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Can Financial Wellness Programs Help with Worker Productivity?

Recent survey results reveal that a majority of workers believe that financial wellness programs could help increase their productivity.

According to a new report by the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI), “Perceived Helpfulness of Financial Well-being Programs: Results from the 2017 and 2018 Retirement Confidence Surveys,” 52% of respondents believe retirement planning programs would be either very or somewhat helpful in increasing their productivity. Other programs that had higher likelihoods include financial planning (48%) and health care planning (47%) programs.

To document workers’ interest, EBRI, along with Greenwald & Associates, added questions about these programs to their 2017 and 2018 Retirement Confidence Survey (RCS). Among the questions were whether workers felt stressed about their finances and their preparation for retirement, and whether they felt various workplace financial well-being programs would be beneficial and help them be more productive.

Interestingly, debt counseling (29%) was found to be the least likely to be helpful for productivity among respondents. But the results also depended on age — younger workers were more likely than older workers to think that debt counseling, expense management and budgeting programs were more helpful.

Employers’ concerns about the impact of financial stress on workplace productivity appear well founded, according to the results. Overall, 30% of workers reported worrying about finances at work. And of those worrying about their finances, 70% said they do so either “very often” or “somewhat often.”

The survey then asked those workers if they would be more productive if they were not worrying about finances. More than 50% reported they would be more productive, with 18% saying they would be “much more productive” and 35% saying “somewhat more productive.”

Retirement Preparation

A significant percentage of workers reported feeling stressed about preparing for retirement in both surveys. In particular, however, workers with lower incomes (64%), those who have not calculated how much they will need to save for retirement (65%), and those in fair or poor health (75%) said that they “strongly or somewhat agreed” that preparing for retirement makes them feel stressed in the 2018 survey. In addition, workers affected by such stress reported that both their productivity at work and their mental health were poorer as a result.

A majority of worker thought that workplace financial well-being programs would be either very or somewhat helpful in better preparing or saving for retirement. These include help with:

  • calculating how much to save for a secure retirement (75% in the 2018 survey);

  • calculating how much to anticipate spending each month in retirement (72%);

  • planning for health care expenses in retirement (72%); and

  • comprehensive financial planning (68%).

Other financial well-being programs scored lower when it came to perceived helpfulness, the report shows. Fewer than half of workers thought debt counseling or budgeting help would be helpful. In addition, 39% thought student loan debt assistance programs would be helpful in preparing for retirement.

The report notes that since 63% of workers consider debt to be at least a minor problem and 35% are not saving for retirement, there is a large number of potential workers who could benefit from workplace financial well-being programs. Moreover, the study notes that if workers’ worrying less about their finances leads to higher productivity and better mental health, employers could benefit through greater worker productivity and healthier workers, offsetting the costs of providing such programs.