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Employers increase focus on workers' financial wellness

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Financial well-being is a growing concern for employers and employees alike, but the two groups may have different ideas on how best to address it.

Seventy-three percent of large employers polled earlier this year by Towers Watson & Co. and the National Business Group on Health said they plan to increase their focus on their employees' total well-being, including their financial health and retirement readiness, according to survey results released last week.

At least 47% of employers already include financial wellness in their overall employee well-being strategy and offer technology-based resources and third-party onsite counseling to their employees to help them manage their finances.

Between 24% and 33% are planning or considering adding those services within the next three years, according to the survey.

Customized or targeted messaging aimed at employees who are struggling financially — as well as health risk assessment questions on financial wellness — are less common among employers, but are slightly more likely to be included in employers' overall strategy by 2018, the survey shows.

How those efforts are received by employees remains to be seen.

“As employers, you need to be careful what you do in your zeal to help employees manage their financial well-being,” said Shelly Wolff, New York-based senior health management consultant at Towers Watson.

Personal finances off limts?

A majority of employees polled in the same study agreed that financial problems make it harder for them to be productive at work, and that their employers should encourage them to save for retirement. However, far fewer employees were comfortable with the idea of employers involving themselves in how they manage their personal finances.

Forty-three percent of employees polled said employers should offer guidance to their workers on better personal financial management, while 41% said it was not an employer's place to take such an active role.

“You don't typically see polarization like this in the tales these results tell,” Ms. Wolff said. “I think this is a message to employers that says when you communicate these programs to your employees, make sure you understand what kinds of sensitivities they might have about this.”

Even fewer employees (30%) said employers should use targeted messaging to help individuals with financial issues.

“Employees seem to be saying that they're OK with pension and retirement planning, because employers have been doing that for a while,” Ms. Wolff said. “But when you're targeting them specifically and telling them they're not saving enough, they're saying that's not really any of their employers' business.”

Other recent studies have indicated similar misgivings among employees when it comes to their financial wellness offerings.

A survey of 1,000 employees conducted by Jellyvision Lab Inc. and Harris Poll Inc. indicated that 56% of workers would like “friendlier language” in their company's financial wellness communications, and 36% said they found employer-sponsored financial wellness programs intimidating.