Steps for Launching Financial Wellness
Financial wellness programs differ from organization to organization, but the process for developing, implementing and measuring can be consolidated into six steps.
Steps toward a financial wellness program:
1. Focus on your human resource strategy.
2. Identify internal challenges.
3. Understand your workforce’s unique needs.
4. Select an approach.
5. Communicate an engage with employees.
6. Establish metrics and measure success.
As you go through these steps, it is important to keep in mind the dual purpose of any financial wellness program: to help employees achieve a greater state of financial well-being and to achieve your goals as an employer.
Step 1: Focus on your human resource strategy
Since an employee’s performance and job satisfaction can be influenced by financial stress, a workplace financial wellness program can be a powerful tool to help you achieve your organization’s strategic goals. As you develop your human resources plan, consider a financial wellness program that helps you address one of the root causes of employee stress, which you may see playing out in declining productivity, lower employee morale, or a rising turnover rate.Being clear about what you are trying to accomplish will guide everything from employee messaging to your delivery mechanism. Providing resources on school loan repayment and forbearance, budgeting strategies, and auto-enrollment for retirement saving, as well as assessing your benefits programs for quality, are all ways you can address this issue, and thereby impact your turnover potential.
Another area financial wellness programs can impact is recruitment. Market the fact that you offer financial wellness coaching, and it will distinguish your organization from others seeking to recruit and hire employees with the same skill sets. Financial wellness tools can also help employees better use their other benefits – for instance, are your employees using retirement fund loans to pay for short term needs? It may be worth considering a system for providing low cost earned-wage advances, or resources that ensure employees understand withdrawal penalties. These will both improve employee financial well-being and, ultimately, lower plan costs. Again, when determining your program approach, the most important factor is what your organization is trying to accomplish from an HR perspective, so you can measure your results against the time and other resources invested. That begins with understanding your HR needs and strategies.
Step 2: Identify internal challenges
Costs: With or without a budget, there are many ways to offer a financial wellness program as an employer. You can make these resources easily accessible via a closed Facebook or LinkedIn group, a third-party provider, company intranet, or a document (in print and online) with a simple, curated list of links. To provide these resources or explain how to access them, consider using scheduled time like staff meetings, team meetings, benefit onboarding, or annual reviews. Internal leadership buy-in: Most organizations will need management support to undertake and implement a program. Managers may be more willing to lend support if they believe it is good for the organization, has a reasonable cost, and is the right thing to do, so provide them with research that shows the impact of poor employee financial health on productivity, client focus, absenteeism, presenteeism, retention, and recruiting.
For most organizations, selecting financial wellness partners is primarily a matter of cost, ease of implementation, and expertise. According to Prudential’s 2017 survey of employee benefits, smaller and medium-sized employers prioritize a good fit for employee needs and a return on their investment; large employers tend to seek more involvement in implementation, and ongoing support. In addition, the 2018 Employee Financial Wellness Survey from PricewaterhouseCooper shows that employees will participate more readily in, and place a higher value on, financial wellness programs administered by partners they consider neutral and unbiased.
Step 3: Assess your workforce needs
To support your employees in achieving their financial goals, you must understand what they’re facing. This information will not only help you define elements of your financial wellness program, it will allow you to set a baseline to measure your program’s effectiveness over time.One simple, proven way to do this: Ask. Create a company-wide survey, being sure to make it anonymous and to let employees know it’s anonymous. They must be secure in the fact that their responses are private: For many, personal finances – and even their feelings about them – is both a sensitive and stressful topic. Anonymity not only helps you get candid answers, it also prompts more employees to respond. The result will be a more accurate picture of their conditions and needs.
You can also look at data you already have on your employees as an indicator of their financial situation. For example, do your employees have a large number of 401(k) loans, and if so, what is the average loan balance? How many employees are contributing at the highest matching levels, and how many have increased their contribution rates over time? How many take advantage of an option to split direct-deposit paychecks into savings and checking accounts? How many employees use tax-advantaged benefits such as a flexible spending account (FSA)? After conducting a needs assessment to determine the financial issues that are most relevant to your workforce, you may want to evaluate whether existing compensation and benefits are contributing to the financial challenges of employees. Once this evaluation is complete, a range of low and high touch services can be considered to address different needs and preferences within a diverse workforce.
Step 4: Select an approach
The right financial wellness plan for one employer might not be the right plan for another. You should determine your offerings by analyzing your resources, in-house capabilities, and workforce demographics. Keep in mind that a financial wellness program can range from fairly basic to extensive, and can take a myriad of forms.Popular topics in financial wellness programs: Basic financial literacyBudgeting assistance Debt management and reduction Creating an emergency fund Investment advice Retirement planning. Home buying and mortgages Managing student loan debt Planning for children’s education. Some organizations provide online tools or workbooks, some offer classes (either in a classroom setting or via eLearning), while others provide private, one-on-one meetings with financial counselors or planners. Financial wellness programs can range from group educational sessions to individualized online programs to personalized coaching sessions with a financial professional. Obviously, the more individualized your program is, the more effective (and resource-intensive) it will be.
Will your program be mandatory? If not, what incentives will you offer for participation? This speaks to one of the major concerns about financial wellness programs: Will they be used? Though research shows there is much demand for these programs, and documented use, incentives can increase participation. Those incentives can range from small, one-time bonuses to subsidized sessions with a financial planner, to simple “gamification” schemes that award badges or points for completing worksheets, signing up for auto-enroll savings, or attending sessions.How can you design a program to reach different demographics in your workforce? What kinds of resources can your organization bring to the program? As with most benefits programs, an effective financial wellness program won’t be one-size-fits-all and will depend heavily on the resources made available to it. But remember, “resources” aren’t just dollars: Time, relationships (with board members or vendors), and practical items (like space) can be just as effective in ensuring a successful program. For those with a budget, commercially-available financial wellness programs are convenient and generally cost effective.
Step 5: Communicate with and actively engage employees
Successful financial wellness programs have ongoing communications campaigns behind them, which are embedded in an organization’s values and their HR department’s messaging. Without this effort, employees may look on vendor-produced wellness materials as “just marketing.” Both education and action are necessary for optimal results. In terms of financial education, employers should provide resources like Securing Life Today. Among those employers who offer educational resources:24% of organizations offered employees online financial or investment advice 27% offered one-on-one advice 22% offered advice in a group or classroom settingIn terms of action, you can identify employees who are not participating in benefits programs, and take steps to assist them. After determining who is most at risk (i.e., those who are not participating in retirement programs), HR or senior leaders can hold sessions that show them how specific benefits programs (including your financial wellness program!) can make their lives easier.
You can also create an auto-enroll feature for retirement programs (meaning that employees must make an active choice to “opt out” rather than to sign up) and implement automatic retirement savings increases whenever employees get a raise. During open enrollment season, you can provide deeper information on understanding and leveraging health benefits. In addition, employers can utilize communication vehicles such as internal newsletters, staff meetings, orientations, and review periods to make financial wellness resources known to employees – you can even bring in vendors for educational purposes.The real key is taking an active and visible role your employees’ financial wellness, not to simply rely on benefits providers or a tossed-off web link. Not only will this demonstrate that the organization is taking workers’ financial issues seriously, it makes your efforts more effective by helping vendors and HR leaders reach people with the right solutions.
Step 6: Establish metrics and measure success
The same kinds of methods deployed to determine employees’ needs can also be used to gauge your program’s success. Employers can set metrics using data from employee surveys, the number of 401(k) loans or hardship withdrawals, and feedback on usage from providers and carriers. You can also check for increased participation in retirement programs, use of flexible healthcare spending accounts, or attendance at various training sessions, for example. Remember that truly successful financial wellness programs are those that change both money attitudes and everyday behaviors to produce lasting effects.
Employers should also measure success in terms of their internal goals. The most common metric is employee satisfaction, but more specific measures should also be established based on your unique HR objectives – like competitiveness, retention, and employer branding – to gauge true return on investment. A meaningful financial wellness program creates a culture that supports financial independence, strengthens the use of employee benefits, and advances strategic business objectives such as productivity and employee engagement. In other words, it benefits employees and employers.
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