The HRMorning team joined 20,000 other HR pros at the Society for Human Resource Management’s annual conference and expo in Las Vegas June 23 – 26. Here’s some of what we learned about employee financial wellness benefits programs.
Helping employees achieve and maintain financial wellness was a hot topic at the SHRM conference as employers continue looking for innovative ways to attract and retain top talent.
Many are adding financial wellness and assistance options and increasing efforts to publicize financial wellness programs.
The variety of financial wellness programs offered is growing rapidly as employers strive to offer a collection of benefits that will appeal to the various demographic groups that make up their workforces – and to individual employees.
Education debt assistance
Student loan repayment assistance was the topic of many discussions at SHRM, reflecting the huge cadre of new workers who are starting their careers with unprecedented levels of education debt.
According to SHRM’s 2019 Employee Benefits Survey, however, while trending upward, the percentage of U.S.-based organizations offering student loan repayment assistance rose to just 8% as of April 2019.
Many of the HR pros at the conference said debt-burdened employees are putting off investing in 401ks, even where employers offer generous matching contributions.
To help reverse that trend, they are looking at everything from offering low cost loans (directly or through partnerships with third party providers), to adding employer 401K contributions tied to the percentage of salary an employee puts toward repaying student loans each pay period.
Searching for financial wellness innovations
But it isn’t just young workers struggling with student loans that are worrying HR pros.
Dan Macklin, CEO of Salary Finance, which offers salary-secured loans to workers as an alternative to payday loans or raiding retirement accounts for emergency bills, told HR Morning that company research found 48% of U.S. employees are under financial stress.
That’s a big jump from the 28% of workers surveyed by PWC in 2016 who said that financial issues have been a distraction at work.
That includes workers at every pay level — of the 34% of American workers who aren’t putting anything towards savings, about a quarter earn more than $160,000 a year.
Employees’ financial stress hurts the bottom line
And, Macklin said, “When employees are financially stressed, it’s affecting businesses. Our research showed that employees who are bringing financial worries to work lose about a month of productivity in a year.”
When combined with the cost of turnover related to financial stress, the company says, that translates into about $500 billion coming off American companies’ bottom lines each year.
The challenge for HR Pros? Designing and managing financial wellness programs addressing the specific needs of workers at every life and career stage and financial position.
Financial benefits workers want and need
Speakers on SHRM’s “Financial Wellness Benefits Your Employees Want and Need” panel stressed that programs should include a mix of prevention, to help employees avoid common financial mistakes in the first place, and support for when they do encounter difficulties.
Those can include providing access to financial education resources, coaching on improving financial habits and direct financial assistance through loans, company-sponsored savings plans, employee-managed pay schedules and other innovative offerings.
Keys to success, according to the SHRM panel — surveying employees to understand what they really need, personalizing offerings as much as possible and making sure you communicate with employees to be sure they know what is available.
Panelists noted that, while dealing with financial problems isn’t the taboo subject it once was, HR pros need to recognize it remains a sensitive topic.
It can help to frame your surveys as financial wellness assessment tools employees can use to improve their personal finances. Another strategy: include financial questions in other wellness surveys.
And asking employees about what tools they would find useful provides critical guidance for HR pros designing financial wellness programs and increases engagement when they roll out.