Data shows that 88% of employers currently include financial wellness in their overall well-being strategy.1 And for good reason: 59% of employees say that financial matters are their number one source of stress and that this stress takes a toll on their health, well-being and productivity at work.2
This guide presents the business case for offering financial well-being programs and benefits not only in the United States but also around the world. It provides an overview of the major barriers that employees face in achieving financial security worldwide and offers ways you can support the financial well-being of your diverse workforce.
Financial Security: Imperative to the Health and Performance of Your Workforce
Financial wellness initiatives are an integral part of a company’s global workforce strategy because financial security – or lack thereof – has an impact on outcomes that business leaders across an organization care about deeply, such as employee health, overall well-being, performance and productivity.
Employees who worry about short and long-term finances are two times more likely to be in poor health than those without financial worries.3 Financial stress is also shown to result in higher stress and depression, worse self-reported general health and higher diastolic blood pressure.4 It also impacts sleep; one study showed that 26% of employees in the United Kingdom (U.K.) have lost sleep over their financial situation. 5
Financial security, defined as “the perception that you have enough money to do what you want to do, and don’t regularly worry about money,” contributes to employees’ overall well-being.6 Gallup research shows that “a lack of worry about money has more than double the impact of income on overall wellbeing,” and the feeling that you have enough money to do what you’d like “has three times the impact of your income alone on overall well-being.”6
Performance & Productivity
Employees who are struggling with their finances lose 57% more work time due to absence than employees without financial worries.4 They’re also less engaged and productive than their peers.4 One study found that employees on average spend approximately 156 hours a year thinking about their finances at work, translating to about three weeks of distracted work time a year.8 This distraction can be costly: A study of more than 1,000 shorthaul truck drivers found that drivers who were worried about their finances were more likely to have a preventable accident in the following eight months. Based on the average cost of a commercial truck accident, study authors estimated that drivers’ financial worries were associated with $1.3 million per year in additional costs to the company.9 In the U.K., decreased productivity and increased absence based on financial stress has been estimated to cost companies in the region £120.7 billion every year.6
39% of financially worried employees agree that “money concerns keep me from doing my best at my job” compared to only 7% of unworried employees.
The Financial Worries that Keep Employees Up at Night...and Distracted at Work
Debt (Including Student Loan Debt)
Average levels of non-mortgage debt per adult in the U.S. has risen to $21,069, an increase of $1,663 from 2016.10 Among employees, 80% say they have some type of debt outside of their mortgage.11 This debt has a significant influence in the day-to-day life of employees, as 56% say non-mortgage debt is impacting their ability to pay bills.12 Globally, Denmark, Netherlands, Norway and Sweden have the highest levels of household debt in the world as a percentage of income, and 48% of U.K. employees have borrowed money just to meet their basic needs.13
Student debt is rising in most developed countries around the world and is a major barrier to financial security.14 The average debt for a college graduate in Britain has increased $35,000 in five years, from $20,000 to $55,000; one in four employees in the U.S. has student loan debt with an average of $34,500 per individual.14, 11, 15 This debt impacts employees’ ability to be financially secure now and in the future: 20% of U.S. adults with student loan debt report being unable to make their next loan payment; 85% say student loan debt is impacting their ability to save.16, 11
Lack of Savings
In the U.S., nearly 40% of people in the U.S. cannot come up with $400 to cover an unexpected expense without relying on borrowing.17 This helps explain why U.S. employees withdraw 30 to 40 cents of every dollar that goes into their 401k account before retirement to pay for surprise expenses and one in four Americans have nothing saved for retirement.18, 17
Inadequate Income to Meet Basic Needs
Despite holding full-time jobs, 6.3% of the U.S. labor force is in poverty and nearly a third of Americans are considered low-wage workers.19, 20 As a result, it’s hard for many adults in the U.S. workforce to afford basic monthly expenses: 40% of households in the general population do not earn enough to afford basic necessities and 49% of employees find it hard to meet their expenses on time each month.21, 2 Coupled with the fact that health care spending by families with large employer health plans has increased two times faster than workers’ wages over the last decade, it’s becoming more difficult for lower wage employees to feel financially secure.22
Globally, 77% of employees do not feel they can meet the needs of their family, and 30% of employees in Eurozone countries, 23% in Australia and 29% of Canadian employees cannot come up with $2,000 (local currency) in an emergency.24, 3
48% of employees in the US make $30,000 or less net earnings.23
Health Care Costs
Although many employer plans cover a significant portion of health care costs, average out-of-pocket spending among U.S. employees with employer-sponsored coverage has grown 58% over the past 10 years.22 As mentioned above, these costs have risen twice as fast as wages. In 2018, the average family with employer coverage in the U.S. spent $4,706 on premiums and $3,020 on cost-sharing, for a combined cost of $7,726.22. For some, this can present affordability challenges. About half of surveyed employees say they or a family member skipped or postponed getting health care or prescription drugs in the past 12 months because of cost and about one-third could not pay an unexpected $500 medical bill.25
But health care costs don’t just impact employees’ ability and willingness to seek care, they also impact their financial well-being. More than 40% of employees in the U.S. report that that they have reduced or stopped saving for the future in order to pay health costs.11 Other surveys show that people make tradeoffs, like putting off vacations or major household purchases in order to pay medical bills (Figure 1.)25
Fig 1. Actions Taken to Pay Medical Bills25
Globally, governments are looking to shift health care, retirement and social costs to the private sector. As a result, multinational employers are introducing cost sharing into their medical insurance, shifting costs to employees, illustrated by Figure 2.
Fig 2. Medical Insurance Cost Sharing Mechanisms Worldwide26
- 1 | National Business Group on Health and Fidelity Investments. Employer investments in employee well-being: tenth annual employer-sponsored health and well-being survey. April 2019. https://www.businessgrouphealth.org/resources/the-employer-investment-in-employee-well-being-tenth-annual-employer-sponsored-health. Accessed July 8, 2019.
- 2 | PriceWaterhouseCoopers. 8th annual employee wellness survey. https://www.pwc.com/us/en/private-company-services/publications/assets/pwc-2019-employee-wellness-survey.pdf. Accessed July 5, 2019.
- 3 | https://www.willistowerswatson.com/en-US/insights/2017/11/2017-global-benefits-attitudes-survey-financial-well-being. Accessed June 3, 2019.
- 4 | Sweet E, Nandi A, Adam E, McDade T. The high price of debt: household financial debt and its impact on mental and physical health. Social Science Medicine. 2013; 91: 94-100.
- 5 | HR News. Nearly three-quarters of CEOs aware that financial stress impacts employee behavior. August 2018. http://hrnews.co.uk/nearly-three-quarters-of-ceos-aware-that-financial-stress-impacts-employee-behaviour/. Accessed November 19, 2019.
- 6 | Rath T, Harter J. Wellbeing: the five essential elements. NY: Gallup Press; 2010.
- 7 | https://ssir.org/articles/entry/the_cost_of_financial_precarity. Accessed July 11, 2019.
- 8 | Mercer. Inside employees’ minds: financial wellness. 2017. https://www.mercer.com/content/dam/mercer/attachments/global/inside-employees-minds/gl-2017-inside-employees-minds-financial-wellness.pdf. Accessed July 15, 2019.
- 9 | Meuris J, Leana C. The price of financial precarity: organizational costs of employees’ financial concerns. Organization Science. 2018; 29(3): 398-417.
- 10 | Federal Reserve Bank of New York/ Equifax. Quarterly report on household debt and credit. https://www.newyorkfed.org/medialibrary/interactives/householdcredit/data/pdf/hhdc_2019q1.pdf. Accessed July 11, 2019.
- 11 | Alight Solutions, The National Business Group on Health, and Kantar Consulting. 2019 health and financial wellbeing mindset study https://ideas.alight.com/consumer-health-mindset/alight-health-financial-wellbeing-mindset-report-2019. Accessed May 30, 2019.
- 12 | Employee Benefit Research Institute and Greenwald & Associates. 2019 retirement confidence survey summary report. April, 2019. https://www.ebri.org/docs/default-source/rcs/2019-rcs/2019-rcs-short-report.pdf?sfvrsn=85543f2f_4. Accessed May 31, 2019.
- 13 | Aon. Financial wellbeing – an employer point of view. July 2018. https://www.aon.com/getmedia/0ea709bd-182f-45df-9a5c-d6860f0daff5/Financial-Wellbeing-Study-Results-Events-July-2018-FINAL-DECK.aspx. Accessed November 4, 2019.
- 14 | Chamie J. Student debt rising worldwide. Yale Global. https://yaleglobal.yale.edu/content/student-debt-rising-worldwide. . Accessed November 19, 2019.
- 15 | Federal Student Aid. Federal student loan portfolio. https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/about/data-center/student/portfolio. Accessed July 5, 2019.
- 16 | Summer and Student Debt Crisis. Buried in debt: a national survey report on the state of student loan borrowers in 2018. November 2018. https://www.meetsummer.org/share/Summer-Student-Debt-Crisis-Buried-in-Debt-Report-Nov-2018.pdf?_t=1541171524. Accessed July 24, 2019.
- 17 | Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve. Report on the economic well-being of U.S. households in 2018. https://www.federalreserve.gov/publications/files/2018-report-economic-well-being-us-households-201905.pdf. Accessed July 17, 2019 . Accessed July 17, 2019.
- 18 | Tergesen A. Employers help workers build household-emergency funds. The Wall Street Journal. 2019. https://www.wsj.com/articles/employers-help-workers-build-household-emergency-funds-11560418206. Accessed July 5, 2019.
- 19 | Bureau of Labor Statistics. BLS reports: a profile of the working poor, 2016, July 2018. https://www.bls.gov/opub/reports/working-poor/2016/home.htm. Accessed July 17, 2019.
- 20 | Fusaro V, Shaefer H L. How should we define ‘low-wage’ work? An analysis using the current population survey. Monthly Labor Review: US Bureau of Labor Statistics. October 2016. https://www.bls.gov/opub/mlr/2016/article/how-should-we-define-low-wage-work.htm. Accessed July 17, 2019.
- 21 | United Way of New Jersey, ALICE Project. Research center: national comparisons. 2016. https://www.unitedforalice.org/national-comparison. Accessed July 11, 2019.
- 22 | Rae M, Copeland R, Cox C. Tracking the rise in premium contributions and cost-sharing for families with large employer coverage. Peterson Center on Healthcare and Kaiser Family Foundation.https://www.healthsystemtracker.org/brief/tracking-the-rise-in-premium-contributions-and-cost-sharing-for-families-with-large-employer-coverage/. Accessed August 22, 2019.
- 23 | Social Security Administration. Wage statistics for 2017. https://www.ssa.gov/cgi-bin/netcomp.cgi?year=2017 . Accessed June 27, 2019.
- 24 | Cigna. Live well: 2017 cigna 360o well-being survey. https://www.cigna.com.hk/iwov-resources/docs/en/about-cigna/news/Cigna360Well-being_Survey2017.pdf. Accessed November 7, 2019.
- 25 | Kirzinger A, Munana C, Wu B, Brodie M. Data note: americans’ challenges with health care costs. Henry J Kaiser Family Foundation. https://www.kff.org/health-costs/issue-brief/data-note-americans-challenges-health-care-costs. Accessed July 11, 2019.
- 26 | National Business Group on Health. Prevalence of cost-sharing mechanisms for medical insurance. Accessed November 4, 2019.