When it comes to wellness,the message is really quite clear: Always get to the root of theproblem, instead of simply treating the symptoms.  Thatsame advice can apply to benefits advisors and employers looking toprovide benefits that help employees improve their financialwellness. This is especially relevant when trying to help employeeswho are coping with stress.  Consider the following: ManyAmericans are struggling with unhealthy levels of stress and it'staking its toll:

  • According to the American Psychological Association's12th Annual Stress in America survey, almost half ofthe respondents reported laying awake at night due to stress.
  • About half of the general population stresses over financialconcerns, while more than two-thirds of millennials report havingmoderate to high levels of anxiety about savings and income, according to a Northwestern Mutual survey.
  • These young employees, who comprise the largest and fastestgrowing generation in the U.S. workforce, commonly struggle withheavy student debt burden, a lack of financial planning knowledgeand fear of costly risks.
  • A study conducted by PWC found that employees whoare stressed about their finances are nearly five times more likelyto be distracted at work and are twice as likely to spend threehours or more at work dealing with financial matters.

While all this stress is unsettling for individuals, it also hasa debilitating effect on their employers. American businesses losemore than $300 billion every year because of employees'stress-related issues that are negatively affecting productivity,absenteeism, turnover and out-of-pocket medical, insurance andlegal costs, according to statistics cited in an ARAG study.

|

Take, for example, the impact of employee stress on anemployer's health insurance premiums. Employees with high stresslevels are two times as likely to have a heart attack as otheremployees, three times more likely to have ulcers and 500 percentmore likely to experience increases in anxiety and depression.

|

With stress eating away at employee wellness and productivity,it's not surprising that employers are looking to offer benefitsthat will help employees cope. Walking groups, massages and Fridayafternoon beer carts are some of the initiatives that employershave used to help employees breathe a sigh of relief in today'sgo-go world.

|

Treating the cause While such perks offer awelcome reprieve, employers could have a much greater impact onemployee stress levels by addressing its “root cause.” Employerscould help their employees reduce — or eliminate — the financialworries that actually create stress, instead of just offeringafter-the-fact relief. Financial wellness initiatives can bepivotal in helping employees reach “aspirational goals like freedomfrom stress and financial worry, and being able to make choices toenjoy life,” according to PWC.

|

Fortunately, some consultants and their clients are comingthrough with the assistance that employees need. In fact, theEmployee Benefits Research Institute reported that about 3 outof 4 firms with more than 10,000 employees now offer a financialwellness program.

|

Financial wellness programs can include a variety of voluntarybenefits, such as legal insurance, health reimbursementarrangements, student loan assistance programs, enrollment in401(k) plans, financial counseling, educational resources, andretirement planning.

|

Related: Makingfinancial wellness approachable… for employers

|

These voluntary benefits can empower employees to better addresschallenges that cause financial stress in the first place. Forexample, student loans are commonly cited as a stressor in thelives of recent graduates. This is not surprising, as the average2018 graduate accumulated $29,800 worth of private and federal debtwhile in school, according to the Office of Federal Student Aid. A student loanassistance program helps employees better manage repayment, takingmuch of the stress out of the student loan equation.

|

Fidelity estimates that 25 percent of its employees have studentdebt. Through its “Step Ahead” program, manager level and below areeligible to receive up to $2,000 per year (up to $10,000 total)toward repayment of their student loans. They also have access toonline tools to help them better manage their student loandebt.

|

Abbott takes a decidedly different approach to improving itsemployees' financial wellness, helping its employee both repaystudent debt and save for retirement.  For employees whocontribute 2 percent of their paycheck to student loan repayment,Abbott will provide a 5 percent match to the employee's 401(k)retirement plan.

|

Legal insurance is another benefit that can help to alleviateemployee stress. When experiencing legal issues, 71 percent ofemployees are likely to feel very or somewhat stressed about notknowing where to turn or how to get started. Meanwhile, 67 percentare likely to feel very or somewhat stressed about the amount ofmoney they may have to or have already spent, according to researchfrom ARAG.

|

Legal insurance could help employees, many of whom are alreadyimmersed in stressful situations, when making the decision to seeklegal assistance. Consider the following example: Afterexperiencing the emotional turmoil associated with infertilitytreatment, a 30-something couple decided to pursue adoption, whichin-and-of-itself is a stressful process. On top of the emotionalupheaval associated with infertility, as well as the complicatedand time-consuming adoption process, the couple needed to hire andpay for an attorney. Fortunately, having legal insurance took muchof the stress out of this part of the adoption process.

|

“After years of doctor's appointments and failed infertilitytreatments and months of dealing with the never-ending paperworkassociated with adoption, it was a great help to be able to simplyselect a qualified attorney and rest easy knowing that the legalaspects of the adoption would be taken care of. And, of course,knowing that we didn't have to worry about the attorney feesresulted in a huge sigh of relief,” said the adoptive parent.

|

Key Takeaway

|

Employers offering financial wellness programs that address theroot cause of stressors — not just the visible symptoms — can helpemployees manage both stress and money, keeping them moresatisfied, engaged, and productive at work.

|

Dennis Healy is a member of the ARAG® executive team. Dennisis a passionate advocate for legal insurance because he has seenfirsthand how it helps people receive the protection and legal helpthey need. He has more than 25 years of insurance industryexperience, with a primary focus on the sale of group voluntarybenefit products to employer groups of all sizes through brokers,consultants and employee benefit exchanges.

Complete your profile to continue reading and get FREE access to BenefitsPRO, part of your ALM digital membership.

  • Critical BenefitsPRO information including cutting edge post-reform success strategies, access to educational webcasts and videos, resources from industry leaders, and informative Newsletters.
  • Exclusive discounts on ALM, BenefitsPRO magazine and BenefitsPRO.com events
  • Access to other award-winning ALM websites including ThinkAdvisor.com and Law.com
NOT FOR REPRINT

© 2024 ALM Global, LLC, All Rights Reserved. Request academic re-use from www.copyright.com. All other uses, submit a request to [email protected]. For more information visit Asset & Logo Licensing.