Now more than ever, employers are investing in wellness programs to improve the physical health of their workforce. According to a recent report, more than 80% of U.S. employers1 offer some type of workplace wellness benefit, adding fuel to the already $8 billion corporate wellness industry. From subsidized gym memberships to smoking-cessation programs, businesses are spending money in hopes of decreasing costs associated with healthcare, absenteeism, and productivity loss.

Various studies, however, offer conflicting results on whether workplace wellness programs actually provide cost savings and improved worker health. And while just over half of employers2 say their wellness programs help workers live healthier lives, only 32% of employees feel the same. This has caused businesses to rethink their workplace wellness strategies and nix fitness discounts and weight-loss competitions for programs that actually address the real needs of today’s workforce. And with that, a new trend in benefits has emerged: financial wellness programs that address precarity.

Employers are realizing that for employees to be well at work (thus more present and productive), they need to be free from the stress and health implications that stem from financial precarity. Employees spend an average of 13 hours/month worrying about money at work.3 And those employees with high financial stress are twice as likely to report poor health (and four times as likely to suffer from fatigue, headaches, depression, or other ailments).4 All of this resulting in a high price tag for employers—with some studies citing $1 million/year/business as a conservative estimate. 

Workers are struggling despite a historically low unemployment rate. Many are unable to build up emergency savings, pay down debt, or even afford food. This is especially true for hourly workers. According to a study that surveyed 3,000+ hourly workers, 75% of respondents had less than $500 in emergency savings. And 40% of total respondents admitted they had no money saved for an emergency.5 Workers also said that affording basic living expenses were their biggest financial stressor.

Image: The Branch Report: A look at the financial, work, and lifestyle interests of today’s hourly workers

To address financial precarity, financial wellness programs must be holistic and innovative. (This means going beyond simply offering 401(k) matches.) Here are four programs to consider rolling into your wellness strategy program in 2020:

  1. Personalized financial coaching. Every person’s financial situation is unique. While one employee may need support with budgeting, another may need help building up savings. It’s important to consider your employees’ needs on an individual level so each person can meet his/her own financial goals.
  2. Resources to help afford unexpected expenses. Whether it’s helping workers save for emergency funds or offering wages on demand, emergency loans, or hardship grants, employees need alternatives to high-cost credit options when the unexpected happens. Most payday lenders offer APRs up to 400%, and while workers don’t want to resort to these options, sometimes it’s their only solution. Also, if they have access to alternatives, employees will not only be less likely to use their 401(k)s as a safety valve, but they won’t be requesting impromptu paycheck advances (which is an administrative nightmare).
  3. Debt repayment programs. While not widely adopted, some employers offer programs to help employees tackle burdensome student loan debt. By making contributions to an employees’ student loans, employers can help their workers pay down debt faster and free up money they can use for other necessary expenses.
  4. WorkLife’s Small Dollar Loans Program. Starting in the new year, WorkLife Partnership will be offering a small dollar loan program paid back through payroll deductions. Unlike payday lenders that offer APRs up to 400%, WorkLife’s Small Dollar Loans Program6 will offer low-interest loans. And to promote long-term financial wellness, employees are eligible to receive no-obligation financial coaching and access to a WorkLife Resource Navigator. Any employer who purchases WorkLife’s Small Dollar Loans Program will receive one-on-one training with WorkLife’s team for effective and easy implementation.

If you need support in making financial health a priority in 2020, don’t hesitate to contact us.

1. Employers with 50 or more employees.
2. Employers who participated in the 22nd annual Willis Towers Watson Best Practices in Health Care Employer Survey.
3. Mercer,  “Inside Employee’s Minds – Financial Wellness”, 2017.
4. Don Hess, “Finding the Links Between Retirement, Stress, and Health,” Lockton, 2016.
5. The Branch Report: “A look at the financial, work, and lifestyle interests of today’s hourly workers.”
6. Program only available to Colorado employees.