An estimated 30 million Americans struggle with stress stemming from poor financial literacy, and employers must face the harsh reality that this is their problem too. A benefits package with a 401(k) plan and even college loan assistance is terrific. But the real key to employees’ long-term security is their understanding how to take advantage of such programs.
Employers are uniquely situated to provide financial education. Workers tend to trust their employer, and by helping reduce financial anxieties an employer benefits from greater productivity and less turnover in personnel. ComPsych, the world’s largest provider of employee assistance programs, estimates that individuals’ money stress costs employers $300 billion a year.
Many large companies already offer financial wellness programs. But smaller firms would also benefit, even if they did nothing more than offer an online personal finance tool. Here are four basic concepts company leaders should keep in mind:
Start with basics Individuals better understand financial concepts delivered in small bites—like how much to save from each paycheck. Slowly progress to more complex material. Informal “lunch and learn” sessions tend to work well because they take pace in a non-threatening environment. Topics for such a lunch could range from retirement planning and paying down debt to managing spending and understanding how 401(k) plans work.
Put the caboose before the engine Start at the end and work forward. Employees should write down their goals. What do they most want to understand about money? Employers should set goals too. What money skills will most help workers perform better on the job? Then map out a financial education program that best addresses everyone’s needs.
Keep it simple Guidance should be broken down into easy, actionable concepts—like how to change your automatic contribution rate or switch to a target-date mutual fund. There are many free online resources that can help.
Put their feet to the fire Though an employer may offer financial education and tools, employees ultimately must act to take advantage. Offer small rewards, like a box lunch, for attendance at sessions. Plan events to occur during the workday. Above all, communicate through email or other means how financial education can improve their life—and that the company urges all employees to take part.