For the benefit of all: Tackling financial stress in the workplace.

November 2018

A group of business people

E Brand Connect

Financial stress at work is having an impact on business and employees. We explore how companies are fighting back with financial wellness programs that make a real difference.

Employees are stressed about money and it is negatively impacting their work.

A 2017 Schwab Retirement Plan Services, Inc. survey1 that included 500 US employees who were not saving in a 401(k) plan found that 45% of these non-savers said they either had no money left over or were behind on bills at the end of each month, compared to 23% of 401(k) savers who said the same.

This lack of disposable income, contingency funding and long-term saving is leading to very real worries among employees. The survey also found 30% of non-savers and 21% of savers say personal financial stress has affected their job performance.

And while it may be tempting to assume that only the lower paid employees are subject to such stresses, research shows that money worries are universal.2

The employer’s role.

Financial stress poses a serious problem for individuals and companies, but employers are well placed to make a difference. Employers are a trusted source of support and offer a variety of workplace benefit plans that provide the foundation on which to improve financial wellness.

Donn Hess, Director of Marketing and Communications at Lockton Retirement, says: “The workplace is critically important to financial education both because it represents the source of an employee’s wealth and because employers have so much information about employees.”

He adds: “Because finances are so personal, people only want to discuss the topic with other people they trust. And when they trust their employer, that is really powerful.”

Sending the right message, inspiring action.

Employers have made significant steps in improving financial wellness, notably by understanding the importance of personalization when communicating benefits and educational opportunities with employees.

Sarah Newcomb, Senior Behavioral Scientist at Morningstar, says: “Often in this business, we search for a single solution to meet ‘people’s’ needs, and I always ask, ‘which people?’ But the smarter questions to ask are ‘what is the best way we can categorize people, tailor the experience to their specific needs, capture their attention and offer real solutions?’”

Nathan Voris, Managing Director, Strategy, for Schwab Retirement Plan Services, Inc. agrees. He says: “People want and expect personalized experiences. They want to see what’s relevant and important to them, without all the extra ‘noise’ that doesn’t apply to them.”

For example, employees age 50 and older are more likely concerned about financial security in retirement than younger sections of a multi-generational workforce. To help these individuals understand their full financial picture and what steps they can take, sponsors can customize their communication with offerings of specific benefits options, such as a budgeting-in-retirement consultation.

Research has shown that the most effective financial wellness strategies involve meeting each person when, where, and how they prefer and personalizing their conversation and next steps.

In this task, employers and providers benefit immensely from using artificial intelligence tools, which sift through large volumes of data to help them understand what issues matter most to employees, anticipate their needs, and respond appropriately with customized solutions.

Artificial intelligence is also helping employers to customize ongoing communication and solutions that participants really need, in a way that is most suitable to them, be it through an online portal or in person.

Mr. Hess says: “People rely so much on the value of their benefits, but the choices they have to make about those benefits can be really complex. The ability to look at all of the options, an individual’s history and preferences, and then make a recommendation will be incredibly impactful.”

Mr. Voris adds that for financial wellness programs to be most effective, the impetus of engagement must switch from education to goal setting and actionable solutions. "We can’t stop at education, where people may learn about a concept but then are left to figure out what to do next,” he says.

“Although financial literacy is essential, you can’t ‘learn’ your way to adequate retirement savings—eventually you have to act,” he adds. “We know so much about employees today through expanded access to data from the employer as well as our own systems. Leveraging that data helps us pinpoint specific issues facing segments of an employee base, such as low savings rates or excessive 401(k) loans, and structuring wellness components to address those specific issues.”

Key points.

  • Understand your workforce and the variations in financial situations
  • Personalize communication with employees
  • Keep benefits relevant
  • Ensure individuals can take positive action immediately


  • Talk with us about all the options available to your business.