An altogether different kind of employee wellness program

Learn about wellness programs and how they can boost employee engagement and morale in your organization.

Employee wellness programs have historically concentrated mainly on workers’ health and encouraging physical activity. Nowadays, however, businesses are increasingly extending the focus to the other, more elusive factors that influence the well-being of their personnel.

This trend has given rise to a novel new concept that is rapidly gaining steam in the talent management world: the financial wellness program. It was born as a response to the fact that money issues rank together with health concerns as among the top causes of stress for employees. According to a study by accounting giant PwC, over half of workers are worried about their financial situation and one in three see it as a distraction. Within the latter group, 46 percent report that this costs them several hours of productivity per week.

Employee programs created to tackle the issue almost always focus on the same root cause: the gaps that exist in many workers’ financial literacy and money skills. Data from the Society for Human Resource Management shows there’s a lot to be desired in this area, with 17 percent of HR professionals saying that the personnel at their companies are “not at all financially literate”. The segment of the working population that is somewhat savvier but could still use some help is likely much higher.

Room for variation

The first factor that needs to be taken into account when implementing a new employee program is, naturally, the budget. When it comes to extras like a financial education initiative, the amount of resources available tends to differ greatly from company to company. The scope of the educational content and the delivery method can vary accordingly.

A business that, say, is only testing the waters about providing financial education to employees could create a proof-of-concept program practically for free. A reasonably comprehensive budgeting primer can be assembled from the complementary financial courses on Alison, a leading online learning portal, and some internally-produced materials that expand upon employees’ specific points of interest. The latter collection might be something as simple as a set of handpicked articles.

A step-up from there is to swap the free Alison courses with the paid learning programs in Coursera’s personal finance section or Udemy’s rivaling catalog. They provide a more exhaustive overview of money management topics, along with interactive elements such as pre-prepared quizzes. Enabling workers to test what they’ve learned makes it much easier for them to internalize the material, certainly compared to a simple reading assignment. 

The courses offered by providers such as Coursera  are essentially  condensed versions of the traditional in-person money management seminar. This is on the table as well for a business that is willing to go the extra mile and bring in an outside expert to answer employees’ questions. That expert is usually a local Certified Financial Planner, according to Aaron Kahn, one such professional who specializes in serving businesses. In an interview with about the subject, he stressed the importance of finding an independent CFP who won’t promote a specific financial product but rather focus on employees’ needs.

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Providing an incentive

The business or HR leader overseeing the initiative must likewise pay close attention to employee needs, since their financial priorities can vary greatly. Millennial workers, for example, are likely most concerned about paying off student loans. Older staffers meanwhile would probably be more interested in learning how they can better save for retirement.

Considering different workers’ perspectives on personal finance is also important when it comes to the order in which the topics are covered. A seminar about, say, 401k investment options probably wouldn’t be too meaningful for an employee who hasn’t yet mastered core budgeting concepts. Ensuring that a learning program resonates requires a business to actively collect feedback from employees about where they stand in this regard. (Plus, having an organized set of processes in place for gathering input can come handy elsewhere, too.)

With all that in mind, aligning the financial wellness initiative with employees’ priorities isn’t always enough to attract the desired level of interest. Many workers may be hesitant to accept money advice from their employer, or might simply be reluctant to commit their time. The solution is to provide a concrete incentive for taking part. A company could offer employees a chance to win a free one-on-one consultation with a financial planner or some other reward by way of encouragement.

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