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For Your Benefit

Promising Drop in Financial Stress Does a Troubling 180

Employees are losing confidence in their finances, affecting their health and their ability to be productive at work. How can the benefits industry respond to this troubling trend?

After six years of reporting increasing confidence in their financial situation, workers’ attitudes took a serious nosedive when thinking about their money issues and how they affect their lives, a recent biannual survey found.

Steve Nyce

According to the 2017 “Global Benefits Attitudes Survey” by consulting group Willis Towers Watson, one-third of U.S. workers said their financial problems are negatively impacting their lives, compared to only 21 percent making this statement two years ago. Plus, only 35 percent said they were happy with their money matters.

Those numbers had Willis senior economist Steve Nyce scratching his head because respondents’ satisfaction with their finances had been climbing every year of the study from 26 percent in 2009 to 48 percent in 2015.

“Household debt is starting to rise at a pace that is faster than wages,” Nyce said. “People are feeling like they have lost control of their financial situation. They are having a hard time getting ahead.”

More than half of workers have had some kind of significant money issue in the past two years, the survey said. Topping the list were significant medical expenses at 30 percent and borrowing money from family and friends at 29 percent.

These issues, combined with low wage growth and mounting debt are not just causing financial stress, they are also affecting employees’ health and ability to be productive at work.

One-third of U.S. workers said their financial problems are negatively impacting their lives,

One-third of U.S. workers said their financial problems are negatively impacting their lives, compared to only 21 percent making this statement two years ago, according to the 2017 “Global Benefits Attitudes Survey.” 

About a third of respondents identified as struggling financially said that money woes were preventing them from doing their best at work. These workers were also taking more days off as well as saying they were in poor health. Meanwhile, employees with healthier outlooks on their finances tended to be in good health. Only 5 percent in this group said they had high stress levels.

“All of this wears on them and drains their energy,” Nyce said. “It is impacting people’s ability to be their best on the job.”

Rachel Bari Keane sees a lot of financially stressed-out workers in her job as a benefits analyst at PSCU, the nation’s largest credit union service organization. She said that many workers feel they are still on their own when it comes to figuring out finances and health care.

“There is a lot of financial stress out there and it does create a lot of turmoil in their lives,” Keane said. “As benefits have evolved with high-deductible health plans, a lot of people in general haven’t been educated properly and it causes them to worry about how to do it all.”

Retirement and student loans are two high interest topics, Keane said.

Today’s marketplace is filled with financial wellness products, but many are less helpful than they seem, Nyce said. Many programs, he said, focus on budgeting, which can be inaccurate and consume a tremendous amount of time.

“People do not have time to be budgeters,” Nyce said. “Our responsibility in the industry is to provide decision support tools to help [employees] narrow choices and make better decisions. The industry is moving in this direction and we are not turning back.”

Patty Kujawa is a writer in the Milwaukee area. Comment below or email editors@workforce.com.