Employers and brokers alike will be putting more attention on financial wellness benefits this year — primarily because employees are asking for them.
And the reason is simple. There are many statistics about employees’ financial situations and all reveal that at least half of working Americans are experiencing some level of financial stress. Employees bring that financial stress to the workplace and consequently are less productive, which ultimately affects the employers’ bottom line.
Interestingly, the problem isn’t getting better. Although the stock market continues to rise and the U.S. economy is healthy, most employees who are stressed about personal finances report that their stress levels have increased over the past year. As a result, financial wellness benefits in the workplace should take more priority and become more comprehensive in 2018.
Employees’ financial stress and how it affects an organization’s productivity and bottom line are certainly on the radar for most employers today. So employers, and the benefit brokers who advise them, are going to have to take a deeper dive into financial wellness benefits in 2018.
What can we expect in 2018 for financial wellness benefits?
More employers will add financial wellness benefits. Employees overwhelmingly say they will participate in financial education programs, but many employers haven’t jumped on the bandwagon. In 2017, 48 percent of U.S. employers were offering some kind of counseling or instruction about money, according to SHRM and IFEBP surveys. Look for that to increase in 2018 as further research in the past year confirms the impact employee financial stress has on a company’s bottom line, including lower productivity, higher absenteeism and more health care claims. Employers are realizing it’s to everyone’s benefit to provide some type of financial wellness offerings.
Financial wellness benefits will become more holistic. Financial wellness benefits should be more than planning for retirement and having access to supplemental medical benefits. In 2018, we’ll see employers taking a more holistic approach to providing a financial wellness program. That includes not only financial education tools and resources but voluntary benefits that are designed to address both physical and emotional struggles while working to help employees with short-term financial needs. Brokers should make sure their product portfolio includes a variety of financial wellness benefits.
More student loan repayment benefits will become available. In 2017 more Americans were burdened by student loan debt than ever before. And it’s a major concern of today’s millennials, the largest generation in today’s workforce. In 2018, we will see more student loan repayment benefits appear, including programs in which employers are making contributions to loan balances or providing methods for employees to refinance their debt.
More attention will be given to helping employees with short-term financial issues. Employees are struggling financially. Statistics show the alarming number of employees that continue to live paycheck-to-paycheck and don’t have even $1,000 in savings for emergency needs. While financial education benefits can help employees with budgeting and debt reduction needs, employers will adopt additional voluntary benefits that provide employees some financial assistance in the short-term. In 2018, look for employers to add voluntary benefits such as employee purchase programs and low interest installment loans or credit that help employees avoid payday loans and credit card cash advances when they have emergency needs such as a broken refrigerator or unexpected out-of-pocket medical expenses.
Employers will begin to look for ways to provide financial education to future generations. Helping today’s employees overcome their financial challenges is only a part of the solution. Employers should look for ways to provide an element of family-focused financial education — either directly with their employees or in their communities. Employees need to raise financially-responsible children and grandchildren. Incorporating a few age-appropriate financial education lessons into financial education resources and opportunities can start to pave the way for future generations.
Another way that employers can look to support financial education for today’s youth is within their communities. Here in Atlanta, for example, more than 30,000 middle school students visit the Junior Achievement Chick-fil-A Foundation Discovery Center each year. There, through experiential learning, they work directly with business leaders to learn about money management and real-life financial situations. We, along with other Atlanta corporations, partner with Junior Achievement to support a generation where young people know how to budget, save and invest, as well as a generation that is armed with confidence and understanding to take control of their financial futures.