How can leaders toe the fine line between prying and being aware of their employees’ financial wellbeing? CreditWorks’ Marion Mathes explains.
Business leaders should be thinking more about their employees’ financial wellbeing, says Marion Mathes, co-founder and CEO of Florida-based financial wellness company CreditWorks.
Mathes has more than 25 years of experience in the US consumer and mortgage-credit marketplace, and says that having a healthy workforce is a prerequisite for any business to operate effectively, and employers are starting to wake up to the “undeniable connection between financial wellbeing and physical and mental health”.
The impact of personal financial stress, she explains, can dampen morale and lower productivity. It can even reduce employee engagement, negatively affecting all aspects of a business.
“Employers have an opportunity to reduce employee stress and improve retention and engagement by offering holistic financial wellness benefits to their employees,” Mathes says. To do this, leaders should be aware of the financial wellbeing of their staff “without prying into anyone’s personal situation”.
In the US, she says, the majority of people live from pay cheque to pay cheque and up to 20pc of a company’s workforce may be experiencing financial stress.
“Leaders have an opportunity today to provide resources that will enable their staff to better manage their financial stress.”
What does a financial wellbeing programme look like?
From Mathes’s experience, a robust financial wellness programme will tick a number of boxes. It will include access to the tools employees need to build their financial wellbeing, such as education on savings and a clear explanation of available benefits. Throughout her career, she has found that a breakdown of communication here can be detrimental.
“Providing your employees with access to incentives they need is great,” she says. “However, we find the most important factor for them is understanding what is being offered and communicating that effectively to them.
“Don’t assume that employees automatically know or understand the full range of benefits that you offer as a company. How financial wellness benefits are communicated to staff can directly impact how they engage and utilise them.”
A successful programme will also “address the cause and not just the symptoms of financial stress”, Mathes says. “Salary advance programmes, for example, are a better band-aid than a payday loan, but do not go far enough to help employees really improve their personal financial condition.”
While long-term savings and planning are crucial, she continues, it’s important to remember that there are many short-term goals employees may need help with. These can include budgeting, managing debt and emergency savings.
Financial wellbeing during Covid-19
There is no time like the present to double down on financial wellbeing initiatives, according to Mathes. The Covid-19 pandemic has had “disastrous effects on the economy”, she says, piling on stress for many households.
But where to start? First of all, Mathes warns against trying to “recreate the wheel”. “Seek the advice of professionals who have created effective financial wellness programmes and use those best practices,” she says.
“Most employers already offer retirement planning and savings programmes, and these companies typically offer long-term financial planning services as an additional incentive. Effective additions to create a holistic financial wellness programme include three added elements: access to free financial education, individual financial budgeting assistance and employment-based loans and credit-building products.
“These ancillary benefits … have been proven to have a strong positive impact on the workforce.”