Financial Wellness Programs: Tips for Launching an Effective Program

This article is a call to action for employers. It’s time to revisit your employee benefit plan and make sure it’s truly beneficial to all employees.

An unspoken rule in human resource management is that you become the eyes and ears of the organization when it comes to tracking employee morale. In recent years, you may have heard more and more stories about the financial challenges your employees are facing.

For example, maybe someone’s partner got laid off, or a teammate struggled to pay for childcare assistance for their quarantined kids. As a result, financial wellness programs are becoming a more prevalent element of employee benefits packages in today’s world.

All of this may leave you wondering – is your company keeping up with demand?

According to an annual report conducted by retirement benefits provider John Hancock, the uncertainty of the pandemic has left 72% of survey participants feeling stressed despite having new opportunities to improve their finances.

The United States is one of the wealthiest countries globally. Yet, so many American employees find themselves living paycheck to paycheck. And while employers have spent the past decade focusing on providing 401(k) programs, so many workers cannot contribute enough to help them retire on time.

As a result, there’s a clear and growing need for financial education and empowerment in the workplace.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) defines financial well-being as:

  • the ability to meet current and ongoing financial obligations
  • the ability to feel secure in their financial future
  • the ability to make choices that allow enjoyment of life.

So how do today’s workers measure up? Unfortunately, not very well.

What Does Employee Financial Wellness Have to Do With My Company?

Employers are a trusted source of financial information and stability. Therefore, companies should invest back into their workers where employees invest one-third of their lives into their employer’s bottom line. A financial wellness program is a perfect way to achieve that.

If a mutual commitment isn’t enough, consider a few things:

  • What does it mean to be responsible for an employee’s overall well-being?
  • What can a financially stressed employee cost your business?
  • What can you do to be more competitive in the benefits plan space?

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Can Explain

The notion that money motivates can be illustrated through Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. This theory focuses on psychological motivations based on five levels of human need.

Typically depicted as a 5-tier pyramid, the hierarchy breaks down different levels of needs and how fulfilling those needs impacts behaviors.

Let’s look at each level and consider how financial wellness benefits could impact each.

  1. Physiological Needs – Biological requirements for survival like shelter, food, drink, sleep
  2. Safety Needs – Having a safe and stable environment
  3. Love and Belonging – Social fulfillment
  4. Self-esteem Needs – A need to have accomplishment and self-worth
  5. Self-actualization Needs – Fulfillment of one’s talents and full potential

Take the time to understand how struggling with finances may affect employees’ work and ability to grow and move from the lower levels of need to higher levels in the hierarchy.

Workers living paycheck to paycheck or struggling under the weight of debt may have concerns about how they’ll afford their next meal. As a result, they’re unable to meet their basic physiological needs. Without proper nutrition, an employee’s ability to focus on their work declines.

However, when an individual’s physiological needs are taken care of, they can focus on security and safety. This can include financial security. For example, employees who live on tipped wages may exhibit concerns with their financial stability when they have a slow week.

A financial education program could empower them to learn habits that help them navigate fluctuations in income.

When physiological and safety needs are met, a person can focus on their social needs, seeking a sense of belonging. Individuals who are financially stressed tend to self-isolate out of shame or a need to avoid situations where they’d need to spend money.

While your ability to make an impact with a benefits plan starts to decrease at this level, strong financial support can still play a role.

At the fourth level, people seek to fulfill their need for self-worth, accomplishment, and respect. This esteem can come from oneself or the care of others. When people feel financially secure, they may feel more comfortable investing time and money in their skills.

A well-executed financial benefits program could be just the thing your employee needs to set their sights on professional development for their esteem needs.

Self-actualization is the highest level of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. And while accomplishing this level isn’t always expected, it’s still worth trying!

Are you equipping your employees with the tools they need to work toward self-actualization?

Hidden Costs of Financially-Stressed Employees

If the psychological theories of Maslow do not quite inspire you, maybe some more black-and-white facts can help.

40% of workers claim they would be more productive if they didn’t worry about their finances. As a result, in 2021, the average cost of financial stress per employee was $2,412. Imagine having 500 employees. Your company could lose over a million dollars in lost productivity and absenteeism.

There are other areas financially stressed employees could be costing your company:

  • Delayed retirement means you’re paying into their 401(k) longer
  • Dissatisfied employees lead to higher turnover rates and more money spent on training new employees
  • Health care costs rise due to the physical effects of stress

Need we continue?

Join Thousands of Other Employers Prioritizing Employee Financial Wellness

While financial wellness benefits programs are relatively new to the workplace, it’s hard to ignore their rising popularity. Bank of America’s 2021 Workplace Benefits Report says 95% of employers feel a sense of responsibility for their employees’ financial wellness. As a result, 46% of employees offered workplace financial wellness programs in 2021.

Soon enough, it will be a non-negotiable element for most job-seeking employees.

Five Steps for Building an Effective Employee Financial Wellness Program

Employees look to their employers to fulfill their most basic human needs. But, they also hope they’ll work to achieve their safety and sense of belonging.

If you’re unsure where to start, follow these steps:

  1. Learn about the needs of your employees
  2. Determine the program’s goals and the problems it should solve
  3. Find a financial wellness benefits provider
  4. Educate and communicate
  5. Track results

1. Listening to Employees

What better source to identify what your employees need than the employees themselves? The workplace is only one element of a larger financial ecosystem for your employees – but it’s probably the engine that drives it. It’s essential to understand your employees’ financial stressors and priorities outside of work, too.

Take the time to get feedback directly from your employees. Gather as much information you can and look for trends in their challenges. This information will help you narrow the broad scope of benefits you can offer.

Methods of information gathering:

  • Employee database
  • Anonymous survey
  • Employee interviews
  • Research best practices

Employees may feel uncomfortable sharing their personal financial information with others, which is why an anonymous survey is a great place to start. It will also pique their interest in what you are planning, leading to a select few interested in participating in employee interviews.

Not sure what to ask? Here are a few ideas:

  • Do you feel confident about your finances day-to-day?
  • What features would motivate you to participate in a financial wellness program?
  • What format of financial wellness education would be helpful to you?
  • What are your most significant financial concerns?
  • What would help you achieve your future financial goals?

You can also use a database of your employee’s salary or hourly pay rates, current benefit usage, and survey responses to identify opportunities to improve employees’ financial wellness.  

2. Setting Goals

Gathering information should help you define financial wellness for your organization. A solid strategy starts with ensuring their basic needs are met and expanding to improve financial knowledge, skills, and support.

To make sure your financial wellness program meets your expectations, you need to set specific and measurable goals. Your goals should mirror your employee’s goals.

Let’s explore some issues and solutions that you may want to consider.

Low household income:

  • Consider increasing wages
  • Credit and debt counseling
  • Access to compassionate capital
  • Education about government assistance

Bad spending habits and debt:

Building savings:

Financial emergencies:

If changing compensation isn’t an option, make sure you’re compiling the right mix of benefits to appeal to a wide variety of employees’ financial challenges. Do your best to find ways to measure the success of your goals – whether it’s measuring counseling participation or retirement contributions.

3. Finding a Financial Wellness Platform

Luckily, you don’t have to undertake your employees’ financial wellness alone. By partnering with financial wellness providers like BrightUp, employers can outsource many elements of their employee financial wellness program.

Prosperity Now, a non-profit advocating for racial economic equity, shares the best practices of a financial wellness program. The service you create should be:

  1. Designed based on the needs of employees
  2. Easy to use
  3. Led by a champion within the company
  4. Integrated into established routines and procedures
  5. Amended and improved continuously

BrightUp believes that hard-working people deserve a hard-working financial wellness benefit – and we think you’d agree. Through a partnership with BrightUp, your company could access a turnkey program that provides:

You can empower employees to take back control of their finances without doing the legwork.

Once you’ve listened to your employees’ needs and sought out a reputable financial wellness benefits partner, you’ll need to gain organizational buy-in from leadership and employees. It’s time to change from being the ears of the organization to being the voice of the people!

4. Communicating With Employees

The best financial wellness plans have clear and constant communication from leadership. Without an effort to educate employees on the benefits available, your materials will likely end up in the same pile of paperwork where they put their health insurance policy.

A few methods to spread the word include:

  • Company-wide webinar or seminar
  • Email campaign
  • Intranet updates
  • Posters
  • Printed materials

Remember that employees are receptive to different forms of communication, so make sure you’re using various communication methods to reach them. And don’t think this is a one-and-done process! Continued communication will remind employees of their resources (and that you care about their well-being!)

5. Measure Success

To prove that the organization’s continued investment in a financial wellness program is valuable, it’s essential to revisit your goals often and measure success. You can use the same methods to set goals as you did for measuring your goals. Gather quantitative data through employee surveys and qualitative data through employee interviews.

Metrics to consider:

  • 401(k) balances and hardship withdrawals
  • Training session attendance
  • Employee morale

Elements of the Best Employee Financial Wellness Programs

The best financial wellness programs solve specific problems with personalized solutions.

Closing Financial Gaps With Lending

A recent Bankrate survey revealed that only 44% of Americans could afford a $1,000 unexpected expense. According to the Federal Reserve, only 64% could afford a $400 surprise expense. Financial emergencies like this may send your employees seeking out payday loans that could be detrimental to their financial well-being.

When only a small percentage of people have the credit score they need to get a traditional personal loan, a clear gap needs to be closed.

Imagine telling your employees that you have their back; that you can help them overcome limited access to capital. Provide room for financial flexibility when life happens with compassionate capital. By providing options like emergency loans and debt consolidation loans with affordable interest rates, you can help employees get through their financial emergencies with peace of mind.

Empowering Employees Through Education

Basic financial education and well-developed money management skills are critical to the success of every employee. Yet, the Global Financial Literacy Excellence Center reports that retirement wealth inequality results from limited financial education 30-40% of the time. In addition, many employees are not prepared for the day-to-day financial issues that they have to deal with, and information on the internet can be contradictory and overwhelming.

Personalized financial education and coaching can help employees move from managing their money to building their wealth. When instruction is personal to the individual’s needs, they’re more likely to absorb and integrate that information into their everyday lives. Give them the support they deserve by connecting them with financial experts who can help.

Leveraging Technology for Continued Support

Financial challenges can happen anytime, anywhere. That’s why it’s important to incorporate technology into your financial wellness benefits program. By providing access to education and financial wellness tools on the go, they can make well-informed financial decisions whenever they arise.

Find a benefits provider that offers a phone app that can help them track their spending, access financial wellness content, and set and celebrate financial goals.

Get Started With BrightUp

When you provide BrightUp to your employees, you’re giving them access to a full suite of wealth-building and well-being tools. If you’re ready to embrace your responsibility to your employees’ financial well-being, contact a BrightUp representative on our website today. You can also call us directly on (833) 513-1302, or drop us an email at

Let’s launch a financial wellness program together!

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