An organization’s greatest asset is its people. Therefore, it should be the priority of each organization to assist its employees in leading healthier lives.
As it stands, many people are not as healthy as they should be and a leading cause of this is stress.
Stress is part of our daily lives and comes from physical, mental or emotional factors that cause bodily and/or mental tension. Stressors can be environmental or psychological, and they affect our health without us realizing it. Stress may be the cause of that pounding headache, frequent insomnia or constant irritability, and it manifests itself in individuals in many ways: anxiety, acne, eating disorders, migraines, ulcers, depression, diabetes, digestive issues, hypertension, decreased libido, heart disease and more.
Because organizations are made up of individuals, stress also affects them, either by reduced employee productivity, low team morale, increased health-care expenditures, excess absenteeism, poor decision-making, abnormally high turnover or other causes.
Much focus is placed on dealing with stress in ways such as mindfulness, meditation and medication, but what if we attacked a major stressor at the source?
According to the American Psychological Association, money is Americans’ No. 1 stressor. And that idea is backed up by survey after survey after survey: People in their 20s and 30s are very concerned about their finances. The vast majority of Millennials find their current financial situation stressful, almost three-fourths of Americans report feeling recently stressed about money, and 80% of Americans are not prepared to handle a $1,000 emergency.
Attacking the biggest source of stress — financial matters — requires a concerted and continual effort. Employers that provide financial education, tools and resources, and professional assistance will do the best for their employees and their organization.
Finding Financial Wellness
The movement to address the money/stress dynamic is frequently referred to as financial wellness. At Core Financial Concepts, we believe it’s best to try to improve the wellness of people, and that part of being well means minimizing stress. Minimizing stress from financial matters necessitates being equipped and empowered to continually make confident decisions about one’s personal financial situation.
To this end, there are three major needs: education, tools and resources, and professional advice.
Financial education means learning the core financial concepts that we weren’t taught in high school or college. What is compounding and how do you evaluate debt? What’s a stock, bond, mutual fund, ETF, 401k and IRA? What are our saving and investing priorities? How do income taxes work?
Without the right knowledge, we don’t know how much we don’t know, and we don’t know what we’re getting wrong — we’re not even able to ask the right questions. We’re vulnerable to making bad decisions, or worse, being taken advantage of.
The top five questions we’re consistently asked are:
- “How am I going to pay off my student loans and my credit card debt?”
- “I shouldn’t contribute to my 401k unless my company matches, right?”
- “Can I do my own taxes, or do I need to hire a CPA?”
- “Who can help me understand my stock options and RSUs?”
- “Wills, trusts, health-care directives, life insurance, what estate planning should I do?”
All people need some amount of financial education — and most need a lot.
Tools and Resources
Tools are programs and applications that can help people analyze aspects of their personal financial life. Among other things, they include retirement fund calculators, loan analyzers, financial planning programs and financial dashboard platforms.
Resources are objective sources of subject matter expertise to reference or use to expand one’s knowledge. They include books and websites on investing, budgeting and estate planning as well as templates of important documents.
The universe of tools and resources is vast. Fortunately, there are numerous free or low-cost sources like the AARP, NOLO, the IRS and Practical Money Skills, as well as free offerings from providers like Mint, Wealthfront and Personal Capital.
We believe that with the right education, most people can handle the majority of their financial lives on their own. That said, complexities in their personal financial situation may lead some people to seek professional guidance on specific financial, legal, or tax issues.
When an organization is considering hiring a provider of any or all of the three key components, there are critical criteria on which to evaluate them:
- Education: Does the provider(s) have formal education or training in subjects related to personal finance? (Economics, investing, finance, etc.)
- Experience: How long has the provider(s) and/or the individual personnel been in the finance/financial wellness industry? What’s their professional background?
- Credentials: Does the provider(s) hold any top industry designations that require not simply industry knowledge, but adherence to ethical standards as well as mandatory continuing education? The Certified Financial Planner (CFP) designation is recognized as the premier designation for professionals dealing with individuals and their finances.
- Compensation: Is the provider paid for delivering education, tools and resources, and advice and guidance and not for selling financial products and services? Are they required to serve as a fiduciary to their clients?
Organizations should utilize the same level of due diligence when evaluating providers of financial wellness programs that they use when selecting a health benefits or 401k provider. Every individual understands they need to continuously put forth effort to maintain, manage and maximize their health — including dealing with stress and its negative effects.
Employers that view it as mission-critical to help their most important assets deal with their biggest source of stress — financial matters — are doing the right thing for their employees and doing what’s best for the company.