The Price Tag of Financial Stress

According to new John Hancock research, financial stress has a major impact on organizations, costing more than an estimated $1,900 per year, per employee.

John Hancock Retirement this week offered PLANADVISER an early look at its forthcoming Financial Stress Survey.

The sixth annual edition of the survey shows more than half of employees worry at least once a week about personal finances while on the job, causing workplace distraction and a loss of productivity. This loss of productivity, combined with absenteeism from financial stress, has major impact on organizations, John Hancock finds.

In dollar terms, absenteeism and lower productivity tied to financial stress is costing more than an estimated $1,900 per year, per employee, and totaling an estimated annual loss of $1 million for midsized employers and $19 million for large employers.

Patrick Murphy, CEO, U.S. Retirement, says the survey report shows employers cannot afford to ignore their employees’ financial stress.

“Our 2019 Financial Stress Survey highlights a downward trend on retirement readiness and indicates participants’ financial situations are at risk, with 36% of participants responding they are not in a good financial situation,” Murphy warns. He points to other stats showing 71% of participants are worried about having financial difficulties.

“This is the most we have seen from this survey in the past six years,” Murphy says. “We must come together as recordkeepers, financial representatives, and plan sponsors to help participants plan for their future and better understand the underlying cause of stress and its effect on retirement savings.”

Some good news for employers is that the survey shows financial wellness programs, when properly structured and executed, may improve job retention, reduce stress levels and buoy job productivity. However, some survey findings underscore the challenge of building effective financial wellness programs. While 88% of employers say they currently have or are developing a financial well-being strategy, only 20% of participants claim their employer offers “anything more than a limited financial wellness program.”

Higher than in previous years, about half (49%) of workers consider themselves behind schedule when it comes to saving for retirement. Fifty percent of respondents feel they would be at least somewhat more productive at work if they did not worry about finances while at their jobs—up from 43% last year. This trend is disproportionately impacting the younger workforce, the survey results show.

Only 18% of respondents feel very confident in their ability to make the right financial decisions, showing a decrease over the past three years. About one-third consider themselves very knowledgeable about basic financial concepts, such as managing debt (33%) and budgeting (31%).

According to John Hancock’s research, debt is one of the most significant indicators for financial stress, and most people are dealing with some kind of debt. Fifty-nine percent say their debt is a problem, with more than one in five saying it’s a major problem. And among participants with student loans, 76% say debt is a problem, with almost half calling debt a major problem.

“This is hitting younger generations particularly hard, as 46% of participants aged 36 and younger have as student loan,” the survey report explains. “People who say their debt is a major problem and people with student loans have much higher financial stress than those who don’t. Women feel more financial stress than men, likely because they rate their financial situations worse than men. They’re also more worried about having financial difficulties.”