Un-wellness at work

Una Morabito

By Una Morabito
Una Morabito is Head of Client Management for the Workplace Solutions unit of MassMutual.
Posted on Jul 10, 2019

It’s enough to make you sick.

Many Americans say they suffer from anxiety, headaches, insomnia, stomach aches or other medical problems. The root cause, they say, increases their stress, impairs their social life, makes it difficult to eat right and even diminishes their quality of medical care.

The underlying problem is worrying about money and many Middle Americans are bringing those issues to work, some every day, according to the MassMutual Middle America Financial Security Study .1 It’s a problem that employers are not only recognizing but also working to solve by incorporating financial wellness programs at the workplace.

We’re often told that a healthy life is balanced on the pillars of emotional, physical, and financial well-being. But too often a lack of financial security is rocking that foundation, making it difficult to realize health at any level.

MassMutual’s research shows that nearly half (48 percent) of middle-income Americans – those with annual household incomes of $35,000 to $150,000 – worry about money at least once a week. Four in 10 say financial concerns accompany them to work at least weekly and one in five people who earn less than $45,000 worry about money at work every day.

The level of concern is unsurprising once you dig deeper. One in four middle-income workers have less than $1,000 in emergency savings and one in three have less than $2,000. That means a leaky roof, a broken transmission, or a visit to the emergency room may virtually wipe out many people financially.

Call it financial un-wellness. It’s a malady caused in part by shorter-term financial concerns that can impair many Americans’ ability to focus on longer-term financial security goals such as saving for retirement. It’s hard to see the forest if a tree just fell on you.

Employers and their financial and benefits providers can help. Festering financial problems are impacting workplace productivity, some employers say, making financial wellness programs at the workplace an imperative. The goal of such programs is to lift shorter-term problems off workers’ shoulders to help them achieve greater financial security and focus on the bigger picture.

Many workers are asking for help, expressing a need for more education about retirement savings and personal financial management. Eight in 10 respondents (84 percent) earning less than $45,000 annually “strongly agreed” or “somewhat agreed” with the statement that they are behind on preparing for retirement compared with 55 percent of those earning more than $75,000 annually, according to MassMutual’s study. Nearly half were unsure about whom to go to for financial advice or guidance.

Employers that sponsor retirement plans may have an opportunity to step up education at the workplace about a host of financial topics, including retirement savings, investments and even basic money management. Many financial advisors as well as recordkeepers can provide a wide assortment of financial education sessions for employees, including topics such as budgeting, debt management, making the most of a Health Savings Account, saving for college and retirement planning, to name a few.

New educational tools to help workers with their financial lives may also be available from retirement and benefits providers. These tools can help workers review their finances step by step, help them evaluate their overall financial wellness and then provide information on potential improvements. Once an evaluation is complete, some effective tools can even help employees prioritize their benefit and financial wellness choices based on their individual financial situations and budgets, and certain other tool assumptions.

Going through the process can help workers make better financial and benefits choices and, ultimately, continue improving their financial security. It’s an important step that eventually helps enable workers to think longer term, save for retirement and achieve important financial goals.

Financial wellness is but one pillar of a healthy life. But given the insights from MassMutual’s research about the potential toxic impact of financial un-wellness on both physical and emotional health, financial wellness may be a critical component of health and happiness. And workplace productivity.

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1 MassMutual Middle America Financial Security Study, June 2017.