The right design of a financial wellness program and how a program will help employees and employers differs by organization.
“You can map out the location and average age group of an organization and usually guess what employees need most and what will have the best effect for the company,” said Alex Assaley, lead adviser retirement plans at AFS 401(k) retirement services, in a webinar sponsored by GuideSpark.
Budgeting, debt management, retirement planning and saving for health care are the top financial education needs of employees overall, he says, but plan sponsors need to get feedback from employees in order to know how to customize their financial wellness programs.
It may seem obvious that young employees just starting out need help with budgeting, or that pre-retirees need help with retirement planning, “but you may be surprised,” Assaley said. He noted that life events are what drive financial decision making—getting married, purchasing a home, having a baby—so the best way to start is to spend a lot of time listening and learning from employees about their priorities.
Adam Potter co-founder and president of SimpleFi, said “We’ve seen employers are getting more sophisticated about what they are asking from financial wellness programs. We are constantly asked by employers to add different media for communications as well as different topics.”
Potter says financial wellness programs are a good benefit to offer because money problems stress employees out, and there are a number of research studies that show financial stress distracts workers and results in lower productivity and engagement, as well as absenteeism. “It’s not always a fear of not having enough for retirement; it’s about making ends meet day-to-day,” he said, suggesting that employers decide how financial wellness aligns with the mission and culture of their organizations.
NEXT: Barriers and tips for financial wellness programsEmployers have shown an increased amount of interest in offering financial wellness programs and resources, and a recent GuideSpark survey found more than three-quarters (78%) of employees say they would choose to join a company that offered financial health benefits over one that didn’t. Assaley says a good financial wellness program sets goals, monitors progress and tracks results for both employees and employers. “It inspires employees, but also helps show employers their return on investment (ROI) and how it drives success in their companies,” he said.
Measuring ROI is important, because Potter notes that one of the barriers to offering a financial wellness program could be how to fit it into the company’s budget. But, Assaley said it is usually well worth the commitment.
Another barrier, according to Assaley, may be a lack of resources within the company, but employers can use advisers or financial wellness program providers. Potter added that companies can use different resources for different topics, such as a budgeting expert or student loan financing expert.
One of the biggest challenges is employee engagement, Assaley added. “If you have a leader at the organization that will champion the program, you will get more buy-in from employees,” he said.
Assaley said employers need to make financial wellness programs fun and easy, and Potter said technology can help facilitate this. Assaley noted that, in particular, younger employees like to consume information in quick pieces like through Twitter, Instagram, or other social media. However, other demographics may want a human touch.
Other advantages of using technology for financial wellness programs, according to Assaley, is it can help scale the program, make the lives of HR staff easier, and provide privacy for employees who do not want to share financial information with their employers.