Financial Stress Takes Toll on U.S. Workers: Study

Women more likely than men to suffer extreme levels of stress

More than a third of women felt extreme financial stress vs. 22% of men. More than a third of women felt extreme financial stress vs. 22% of men.

American workers are experiencing moderate to extreme financial stress, costing businesses billions of dollars annually, according New York Life’s 2014 Financial Stress and Retirement Readiness Report.

New York Life’s survey of 1,500 retirement plan participants found that 73% had felt extreme or moderate financial stress over the last six months.

Women, the report said, felt extreme financial stress more acutely than men, and were much more likely to bring that stress with them into the workplace.

Sixty percent of respondents ascribed their stress to worries about possible financial difficulties, another 47% faced potentially unaffordable medical expenses, and 46% feared losing their job.

Only 50% of survey respondents considered their financial situation good.

Who Feels Stressed?

Financial stress hits workers at all income levels. More than a quarter of respondents who earned upward of $100,000 reported feeling highly stressed.

Fifty-eight percent of highly stressed respondents admitted they had been remiss in saving for retirement, and 50% reported they had failed to do basic budgeting.

Thirty-four percent of women in the survey reported feeling extreme stress, compared with 22% of men who did.

Workers earning less than $50,000 expressed more concern than their higher-earning counterparts with building up emergency savings. For them, having a safety net trumped worries about retirement savings, day-to-day bills and medical bills.

Stress’s Effects

The study found that stress affected not only individuals, but also businesses and the retirement industry itself.

Citing Mayo Clinic data, the study said stressed individuals experienced symptoms ranging from headaches and chest pains to changes in sex drive and sleep problems.

Stress affected their mood as well, resulting in anxiety, restlessness, lack of motivation or focus, irritability or anger, and sadness or depression.

Individuals under financial stress tended to react by over- or undereating, abusing drugs or alcohol, smoking, withdrawing socially and displaying outbursts of anger.

The World Health Organization estimates that stress costs U.S. businesses $300 billion a year, the study noted.

Productivity losses related to personal and family health problems costs U.S. employers some $226 billion annually, the study said. Not surprising, in that one in four workers reported that financial stress distracted them at work.

Looking into New York Life’s own database, the survey found that some 25% of retirement plan participants had an outstanding loan, and those with loans contributed less that those without one.

An additional 2% of participants took a hardship withdrawal in 2013, according to the survey.

Doing Something About Stress

Seventy percent of survey participants expected their stress levels to stay the same or increase over the coming year.

Even so, they recognized that taking action could reduce stress.

Sixty-one percent felt getting a financial plan would be helpful or very helpful, while 39% said this would not be at all helpful.

Fifty-three percent thought debt elimination or consolidation tools would be helpful or very helpful.

Slight majorities of respondents thought investment advice or meeting with a financial advisor would help relieve stress.

When the suggestions for relief shifted to the stress part of financial stress, sentiments changed.

Fifty-six percent of respondents saw no benefits in relaxation techniques, and 57% looked askance at stress-management coping skills.

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Check out Americans Feel Healthy, Not Wealthy: The Principal on ThinkAdvisor.

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