Financial wellness has become a buzz phrase in the last few years. For employers, it refers to anything that supports the financial security of their employees and often involves a move from narrow benefit packages to wider and more flexible programmes of benefits and education.
A host of recent research has shown the impact of financial wellbeing issues in the workplace. For example, a recent report by the Reward and Employee Benefits Association (REBA) showed that 25 per cent of employees say that financial concerns affect their ability to do their job.
The 2017 Willis Towers Watson Global Benefits Attitude Survey also highlights a direct correlation between employees’ financial concerns and performance at work through sick days, productivity or engagement. The survey says employees are looking to their employers for support. Some are responding with programmes that support financial wellbeing, but employees are lukewarm about what they have seen so far and engagement remains low.
Meanwhile, wellness product providers talk of an explosion in the market over the last few years. A survey by workplace financial education provider Nudge Global showed a significant increase in employers providing a financial wellness programme between 2013 and 2016. In 2016, 45 per cent of companies had a financial wellness programme or were implementing one, up from 26 per cent in 2014, and 50 per were considering it, up from 20 per cent.
But some of these programmes are still narrow and there is room for progress towards holistic financial planning covering all the areas that employees need help with such as debt, pensions, saving, tax and insurance. In 2016, 96 per cent of companies wanted to provide holistic financial education, but only 42 per cent did so.
Financial wellbeing expert Jason Butler says: “I detect a much stronger awareness that financial wellbeing solutions are an important part of recruitment and productivity. But I’m less convinced that it is translating into significant tangible action.” He says many good tools and services have become available to support wellness. For example, financial advice firms provide paid-for seminars and personal advice for those who need it. Technology companies provide digital education platforms that provide individualised insights and prompt employees to action at appropriate moments.