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Financial education works as another angle on employee wellness

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ORLANDO, Fla. — Financial education should be folded into existing wellness programs to help employees alleviate stress from money matters, increase productivity and avoid stress-related health problems, benefits professionals say.

“There's a solid, solid argument around how focusing on (financial wellness) is good for the company,” Jeffrey Tulloch, Westport, Connecticut-based vice president of MetLife Inc.'s financial programs PlanSmart and Business Advantage, said Tuesday during the 2015 Employer Healthcare & Benefit Congress in Orlando, Florida. “It's great for the employee — we all need this — but done correctly, it can help drive productivity.”

Most employees enter the workplace after schooling with no financial education and are ill-equipped to handle their personal finances, he said.

The lack of knowledge leads can lead to stress in the workplace, reduced productivity and increased medical spending from stress-related conditions, he said.

But employers that have wellness programs can “leverage them to really help change people's lives,” Mr. Tulloch said.

Workers are looking for help, he said, citing a 2014 MetLife study that found 49% of employees had no access to workplace financial education but were interested in having such programs.

When designing a financial wellness program, Mr. Tulloch recommended tailoring the curriculum to meet employee needs. If a company has a diverse workforce, the program needs to be broad enough to cover all demographics' financial issues.

Employers also need to drive engagement and participation in the program through strong workplace communications, he said.

Georgetown University, which launched financial wellness as part of its total wellness program in 2007, offers monthly financial wellness workshops and an annual financial education conference focusing on topics that include buying a home, saving to pay for children's college and caring for aging parents, Charles DeSantis, chief benefits officer of the Washington-based university, said during the session.

Georgetown's annual conference sees 20% of its 5,000 benefits-eligible employees attend, he said.

Financial education is an essential component of an organization's holistic wellness strategy, Mr. DeSantis said.

“It has to be part of your wellness program, because people are well when they are doing something about their finances or thinking about it, and when they are actually taking care of their health,” both mind and body, he said.

The first step, he said, is to simply get workers to begin thinking about the subject by letting them know financial education is available. It's also necessary to conduct all education workshops during work hours and include an employee's entire family in the program, he said.

It's important not to view results in terms of the return on investment. Instead, providing tools for people to improve their finances and retirement readiness is about making workers feel valued and cared for, Mr. DeSantis said.