By Mike Wilbert
The macro-economic landscape for working Americans today is at best uncertain. Rising costs of everyday needs, speculation of a recession, and headlines about layoffs are pushing employee financial stress to an all-time high. And while wages have risen over the past year, inflation has outpaced those wage increases — forcing many to dip into their retirement, forego contributing to their savings or juggle which bills to pay.
And it is not just low-income earners who are feeling the pressure. Many middle-income families say their earnings are not keeping pace with the cost of living, and a rising number say they are unable to save for the future.
We are increasingly having conversations with brokers, benefits professionals and senior human resources leaders about the importance of immediate financial wellness solutions and how to leverage them to work with more traditional and long-term financial benefits.
Traditional long-term financial wellness solutions such as retirement planning and 401k contributions have an essential place in employer sponsored financial wellness strategies; however, it is the immediate, inclusive solutions that are top of mind for many working Americans right now.
When financial stress becomes prolonged it can have tangible effects on workers and employers alike. For employees, financial stress leads to physical and emotional stress, which can impact productivity, overall wellbeing and happiness, and ability to communicate. The impact of this stress negatively affects job performance and satisfaction.
From the employer’s perspective, workers who are experiencing prolonged financial stress negatively impact workspaces by altering the company culture and overall productivity. When people are stressed about their financial situation at home, businesses may see greater absenteeism, lower levels of productivity, and higher levels of turnover.
Addressing today before planning tomorrow
Over the past three years, we have seen the spectrum of wellness solutions and benefits packages expand from a purely health and wealth focus to include a focus on security and personal needs. Brokers have an essential role to play to empower employers with tools to help their people address more immediate challenges such as legal needs and identity theft, but they are also adding popular personal benefits such as pet insurance, tuition reimbursement, and subscriptions or stipends to mental health tools.
We believe that brokers can help their clients expand that personal focus by providing tools, resources, and information to help their workers address today’s challenges. The reality is that financial wellness solutions need to span the spectrum — from long-term to immediate. They need to be flexible and need to accommodate the whole person who may be struggling to make ends meet today.
As trusted advisors, brokers can arm business owners with financial wellness solutions to help the employee get through today, and it will also put them in a better position to contribute to and participate in the critical long-term financial wellness benefits.
One of the most important things businesses can do when evaluating their financial wellness solutions approach is to listen to their employees.
Brokers who suggest this approach — and perhaps provide tools for their clients to do — show they are invested in their client’s long term success. Surveys are a terrific way to understand the financial challenges employees are facing — meeting them where they are — and tailoring solutions that will work best for them.
Easing financial burdens now
Our research shows financial wellness solutions are important to employees and that they will gravitate to companies that provide access to these valuable offerings. A recent survey we conducted revealed that one in three working Americans said one of the top five reasons they accepted a job at a new company is their desire to secure financial wellness solutions.
Such benefits might include low-interest installment loans, medical deductible financing, early-wage access solutions, an employee purchase program, or bill-payment programs.
In addition to these more immediate solutions, brokers can help companies develop strategic partnerships with organizations to provide additional resources and education opportunities. This includes partnering with firms that offer financial literacy and planning, counseling or resources to connect employees with immediate needs like groceries or housing. When brokers take the time to research and suggest resources to their clients, it gives them another opportunity to build a valuable ongoing partnership.
According to an article in BenefitsPro Millennials and Gen Z have been vocal about wanting their employers to care about them and their needs, not just a well-paying job. Offering solutions to help support workers financial wellness is a fantastic way to prove an employer’s commitment to its workforce.
During the “Great Resignation/Great Reshuffle” people left jobs because they did not feel valued, or they were not earning enough to make ends meet. Having financial wellness solutions can address both issues by helping workers with their personal finances, reducing their financial stress, and showing them their employer genuinely cares about their wellbeing.
Deliver effective solutions
Long-term financial wellness solutions are still essential, but many working Americans are struggling to pay their bills and need help in the short term. Today’s economic environment has reinforced the need for immediate financial wellness solutions beneficial to working Americans of all income levels.
Brokers can play an indispensable role by educating employers about what’s available and offering clients tools and resources they can use for their workforce.
When employees receive these valuable resources to support their personal financial wellness from their place of work, the benefits not only impact their personal life, but also their ability to maximize productivity for their employer as well. That’s a win for the broker, the client, and the employee!
MIKE WILBERT is chief revenue officer at Purchasing Power, a voluntary benefit provider. He has more than 30 years of experience in the insurance and voluntary benefits industry.