According to a recent Gallup Survey, the United States has the 7th most stressed-out citizens in the world, despite also being the wealthiest nation in the world. The results are even more puzzling when you look at the company America is keeping in the top ten: Rwanda, Costa Rica, Uganda, Sri Lanka, Iran, Albania, Tanzania, the Philippines, and Greece. Nearly all of the other nations that made the top ten are in developing regions of Asia, Africa, or South America where individuals are, understandably, stressed about things like political instability and a lack of necessary survival resources that most Americans don’t need to worry about.
So why then did America crack the top ten? Money.
Money is the single-biggest stressor for the majority of Americans, who cited financial stress as their primary source of stress and anxiety in a recent survey by Northwestern Mutual. In fact, nearly half of all Americans, 44% to be exact, cited financial stress as their dominant source of stress, followed by 25% who said personal relationships, and 18% who said their work environment caused the majority of their stress.
All of this financial stress has been shown to have dire psychological impacts on most Americans, in fact the American Psychological Association also reported that not only was financial stress #1 on their survey of stressors this year, but money and financial stress has remained #1 on their survey list every year since the survey began in 2007, regardless of the broader economic climate. A John Hancock survey also found that financial stress has caused anxiety and sleeplessness for nearly two-thirds of American workers, who also report higher rates of depression than those who aren’t financially stressed.
This stress and anxiety has also crept into the workplace, causing employees to suffer from a lack of sleep and reducing the productivity of the average employee who spends time at work thinking about money or trying to deal with financial stress-related issues. In fact, more than 7 in 10 American workers report carrying their financial stress into the workplace, and over one-third of employees admit to thinking about and dealing with financial stress at work more than once per week.
How can the richest country on earth have so many citizens who are struggling with financial stress?
One would think that in a country with the world’s largest economy, with more millionaires and billionaires than anywhere else on earth, and the 7th highest GDP per capita, money would be the last thing on people’s minds. However, when you dig a little deeper, it’s not hard to understand the source of all of this financial stress.
In 2019, for the first time in American history, credit card debt topped $1 trillion, over $3,000 worth for every man, woman, and child in the country. When you consider the average interest rate on a credit card is over 20%, that means that Americans are paying about $200 billion in credit card interest each year! That alone is enough to cause enough stress to keep someone up at night. With salaries adjusted for inflation barely increasing at all over the past several decades, many Americans, especially those under 40, use credit to finance the lives they want to be living, the ones they see their friends living on social media, the true cost of FOMO.
All that credit card debt has come at a massive price, in fact one in four Americans doesn’t have a single dollar saved up in case of an emergency, and nearly two-thirds of American workers report not being able to afford a surprise $1,000 bill. In addition, most young Americans are entering the workforce already having dug themselves into an enormous fiscal hole. Student loan debt has more than doubled in under 10 years, and the average American is now leaving school with over $30,000 in student loans. Especially when you couple this with the fact that nearly all Americans have never taken a personal finance course, it’s a recipe for disaster as we fail to equip our young workers with the necessary tools, resources, and education to become financially secure and avoid the pitfalls of debt, poor budgeting habits, and failing to invest for the future.
In addition to the psychological impact that financial stress is having on most Americans, recent studies have found that those with financial stress are far more likely to be in poor physical shape as well. In fact, nearly two-thirds of Americans with financial stress fail to get regular exercise, and a significant number reported that money stress drives them to eat more junk food. Nearly a third also reported that they skip preventative health measures because of cost, a worrisome trend where many Americans allow small health issues to develop into major ones because they are ignored, workers who report being financially stressed are twice as likely to have a heart attack than those with low levels of financial stress.
What can be done?
Financial stress in America is a systemic issue that results from a lack of financial education, the incredibly high cost of higher education, stagnating wages, and the availability of high-interest credit, and all of these can’t be solved overnight. One positive trend, however, is the increased number of employers who are providing services to help employees reduce their financial stress as a workplace benefit. In fact, financial wellness benefits have become one of the most popular and in-demand benefits for employees in 2020, especially for those under 40.
Financial wellness benefits are provided by unbiased third-parties that coach and advise employees in a one-on-one setting to help answer their questions and guide them towards becoming more financially secure. This can include determining a plan to eliminate debt, promoting better budgeting habits, teaching how to invest and take advantage of both workplace retirement plans, such as a 401(k), and individual retirement plans like an IRA. The best providers of these benefits can even help with buying a home, setting up a college-savings plan for a newborn child, or just counseling on how to reduce stress levels related to money.
The result is often a happier, healthy employee population that is proven to be more productive because their financial stress is drastically reduced. If you are an employer that is considering adding a financial wellness benefit, but don’t know where to start, you can check out the top things to look for when deciding on a financial wellness benefit here.
Adding a financial wellness benefit in 2020 could have an immense impact on the ability of employers to support their employees in a new type of way, by helping them eliminate the cause of the majority of their stress, building company loyalty, and putting them in a position to thrive financially for years to come.
Check out the top rated financial wellness benefits on G2 here.