Mans hands cupped over a small leaflet growing on a pile of coins Financial wellness tools offercompanies a great opportunity to help employees through thesetroubled times, building deeper engagement and trust with theirworkforce while doing so.

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The economic turbulence of the past three months has upended thefinancial wellness plans of millions of Americans. Millions ofpeople have been caught unaware or unprepared. Almost one in threeAmericans have no money set aside for an emergency, according to a2018 survey by the Federal Emergency ManagementAgency. And most of those who had some 'rainy day' savings had justa modest amount.

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The uncertainty has left employees in dire need of financialwellness guidance, and employers have a duty to address this. It'stime for companies to do more to help their workers evaluate theirfinancial wellness and craft a robust plan for the future.

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Related: What does financial wellness look like afterCOVID?

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Companies have traditionally played a smaller role in theiremployees' financial wellness. Aside from a qualified retirement plan, most employees don't haveaccess to financial wellness tools to help craft their overallfinancial strategy. Undoubtedly, there is plenty of room foremployers to take a more proactive and far bigger role in theirfinancial security. For instance, a recent special report from theEdelman Trust Barometer shows that, when it comes to COVID-19information, people trust their employers more than almost anyoneelse. A total of 63% of employees believe right away what theircompany tells them about coronavirus, compared to 58% for agovernment website, 56% for a health company website and 51% fortraditional media.

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If employees rely on their workplace for critical healthinformation, they will almost certainly trust them when it comes toproviding tools to help them manage their finances through theseturbulent times. For most people, their retirement plan is theironly savings outside of a bank account. What's more, they count ontheir company paying them a salary every month to ensure they canpay their bills. It's no surprise they might also see theiremployer as a trusted source to provide tools for comprehensivefinancial wellness information.

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This offers companies a great opportunity to help employeesthrough these troubled times, building deeper engagement and trustwith their workforce while doing so. For a start, greaterengagement is a tacit acknowledgment of the unique role thatemployers play in their workers' lives. If done properly, companieswill be rewarded with their employees' loyalty once we're throughthe pandemic and the economy is back on track. Financial wellnessengagement should also address peoples' immediate concerns, as wellas take a long-term view.

What to do now

Communicate. And don't be afraid to overcommunicate. We are allexperiencing an economic upheaval not seen since the GreatDepression. Given that most of the country is working remotely –some two-thirds of all workers by one survey – communicating with employees is aspecial challenge. So we should focus on what's possible. We mightnot be able to gather employees together for a pep talk frommanagement or distribute materials to people deskside, but we canarrange virtual webinars to broach topics of financial wellness.These can range from internal executives discussing the resourcesthat the company already has available, to featuring outsideexperts who can offer strategies and tools for helping people dealwith uncertainty.

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The content and tone of these webinars are crucial. Advice onwhat emergency resources your company may have and whatpandemic-related government programs may be on offer are usefultopics. Employees will also welcome strategies to manage and reducedebt and boost savings. It's worth remembering that everyone hasbeen impacted by this pandemic with some much more than othersfinancially. To some extent, it is safe to say that everyone feelsfinancial stress these days.

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Emails and mailings are excellent supplementary ways tocommunicate with employees, but we're all remembering thatimportant messages are best delivered by people you can see. Somake videos and virtual challenges, especially one where viewerscan interact by audio and text chat, a central tool of yourcompany's efforts.

What to do soon

Ideally, companies should begin to roll out new opportunitiesfor employees to improve their long-term financial wellness.Companies can do this by being gateways to services like petinsurance to long-term care insurance – products that can makepeople better prepared for future expenses and help restore a senseof order, security and well-being to their lives. Benefitsprofessionals should also review the timing and approach ofprograms that usually run towards the end of the calendar year,such as choosing a new health care plan option, 401k plan decisionsand annual lock-in periods for other optional benefits. There mightbe scope to bring those programs forward to make employees feelbetter engaged. Digitally nudging employees to engage is animportant step to build on the trust factor right now.

What to do for the future

None of us are quite certain what the future of work andfinancial wellness will look like once we're through the pandemic.We are adjusting to our new normal and are likely to see a greaterappetite from employees for resources to prepare for the next 12-18months. The Federal Reserve recently stated that we are in arecession and can expect a long economic recovery. It is worthdiscussing how the workplace, benefits and holistic employeeprograms might be structured for the recovery to ease financialstress. If possible, consider taking stock of the employees whowent 'above and beyond' when answering the call of duty during thecrisis, and how the company can and should reward them for theirbehavior. In the long-run, you want your employees to feelconnected with the company and feel sure they will be taken care ofin the future as they have been in the past.

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At every stage, finding and offering financial wellness programsis only one part of the battle. Getting employees to click throughand engage is the other. That's one reason why video is sopowerful. This crisis has intensified our need for socialconnection because of real physical distance. Gamification of benefits and planning appsmight be another useful tool to get people clicking.

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it's also worth staying in tune with what employees want tolearn about their financial wellness, as opposed to what companieswant them to know about. A 2019 workplace benefits report from Bank ofAmerica showed that financial wellness engagement seemed to meantwo different things to employees and companies. Firms wantedemployees to read about benefits plans and how those benefitsaffected employee finances, while employees wanted informationabout gaining more financial independence and concrete steps on howto achieve their goals.

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As we dive into technology, we shouldn't forget that goingdigital is not necessarily dehumanizing. The pandemic has made ourlives temporarily abnormal, and the future holds a new, morepermanent normal. Making the effort to support employees in theirwellness, financial and otherwise, needs to be a part of ourapproach in every situation.

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Cindy Dash is general manager and seniorvice president at Matrix Financial Solutions, Broadridge.

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