Helping employees build financial literacy may be one of your best workplace wellness strategies
By: Bill Zolis
Financial wellness does tend to be the elephant in the room when we talk about managing stress, encouraging work-life balance, and building workplace wellness.
The fact is, we often overlook this one aspect of workplace wellness even though it is, for many people, their biggest concern and the leading source of stress and anxiety in their private lives.
There are things we can do to help, such as providing budgeting help through the employee assistance plan (EAP). But we can also go further and provide some of the other tools for people to better understand and more successfully deal with their personal money management.
I think this is an area where the concept of “lunch-and-learn” fits perfectly. It’s low stress – anyone can go. The lunch – don’t scrimp on the lunch – makes it safe and non-threatening to individuals who might not want to acknowledge that they could use some financial education. They can even be provided via Zoom or other online means.
There are a lot of different definitions of the term “financial wellness” out there, but it’s important to have a clear idea of what we’re talking about. I would break it down to a list of specifics that we all want to achieve.
– You can pay all your bills on time.
– You feel that you are managing your cash flow responsibly and efficiently.
– You have, and are continuing to build, savings – however small for now – that you can draw upon in an emergency or use for investment (including saving for a home purchase or upgrade).
– You have started a retirement income plan including pension and registered retirement savings.
– You are building a credit rating that will allow you to borrow money at favourable rates and manage debt efficiently.
– You have a long-term vision of financial security, with goals and a plan to achieve them.
In putting together, a plan to provide financial education for employees, the first step is simply to start the conversation. Yes, we can talk about this.
The key message that we send, just by talking about it at all, is that financial wellness is – as the millennials would say – “a thing.” It is not something that may or may not happen, and it is not some vague and undefinable condition. It is a goal and a personal program that can be built.
I think it’s particularly important to get the message to those people who look at, for example, the price of real estate and say, “I’ll never be able to afford a house.” Yes, it’s difficult – it’s never been easy. But anyone can work toward it, starting now.
So what are some of the topics we can cover? I’ve looked around at different programs I’ve seen from some of our clients, and others, and I’ve pulled together the ones most people think are important.
Budgeting: It’s usually the first item on any list of personal finance topics. That’s probably because it’s also the most important. Everything else stems from a practical personal or household budget. Save just 50 dollars a week on coffee and lunches, and it turns into $2,600 dollars by the end of the year.
Visioning, planning, setting goals: We all need to have a long-term plan. Start small, think big. But how do you make a plan that starts working for you right now?
Home buying: I can think of no better incentive to start serious financial planning than the prospect of buying a home. Anyone paying rent can probably afford mortgage payments. Now let’s talk about budgeting to build up a down payment.
Real estate essentials: What’s involved in buying a condo? Or a detached home? How much down payment do you need? What do you need to qualify for a mortgage? How does the real estate market work?
Retirement planning: How many people, a few years away from retirement, have looked back and said, “If only I had started a plan when I was 25, or even 35?” Why retirement planning is important at any age and any stage of career. How money grows – and how your retirement investment can work for you along the way.
Debt reduction: How to deal with existing debt, which types of debt to work on first, and the possible strategy of debt consolidation. Above all, how to make a plan – starting today – to deal with debt.
Good and bad debt: Some debt, like the credit card bill at the end of the month for things and expenses that you have nothing to show for, are just eating up your income. Other debt, such as mortgage payments, let you spread costs over a manageable time frame.
Benefits management: It’s important for employees to understand that their workplace benefits are an important part of their overall financial picture.
Savings options: The basic principle is “pay yourself first.” How to use automatic payroll deposit to make regular saving a little less painful. Where should you put your savings? What is a tax-free savings account (TFSA)?
RRSPs: What is a registered retirement saving plan, and how can you use it to build savings and reduce your income tax bill?
Insurance basics: What types of insurance do you need? What’s available, and how do you get the best value for your money?
Credit rating: What is a credit rating, how is it determined – and why does paying your phone bill on time have the potential to save you tens of thousands of dollars when you go to negotiate a mortgage three years from now?
Finally, there’s a couple of interesting tips about lunch-and-learn sessions that I picked up from a client years ago. First, when you have put together a list of topics, and lined up possible presenters for them, don’t just send around a sign-up sheet – send it as a survey asking your team which of the topics they would like to see covered first. Second, be prepared to offer each session more than once – these programs tend to gain traction as they go along, and a lot of people will sign up the second time around when everyone is more comfortable with the idea.
I really appreciate comments, ideas, suggestions or just observations about the blog or any other topics in benefits management. I always look forward to hearing from readers. If there’s anything you want to share, please email me at email@example.com.
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