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Employee well-being is top of mind for companies and HR leaders across the globe. Healthy employees―physically, mentally and financially―are more productive and engaged at work, boosting an employer’s business success. Most HR leaders understand the importance and impact of an employee’s physical and mental well-being on the workplace, especially since the Covid-19 pandemic. In addition to physical and mental well-being, there is financial well-being. Most employers offer the basics, such as a 401(k) plan, but leading employers are increasingly offering holistic financial wellness benefits. New data puts a spotlight on the dramatic impact of employee financial well-being on their employers.

Our 2021 Wellness Barometer Survey found that 65% of employees are stressed about their finances due to the pandemic, costing employers across the country a total of $4.7 billion per week in lost productivity (assuming 94,257,000 knowledge workers in the U.S. with an hourly wage of $35.53; source: Federal Reserve Economic Dataset.) 

(Infographic: BrightPlan)

Financial stress negatively impacts an employee’s physical and mental health, lowering their productivity and engagement. According to PwC, money is the top cause of stress for employees, leading to issues such as sleeping disorders, anxiety and depression. Poor physical and mental health can also lead to absenteeism, lack of concentration and poor performance in the workplace. 

How did we come up with the $4.7 billion per week estimate of productivity loss due to financial stress? First, 20% of survey respondents ― all knowledge workers ― reported worsening financial health due to the pandemic. We then asked those employees if they experienced lower productivity due to the decline in their financial health. Not surprisingly, 46% said yes. We then asked how many hours per week were they less productive. The result was staggering. We saw an average of 15.3 hours of less productive hours per employee per week. Assuming there are 94 million knowledge workers in the U.S. with an hourly wage of $35.53, the losses amounted to $4.7 billion per week.

Although they may not know the exact dollar amount their organization loses to financial stress, most HR leaders instinctively know that this is a critical problem. They’ve seen signs such as paycheck advances, 401(k) loans or early distributions, or even wage garnishments in extreme cases. Forward-thinking HR leaders may even have a more accurate view of their employees’ financial health through surveys and other employee listening mechanisms. 

(Infographic: BrightPlan)

With the significant impact of financial stress on an employer’s bottom line, it’s no wonder that employers reject the old paradigm that an employee’s finances are their private issue to deal with. Financial stress deeply affects an employee’s work and employers need to do everything they can to support the financial health of their employees through financial wellness programs.

Financial wellness is a universal need, much like access to education and healthcare. And employees are demanding it. The survey found that financial wellness is the third most important benefit for employees after healthcare and remote work. Employees ranked it higher than benefits such as paid time off and mental health. Also, employees trust employers as a source for financial advice and information, more than influencers, YouTube and even their own friends. This finding makes sense given the employer’s central role as the primary source of income and benefits.

When asked to prioritize different financial wellness benefits they value, employees want the most employer support in financial education, investing, and gaining access to a financial professional. By increasing an employee’s financial literacy and giving them access to resources and tools, employers are enabling employees to improve their overall financial well-being.

Although not new, employer-provided financial wellness benefits have gained momentum over the past few years as employers seek ways to improve the holistic well-being of their employees. Employees who are healthy physically, mentally and financially are more likely to bring their best selves to work. They are also more likely to be more engaged and productive, boosting business results for their employers. Financial wellness is no longer a “nice-to-have” benefit. With financial stress costing employers nearly $5 billion per week, it’s now a strategic imperative. 

Marthin De Beer is the founder and CEO of BrightPlan.