Financial stress is expensive to both employers and employees, as workers spend valuable time and energy worrying about their money while on the job. A third of employees say they are often distracted at work because they are worried about their finances, and half spend three or more hours a week dealing with personal finance matters on company time, according to a survey from PricewaterhouseCoopers.

“Stress is the number one wellness risk factor identified by employees as it related to productivity,” said John Bremen, managing director, Human Capital and Benefits, Willis Towers Watson. Finances are a top stressor for many employees, he told Bloomberg BNA.

Companies are taking notice and quickly adding financial wellness to their array of benefit offerings. One survey, from the National Business Group on Health and Fidelity Investments, found that 84 percent of the 114 mid- and large-sized companies surveyed now offer financial wellness programs. Another survey, from the Society for Human Resource Management, found that 49 percent of companies offer some type of financial advice as a benefit to their employees. The SHRM survey is based on 3,227 responses from HR professionals.

Organizations are interested in offering financial wellness programs because they realize that employees are worried about bills and student loans, and it’s affecting their performance, Bremen said.  It’s been found that higher stress levels mean that productivity falls, and customer service falls. So there are real effects,” he said.  The effects can go even deeper; people with high levels of financial debt are also more likely to be sick, and suffer from anxiety and heart disease, according Betsy Dill, Senior Partner, Financial Wellness at Mercer. Financial woes also create more expenses for companies; for example, employees with wage garnishments create additional administrative tasks, she said.

Remove Taboo From Money Talk

Financial wellness programs can include events on company time, such as financial seminars and “lunch-n-learns,” as well as access to resources about mortgages, wills, income protection, emergency savings, debt management, and budgeting.  Just bringing the topic out into the open can be helpful, according to LuAnn Heinan, vice president at the National Business Group on Health. Many people are afraid to talk about money and debt because there is such a stigma associated with it, she told Bloomberg BNA.

Companies can assist employees through discussions and meetings about finances, and they can help even more by making it easier to save or set up a retirement plan, Dill said.  Organizations should begin by conducting employee surveys to uncover what financial wellness programs would best appeal to their workforce, according to Heinen.  Companies can also look at internal metrics, such as the number of employees who have wage garnishments, take out 401(k) loans, or ask for a loan against future paychecks, Heinen said. This information can provide a gauge of employees’ financial distress levels and offer insights on the types of programs that might best suit their needs, she added.