In 2019, words that just a few years prior had no meaning quickly become part of the American lexicon. Think about a term like “selfie.” Just a decade ago that word would have literally meant nothing to nearly all Americans, and yet here in 2019 the only people who may be unaware of that term and its definition are limited to those under the age of 3 or over the age of 90, and even then there is a 50/50 shot they’ll know.
Another such term that has become more and more popular in the last few years is “financial wellness.” Everyone knows what financial means, everyone knows what wellness means, but together it becomes a vague, broad, buzzy phrase that doesn’t mean much to the average American. It is very possible that this will not be the case in just a few years, as more and more employers recognize the need to suppress the financial stress that is so common among all Americans, but particularly millennials and recent college graduates.
Financial wellness is a broad term applied to a new type of employer benefit that offers some form of support to employees to help them eliminate debt, increase savings, improve financial education and literacy, or some combination of all of those. This type of benefit can take many forms. Some organizations offer only content that allows employees to educate themselves on different topics related to personal finance, while others rely on knowledgeable financial professionals who provide either one-on-one or group advice on various specific topics, such as retirement. Other organizations rely on technological platforms to reduce financial stress of users in different ways, such as robo-advisors that provide automated advice on what investments to choose based on the inputs the user provides.
Americans have become accustomed to only receiving certain benefits from their full-time employer, including health insurance, paid time off, and some sort of retirement vehicle such as a pension or 401(k). However, as the power dynamic shifts in favor of labor in America, especially skilled-labor, employers have found themselves having to increasingly improve their benefits offerings in order to recruit and retain top talent. In doesn’t help that the average tenure for a millennial at any employer is roughly 18 months, and the cost of turnover is estimated to be between 25% and 50% of an employee’s salary in terms of HR waste to find and train their replacements, as well as lost productivity.
Just look at some of the pioneers in the benefits arms race, such as Google. Google recognizes that in order for them to stay on the top of the tech world, they need to be purposeful in making sure the most talented employees out there actually want to work for Google, and stay there. While corporate offices in decades past resembled a scene from Office Space, Google offices are closer in resemblance to an amusement park, with beach volleyball courts, free food, nap pods, etc. In addition to these, the ability to work from home, more paid time off, and four to six months of maternity/paternity leave are the potent perks that attract millennials that crave flexibility and casualness in the workplace.
While most organizations aren’t in a position to install a beach volleyball court in their office, or don’t have the resources to provide three free meals per day to staff, all employers can provide a benefit that offers employees something nearly all of them need, financial guidance.
In the United States, we do a horrible job of teaching our young people about personal finance, in fact there are no required courses in high school or college that are centered around learning about the basics of credit, debt, investing, budgeting, etc. This knowledge gap almost always leads to young people digging themselves into a financial hole that many spend decades climbing out of, if they ever get out at all.
The average American now leaves college with over $30,000 in student loan debt, and over $8,000 in credit card debt. That means before young peoples’ brains fully develop at age 25, they’ve already made decisions that cripple them financially for decades. That debt, along with poor spending habits common of Americans under 40, and a lack of investing knowledge is a disastrous combination that culminates in financial stress that severely impacts the happiness of young people. In fact, financial stress is one of the leading causes of employee turnover, especially for those who work in fields that provide lower-than-average salaries. So while beach volleyball courts and nap pods are nice, they don’t really address the root cause of employee stress that is the main cause of turnover.
Financial wellness benefits are that solution.
Costing anywhere between $8 and $12 per month per employee, these programs are becoming more and more popular with forward-thinking companies and organizations that recognize the need to reduce turnover and stress, as well as improve employee job satisfaction to improve organizational outcomes. The average employee spends over three hours per week thinking about their own financial stress at work, which means eliminating this stress automatically makes employees 7.5% more productive each week, not to mention the fact that happy employees have been found to be exponentially more productive than their stressed and dissatisfied peers.
Imagine if your entire organization was operating at 107.5% efficiency, employees were happier, turnover was cut in half, and you had hundreds of more applications than you did vacancies. Now imagine getting all of that for about 5 cents per hour per employee.
It’s not hard to see why the most successful companies are doing more to address the financial crisis most young Americans are struggling with, and financial wellness benefits might just be the solution that both employees and their employers have been clamoring for.