glow over the economy, but employees aren’t feeling the love. In fact, after several years of steady improvement, according to a new survey by Willis Towers Watson, their feelings have taken a sharp turn south.

Findings from the biennial 2017 Global Benefits Attitudes Survey indicate that just a bit more than a third of U.S. workers (35 percent) were satisfied with their financial situation this year; that’s a tumble from two years ago, when close to half—48 percent—said they were satisfied. That’s a sharp reversal of a trend of improved satisfaction since 2009, when only a quarter said they were satisfied.

That’s not the only downturn in employee attitudes. In the last survey, 21 percent of U.S. workers believed their current financial concerns were negatively affecting their lives, but this year that’s risen sharply, too—to 34 percent. And 59 percent are worrying about their future financial state, compared with just under a half (49 percent) two years ago.

Should employers be worried about this downward trend? Absolutely—since another survey finding is that employees’ worsening financial well-being is also having a negative effect on their productivity, engagement and health—particularly among “struggling” employees, identified in the research as those worried about their short- and long-term finances. About 30 percent of the employees surveyed identified as struggling.

An overwhelming majority, 81 percent, of struggling employees say they’re living paycheck to paycheck, and only 20 percent of them manage to pay their credit card in full each month. And overall, more than a third of U.S. workers experienced a moderate (24 percent) or severe (13 percent) financial hardship. Ten percent have taken a loan from their 401(k) plan, while 6 percent have made a permanent hardship withdrawal.

Among that struggling group, 31 percent said worrying about money kept them from doing their best at work. They also had higher levels of absenteeism. Then there’s the stress effect: struggling employees reported high (37 percent) or above-average (33 percent) stress levels, and 30 percent said their health was poor.

Employees without money worries, on the other hand, reported themselves as being in good health (35 percent) or very good health (55 percent), while only 5 percent reported high stress levels.

Unsurprisingly, just 29 percent of the struggling employees were fully engaged at work, compared with more than half of employees without any worries who were fully engaged.

When it comes to getting help with those financial woes, employees definitely have mixed attitudes. While a majority of employees (53 percent) would like their employers to offer tools that provide suggestions on how they can improve their financial situation, even more—57 percent—say it’s not the role of an employer to send personalized messages to employees who face important financial decisions. And half say employers should not send personalized messages to employees who are not saving enough for a secure retirement.