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Financial Planning > Behavioral Finance

5 signs of employee financial stress

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Employees, heads up. Your boss may be watching you.

Many employers are concerning themselves with employees’ financial wellness far more these days than they used to, going beyond simply providing a retirement plan and/or health care benefits and offering a number of workplace assists.

According to consulting firm Aon Hewitt, these can be in such areas as:

  • debt management

  • budgeting

  • financial market basics

  • prioritizing savings

  • saving for life stages

  • health care planning

In fact, the trend is growing, with more employers than ever involving themselves in employee financial wellness.

Why should employers care how employees feel about their financial situations?

While 85 percent of employers in the Aon Hewitt study said “it’s the right thing to do,” there’s another reason that translates to dollars and cents: in a word, productivity.

According to voluntary benefit provider Purchasing Power, the effects of employees’ “financial flu” can be contagious — and take a toll on their employers’ bottom lines.

“When employees are distracted at work by their financial situation…. [it] doesn’t just affect the employee. It’s a big drain on the employer as well,” Christy Defrain, vice president, account management at Purchasing Power, said in a statement.

A Harris poll conducted for Purchasing Power indicated that the vast majority — 82 percent — of employees are under financial stress, with 34 percent having difficulty meeting monthly household expenses such as a mortgage or rent payment, car payments, cable bills, and credit card bills.

In addition, 40 percent of respondents said they don’t have at least $2,000 in emergency savings for unexpected expenses such as unexpected health emergencies, car or appliance repairs, or some other eventuality.

Purchasing Power has laid out five signs it says employers should be watching for that indicate employees are suffering from financial stress.

1. Withdrawing multiple loans against retirement savings.

Employees who take out multiple loans may not just be seeking to keep their heads above water with short-term financial solutions, they could also be endangering their retirement.

Consultant Mercer said that one question employers should be asking themselves about how well defined contribution plans meet their employees’ needs is whether retirement plan loans are actually deteriorating participants’ financial wellness.

Mercer also pointed out that, as bad as those loans may be for participants, the alternatives — such as payday loans or credit card debt — can be far more crippling.

And while plan leakage through defaults on such loans can amount to more than $6 billion annually, employers might want to consider some of those financial wellness options before turning off the loan tap.

2. Asking for payday advances.

If employees are looking for advances on their pay, it’s a pretty sure sign they’re in trouble. 

And while employers might not like to act as a short-term banker, other options are pretty limited for employees who need cash immediately — payday loans, for instance, can come with finance charges at an annual percentage rate of 400 percent, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Some help at work with budgeting techniques or debt management might come in very handy for them.

Even providing loan availability — other than via retirement plans — can be beneficial; according to a 2014 report on employee financial stress from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), while only 19 percent of organizations offer employees loan products from third-party providers, and 18 percent of organizations offer payroll advances, almost three-quarters of HR professionals indicated that offering third-party provider loan products has a positive impact on employees’ overall ability to manage their financial difficulties, and slightly over half of HR professionals reported pay advances having a positive impact.

3. Unexpected absences.

Money — and the lack of it — can certainly cause problems. SHRM’s financial stress report found that 37 percent of HR professionals said employees at their organization missed work in the last year because of a financial emergency. 

Larger companies are more likely than small ones to have had employees miss work for financial reasons, with 40 percent of firms with 500–2,499 employees to say so; just 17 percent of companies with 1–99 employees replied that they did.

Fifty-nine percent of HR professionals said employees at their organization had missed work in the last year because of transportation issues — and employees short on cash for car repairs or carfare may have no alternative but to stay home till they can figure out how to make other arrangements.

4. Spending time dealing with personal finances while at work.

Think that’s not a problem? You’d be wrong.

Purchasing Power’s survey revealed that one in three (34 percent) of employees spend two to three hours per week at work thinking about or dealing with their personal finances.

Whether it’s worrying about missing a payment or spending time on an endless telephone tree to try to resolve a financial issue, that eats away at company productivity — thus costing both the employee and the employer in the long run.

5. Medical issues that could have been avoided through preventive care.

Even the best health care benefits leave employees on the hook for some costs, and these days benefits often make employees pay large deductibles and copays before kicking in.

In 2015, 36 percent of Americans of working age didn’t go to the doctor or use other medical services because of monetary issues, according to the Commonwealth Fund Biennial Health Insurance Survey.

Then there’s the toll all that worry takes on the body, even if an employee goes to a doctor: poor sleep, weight gain or loss, ulcers — it’s no wonder health is suffering if employees are worried all the time about money.

See also:

3 quick tips to neutralize job-related stress

Advising the advisor: Part 1 (stress is a problem)

8 ways to beat procrastination


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