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What is Financial Wellness and Why Does It Matter?

What is financial wellness?  For the employee, it’s a measure of his financial health, which covers a range of indicators, such as debt-to-income ratio, emergency savings, and retirement readiness.  For employers, it’s a program designed to help educate, motivate and empower employees to tackle those issues.

style=”font-size: 13px;”>But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.  You can’t talk about financial wellness without first taking a closer look at employee wellness as a whole: where did it come from, how did these programs evolve and do they really work?


Today’s wellness programs are designed to promote employee physical, mental and emotional health – whether it’s offered by the employer or an insurer.  Most typically, they offer participation incentives, such as premium discounts, cash rewards, or gym memberships.

Like everything else in the workplace, wellness programs emerged slowly, in fits and starts, before picking up steam to not only encompass a broad range of factors, but to grow from a sleepy academic concept to a mainstream business practice relatively quickly.

The earliest ancestor to today’s wellness programs are the occupational social work and alcohol programs that blossomed in the 1940s.  

Although employee assistance programs evolved from both of these early workplace wellness programs, they took a dramatically different, more preventive approach. They also grew to encompass a broader range of emotional and mental health issues.

By the 1980s, academics began pondering the benefits of physically fit, healthy employees in terms of increased productivity and reduced absenteeism, but it wasn’t until the 1990s that employers started running to wellness programs in droves.  

As early as 1994, according to one study, roughly 80 percent of larger employers pushed wellness awareness programs, while nearly half had fitness facilities on site.  By the end of the decade, employers realized maybe the mental and physical were tied together and began integrating EAPs into the overall wellness picture.



Today, we find ourselves at a similar crossroads.  Employees are increasingly stressed out and distracted at the office because they’re worrying about retirement, getting their car fixed or putting their kid through college.

More than half of employees are worried about their finances — and it’s even worse for younger workers: nearly two-thirds of millennials are stressed out over their bank accounts.  Sure, unemployment is down to historic lows, but so are wages. Consider:

  • Three out of four employees live paycheck to paycheck.
  • 82 percent of them aren’t confident about having enough money for a comfortable retirement.
  • More than a third or workers carry revolving credit debt, with an average balance of $16,748.
  • And more than a quarter of them don’t have any emergency savings.

Employers are increasingly stepping up their efforts at addressing employee concerns.  In fact, some experts predict 2017 will be the year of financial wellness.  It makes sense.  

The only financial advice most people receive is at work — whether it’s a conversation with HR about the benefits of voluntary life insurance or quizzing the enroller about the finer points of the company’s 401(k) plan.



It’s obvious that a 401(k) consultation is a commonsense entry point for the implementation of any financial wellness plan.  But beyond discussions about retirement, which should include options outside of the traditional 401(k), every financial wellness program should include four critical components for employees in different stages of their life.

For younger workersEstablish a solid foundation
  • Budgeting and basic financial planning.
  • Cash-flow management tools.
  • If needed, access to short-term loans.
  • If needed, emergency fund builder.
  • Financial and legal document management.
For millennials: Ditch the debt.
  • Credit counseling, including foreclosure and bankruptcy assistance, if necessary.
  • Student loan repayment assistance

For more mid-career employees: Build the savings.

  • Savings plan
  • Consolidated view of assets
  • Investment advice
  • Retirement planning
For those nearing retirement: Shield the family’s future.
  • Life insurance
  • Tax and legacy planning



Finally, it’s critical to monitor these plans to gauge effectiveness, outcomes, and return on investment. Specifically, there are three questions to ask.

1.  First, what are the metrics used to measure success?  The success (or failure) of these plans are inherently trickier to quantify than straight wellness programs.
2.  How detailed will the plan be?  It’s critical it goes deeper than credit counseling or 401(k) plan participation.
3.  Will it be voluntary or mandatory?

It’s become increasingly clear that given the prominent role financial stress plays in the overall well-being of employees, financial wellness is quickly becoming a necessity for responsible employers.  If you need to understand options for the best financial wellness programs for your organization, feel free to contact Shortlister

Article by Denis Storey