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2020 has taught us a lot. Difficult times have a tendency to do that. We’ve all recognized that there are things we should never take for granted, such as family, friends, co-workers, our jobs and our home. Even mundane tasks like grocery shopping and haircuts have become a dystopian prospect.

COVID-19 has triggered an uptick in anxiety and depression among Americans, with almost 1/3 of the population reporting such symptoms, up from about 11% of the population in 2019.[1] There are many causes of this stress, such as isolation, anxiety over a possible second shut-down, crisis fatigue, financial uncertainty and risks to personal safety.  Employers and human resource professionals have their work cut out for them in 2021 as we all partner together to try restore a sense of normalcy to our business climate.  We need to help our employees deal with their stress and get back on their feet, and one critical method for achieving this will be to provide tangible financial education in the form of a financial wellness program.

Think about it. In 2019, we experienced a temporary government shutdown and we all saw first-hand what can happen to employees’ financial circumstances when the paychecks stop. Local soup kitchens suddenly saw an unmanageable surge of people in line for food, and shelters quickly filled to capacity to take in those who found themselves surprisingly homeless. COVID-19 has exacerbated these issues because, due to the pandemic, shelters and soup kitchens can’t accept as many people. The government has been forced to provide massive aid with stimulus checks, rent and mortgage relief, business loans for company payrolls, etc. Why? Because Americans aren’t financially prepared.  In 2019, a Federal Reserve study showed that 40% of Americans wouldn’t be able to cover the costs of a $400 financial emergency. According to a 2019 study by Pricewaterhouse Coopers(PwC), the stress caused personal financial difficulty is real:

  1. 67% of employees say they are stressed about their personal finances
  2. 49% find it difficult to meet their monthly expenses on time
  3. 40% report a tangible health impact caused by financial stress

Imagine how these statistics will change in the next PwC survey in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Still, there is a lot we can do to restore hope to our employees.  27% of employees surveyed want an unbiased financial wellness coaching program.[2]  Furthermore, 81% of Millennials and 75% of Gen X employees are more likely to be attracted to a company that shows that it cares about their financial well-being. Financial Wellness programs offer a solution to this stress, which is illustrated in a study by Prudential of its own financial wellness program.  During an eight-year time frame, the percentage of their workers who reported being financially stressed dropped 34% to 16%.[3]

COVID-19 has definitely changed our country, our people and our economic and business climate.  The stress caused by this pandemic is unmistakable and its effects will linger for a long time. There is much the business community can do to help our employees and lift up all Americans as we claw our way out of this crisis.  It will take leadership from Human Resources and the C-Suite in our business community to turn this around, and one of the most effective tools we can use to combat this crisis are financial wellness programs in the workplace.

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[1] https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/covid19/pulse/mental-health.htm

[2] PwC “Employee Financial Wellness Survey” 2019

[3] Retirement Advisor Council Viewpoint on the Return on Investment of Financial Wellness

Robert Massa
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