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How to Boost Employee Financial Wellbeing (Even if You’re the Wellbeing Grim Reaper)

Feb 13, 2021

By Michael Barrell

Look, we all know that happier employees are more productive and engaged than their unhappy counterparts.

But what about financial wellbeing? Hell, what is financial wellbeing? And how to we look after it? 

Well that’s exactly what we are going to dive into today. We’re going to get into the weeds of what it is, how it affects your bottom line, and a few simple yet practical things that you as boss can do – right now – to boost financial wellbeing in your workforce.

Financial Wellbeing - What Is It?

Let’s start off by making sure we’re all on the same page as to what it actually is. 

Well, financial wellbeing is pretty much the type of wellbeing that rests on your ability to afford necessities, meet family obligations, cover reasonable financial emergencies, and save for retirement. 

Now although that’s not a definition that many can argue with. Let me put it into some context for you. 

Picture this: One of your full-time employees, let’s call her Sam, is on $42K per year. She’s a single mum with three school-age kids at home. Her ex-husband Jack is out of the picture. He’s about as useful as a chocolate teapot and he doesn’t pay child support. The weekly grocery shop is always a stretch for Sam, sometimes rent payments go on the credit card, the thought of getting money together for the kid’s upcoming school camps makes her stomach churn, and you can pretty much hear crickets in her retirement savings plan. With all this, do you think Sam has the bandwidth to rock up to work fully engaged and productive? I didn’t think so either. 

But get this, even before COVID-19 struck, roughly half of workers were just like Sam. Now, the numbers of financially stressed employees are skyrocketing as the COVID-19 pandemic marches on. 

So if you take a moment to look beneath the bonnet of your own workforce, chances are that Sam’s reality is the same reality that a good proportion of your employees face too. A reality where they aren’t able to afford necessities, meet family obligations, cover reasonable financial emergencies, and save for retirement. 

And how much are your employees concerned about their financial wellbeing? A lot it seems. MetLife’s most recent Employee Benefits Trend Study – in 2020 – puts the percentage of employees who are most concerned with their financial health at 52%. That means more than half of your workers are more concerned about their finances than any other aspect of their wellbeing. 

But here’s the thing - scant financial wellbeing not only harms employee health, it obliterates employer bottom lines. 

Here’s how. 

Low financial wellbeing causes:

  • High Presenteeism – like being 5 times more likely to be distracted at work – (PWC)
  • Low Productivity – such as a $3.3 Million per year loss for an employer of 10,000 people (PWC); and
  • High Absenteeism, with staff being twice as likely not to rock up to work due to financial issues (PWC) 

In other words, financial stress produces distracted employees, kills engagement and destroys productivity as employees continue to fixate on their finances or lack thereof. 

Ok, so obviously the problem is rife. But what the hell are you – as boss – meant to be doing about it? 

Well there’s 5 main things you can do right now actually. All practical and evidence-based, mostly completely free, and those things that might require some upfront investment – well you make that back in spades through a more engaged workforce. 

Let’s jump in. 

No. 1 – Listen and learn what employees need 

A simple way to kick this off this is to just conduct a business-wide financial wellbeing assessment for employees. This allows you to scope out their top financial challenges and that can then feed into whatever plan you ultimately devise to help your employees get by. 

But it’s more than that. Employees want to be heard. And asking for their opinion in this way allows employees to speak up – which is something they can control. 

Think of it this way – what actions you take now, what words you say, what you do to handle difficult news – will stick to your brand as an employer for years. So ask your employees what their concerns are and listen to their answers. 

No. 2 – help your employees get through the COVID-19 crisis with transparency and reassurance. 

Employee financial wellbeing is worsening. So for both the employee’s and the employer’s good, it’s on employers to help their employees feel more secure about their finances. 

This means, where you can, be upfront about what job security you can offer, and do what you can to maximise it. 

This not only helps employees have more certainty about their future, but these efforts also help you to bolster engagement and loyalty from the workforce. 

Where do you start? Well I suggest you focus these efforts for those in the bottom 40% of your wage earners. 

No. 3 – Become a well of information 

It’s no secret that many businesses have had to slash hours or lay off employees. But despite the wealth of government-established relief programs, most still find it difficult to plan their next financial moves. 

One simple thing that you, as employer, can do is to help employees understand what exactly is available – both inside and outside of the business. Publicise existing benefits and facilitate the establishment of peer-support networks across the business. 

No. 4 – Leverage financial wellbeing programs. 

More and more businesses are adopting financial wellbeing programs every day – which is great – but the majority skim over the actual cause of low financial wellbeing: which is a lack of money. 

Now that’s not to say that poor financial wellbeing can’t exist at any income level – it can – but I am that saying you – as boss – can get best bang for buck by focusing your financial wellbeing efforts on low to middle-income employees who’ve already suffered decades of low wage growth and higher costs of living. 

So wherever you can, try to find the creative ways that might support your people who may be struggling financially. 

Here’s some examples:

  • Concentrate on programs that reach the bottom 40% of wage earners – remembering that it’s these folk who more often than not form the backbone of a business.
  • Contribute to some of the costs associated with working from home.
  • Ramp up childcare support.
  • Offer free access to telehealth services like mental health supports.
  • Introducing an emergency savings account option to cover unexpected events.
  • Open some staff benefits up to all family members.
  • If budget allows, consider having a financial advisor attend the workplace and host an introduction into financial literacy, like budgeting, saving and managing debt.
  • Smaller things like providing breakfast or allowing employees to work from home where possible to reduce transport and/or childcare costs can also help employees feel more supported. 

Even those who aren’t experiencing financial stress will feel better knowing their employer cares for their financial wellbeing. 

No. 5 – Lead your people through the crisis. 

Not seeking to sound cliché, but these are pretty ticky times. So it makes sense that many in the C-suite and business leaders in general might be neglecting to focus on the financial wellbeing of their employees. This is a mistake that you can avoid. 

If you want your people to make it through the COVID-19 crisis, then they need to know that you are focusing on their needs, and not just the company’s bottom line. This calls for extra effort to ensure that the right messages are communicated to your people at the right times. 

Think of it this way – how you communicate now, what words you say, what actions you take to handle the multitude of difficulties that you and your business no doubt face will all form part of your brand as an employer for months – and maybe years – to come. 

So, as your business moves its way through the crisis, and gradually starts returning to a new normal, with all of the opportunities for change and reinvention that come with that new normal, it’s your employees who will ultimately look after you if you have managed to look after them during the crisis. 

And that’s it. 

Both during and after this crisis – if you haven’t already - you need to rethink and prioritize financial wellbeing as an investment in people that boosts profits, productivity, morale, and lowers turnover and healthcare costs. 

If you want more, then head over here to download my free 11-Part Guide to Workplace Wellbeing (And Profit!)

It includes...

  • 6 techniques to boost workforce wellbeing for a healthy and productive workforce
  • 5 common pitfalls in workplace wellbeing that kill employee productivity

And a whole lot more.

These are proven easy-to-follow steps so you can stop flying blind on workplace wellbeing and productivity.

You can grab it, for free, right here.

Also, if you’d like to learn more, meet for like-minded people, or shoot me a question, then head over to my Facebook group, the Workplace Wellbeing Made Easy Facebook Community.

That’s it for this week.

Please take care of yourselves, and I’ll see you again next week!

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