Gargantuan college loans. Insufficient retirement nest eggs. Mounting out-of-pocket medical bills. These financial stressors could cause high blood pressure, migraines and other more serious health conditions.

Employers should understand that whether an employee is a millennial struggling to repay student loans or someone close to retirement anxious over an inadequate 401k, financial stress could not only ruin an individual’s health, it could also reduce productivity and hit the bottom line. How should companies respond?

More and more employers are offering financial wellness programs that give employees money management training and other tools.

Surveys highlight the problem

A recent employee benefits survey conducted by The Society for Human Resource Management(SHRM) revealed 61 percent of HR professionals polled described their employees’ financial health as no better than “fair” and 17 percent reported their employees were “not at all financially literate.” Survey data showed that organizations with more hourly workers were less likely to rate their employees’ financial health as “good” and less likely to rate their employees as “very financially literate.”

The survey indicated that 46 percent of workers spend three or more hours during the workweek dealing with or thinking about financial issues. A PricewaterhouseCoopers employee financial wellness survey showed that 52 percent of workers overall are stressed about their finances. In addition, the younger the worker, the more likely he or she is to be worried: 64 percent of millennials said they are stressed about their finances.

Moreover, a paper on the hidden cost of financial stress by Integrity showed that stress causes myriad health problems including elevated cholesterol, migraines and hypertension.

In addition, when employees are focused on paying bills, they often pay less attention to their jobs and as financial stress piles up, it could affect job performance. The study estimated that employees concerned with their finances spend two hours every week at work dealing with financial problems.

Building financial literacy

Newark-based Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey has taken an active role in helping its workforce improve financial literacy, manage personal finances and plan for the future. “Through partners like Fidelity, MetLife, and CAPTRUST, we offer our employees financial wellness workshops that cover financial and retirement planning, managing personal debt, understanding tax deductions and credits, and savings strategies,” said Cynthia Tobia, director, Compensation and Benefits for Horizon BCBSNJ.

”The workshops offered are in-person, on-line through webinars and one-on-one sessions conducted by our partners. After participating in a group session or webinar, employees can request to meet with a financial advisor for personalized assistance.  We also provide workplace incentives to help encourage our employees to participate in these programs,” Tobia said.

When employees are focused on paying bills, they often pay less attention to their jobs.

Read the rest of Anthony Vecchione’s articleat NJBIZ