Financial wellness in the workplace: Five steps to a successful financial wellness program

For many Canadians, understanding and managing multiple financial assets and obligations is a complex and daunting task that can contribute to significant stress, impact work performance and delay retirement. As the world continues to battle the far-reaching effects of COVID-19, for many employees, concerns about employment security, decline in household income and retirement savings accounts has further eroded their financial wellbeing.

Employees who suffer from financial stress are twice as likely to report poor health, and almost half of working Canadians admit that stress related to personal finances has had an impact on their performance at work. In fact, a recent Statistics Canada survey noted that fewer Canadians reported excellent or very good mental health during COVID-19 compared to data from last year.

The good news is, a workplace financial wellness program can help. Recent research tells us that employers and employees alike want unbiased financial education, delivered by accredited professionals. From managing money and debt to saving for retirement, or one-to-one financial guidance, employers who implement financial wellness programs reap the benefits of a financially healthy workforce.

Here are five steps for developing and implementing a successful financial wellness program in your workplace.

Step 1: Get Buy-in from Senior Executives

One of the most significant barriers to launching a financial literacy program in the workplace is getting buy-in from senior executives. This is a critical first step, so you will need to explain the cost benefits – what are the company’s top concerns?  Increased engagement and productivity or perhaps lower absence and disability costs? How will a financial wellness program help? At a minimum, every executive should want a financially healthy and engaged workforce, and they all want to increase company revenues. Explain clearly how financial literacy in the workforce can achieve each of these goals.

Step 2: Find a third-party provider

According to Eckler’s recent survey on financial wellness in the workplace, 84% of employers and 90% of employees want their third-party educator to be unbiased. Eighty-five per cent of companies and 84% of employees want their education programs to be provided by a third-party that is experienced and more than 80% of employers want the third-party educator to be accredited. It’s also important to find someone who has specifically worked with companies to develop financial education programs.

Step 3: Develop the program

Effective employee financial wellness programs must be targeted and delivered effectively. While all topics should be discussed, what should be emphasized depends on the needs of your employees. Good financial education should address the specific issues that are causing the most stress.

Delivery is equally important. With so many of us working away from the office right now, virtual meetings and webinars have quickly become the new norm.  When we do get back to whatever our new reality will look like, whether webinars, in-person workshops or one-to-one financial guidance,  the method you choose will depend on what your employees want, what approach suits your workforce, and what your budget dictates.

Step 4: Build a comprehensive communication plan

This step is critical to the success of the program. Companies, along with their third-party educators, need to develop a comprehensive communication plan to ensure employee buy-in, program participation and, ultimately, program success.

Communication from senior executives is especially important.  Endorsement from senior executives helps employees feel supported, creates goodwill and fosters greater engagement with the organization. Communication should also be delivered by Human Resources and people managers at varying times before, during, and after education sessions to reiterate the key messages and maintain engagement.

Step 5: Measure and Assess

Measurement and assessment are the cornerstones of effective program management. Making informed decisions about program effectiveness is critical to improving the financial wellness of employees, and empowering employers to make strategic decisions that support their employees and enable company goals.

As a first step, employers must define the key criteria for success. Setting key metrics such as monitoring behaviours in retirement and savings plans, benefit elections, absenteeism, use of EAP services, and disability claims can show a direct link between education and outcomes. Your third-party educator can then help you develop effective methods for measuring your success criteria and establish benchmarks for evaluating your program.  You can use this information to form a business case for tweaking your program as needed – number of sessions, delivery method, topics, timing, etc.

Financial literacy month provides a good opportunity to reflect on how employers can, and should, support employee financial wellness. While the Government of Canada and many of our financial institutions did their part to support Canadians with emergency financial relief, many of those relief measures have come to an end. Even with many of us working away from the office, employers can take incremental steps to support financial wellness in the workplace at a time when many Canadians need it the most.