Your Financial Wellness Program Needs a Coach

by Kate Elliot

Financial stress is something employees bring to work with them every day. A survey performed by PWC, a company that’s been analyzing financial wealth among American employees for years, shows that financial stress is not only a burden to most employees, it’s something they bring to work with them every single day. The survey found that one in five employees find financial stress to be a distraction at work, while 37 percent of those say that they spend three or more hours a week dealing with personal financial issues, or thinking about them.[1]

For employers, this is a problem, because if employees aren’t working, it’s a loss of production for the CEO or boss, and that directly affects their bottom line. The good news is that more and more employers are recognizing the problem and, according to a recent report done by Bank of America Merrill Lynch, more than 90 percent of large companies today have implemented, or are going to implement, some type of financial wellness program.[2] The bad news is that sometimes these programs don’t work, and become just another work-related obligation to employees than the incentive they’re meant to be.

For instance, employees in an organization might be given the opportunity to earn up to $100 a month for certain healthy living practices, whether it’s getting their cholesterol checked or signing up for a fitness program. It’s meant to be an incentive program that allows employees to boost their financial and physical health at the same time. But in reality, it becomes just one more work-related obligation to the employee, causing them more stress instead of less.

And this can happen with financial wellness plans as well. For example, suppose the same organization also offered to match charitable donations made by the employee, giving employees the opportunity to benefit more from tax deductions. At its surface, it seems like a chance to give back to the employees and help them with financial stress. However, it becomes just one more thing employees need to do. It becomes another obligation, another responsibility, instead of the beneficial program they may take part in, if they wish.

Employers shouldn’t think however, that all of this means that financial wellness plans should be scrapped altogether. They definitely hold many benefits, and can result in healthier, less-stressed, and more productive employees. The key is in the implementation of the financial wellness plan. Having lots of features and different options is great, but simply unloading them all on the employees and leaving them to sort it all out for themselves is the downfall of many plans. Without guidance, and some proactive interaction, these plans are more likely to fail than they are to benefit the employee. It’s this interaction that will not only provide support to the employee, but actually make them feel as though their employer is truly concerned about them and their overall personal wellness.

The Harvard Business Review speaks of one wellness plan that’s a great example of how business owners can contribute to the personal wellness of their employees.

“One Fortune 500 corporation in the Bay Area has a system in place whereby the CEO is immediately informed if an employee comes down with a major illness or has experienced a personal tragedy. Within 15 minutes, no matter how busy he is, the CEO makes time to call that person and offer his support,” states the Harvard Business Review.[3]

This idea can be adopted by financial wellness plans, as well. While the opportunities might be there for employees to save or make more money, without the proper support and guidance, they can end up being misused or not used at all. This isn’t to say that employers should be constantly interfering with the plans, or how employees choose to use them, but rather, give them an option along with the financial plan to help them realize the plan’s full potential.

At PeopleJoy, our financial wellness plans include a financial coach that will monitor the employee’s progress towards agreed upon goals, and check in with them periodically to make sure they are on track. If a financial coach notices a sudden drop in the employee’s saving account, or a sudden burst in spending, they’ll reach out to the employee to make sure everything is okay, and that the employee isn’t experiencing financial stress. If they’re not, the financial coach steps out of the picture with no pressure on the employee, but if they are stressed, the coach can then speak to them directly and try to help out by offering strategies that will help them reduce that stress.

Financial wellness plans that include the benefit of financial coaches simply work better. The employee feels as though the company is genuinely concerned about them, and that they have the support in place if needed to help them get the most out of the plan. Just like anything else, simply setting up the financial wellness plan and expecting it to run itself doesn’t work. People are needed to guide the plan and direct it in a way that will truly benefit the employee, and actually reduce their overall financial stress.

Thomas Ruggie, president of Ruggie Wealth Management in Florida, sums it up perfectly when he told US News, “Employee education hasn’t worked in a vacuum. You can have slick brochures and a slick website and send out emails, but the relevancy is poor. What moves the dial is providing a dedicated person.”[4]





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