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Do Your Employees Have "Financial Flu"? What Does It Mean for Employers?

What is "financial flu"? The sickness is widespread according to a MetLife survey that reveals half of employees are "very concerned about having enough money to make ends meet." The financial flu strikes workers of all ages.

MetLife's ninth annual Study of Employee Benefits Trends shows that employees who are undergoing financial problems tend to report poorer health than those who are financially stable.

Many employees today are finding that worries about money are a primary reason for stress. Stress, in turn, leads to physical illness that leads to absenteeism from work. In support of this proposition, 27 percent of employees report they are distracted at work because of personal finance issues, often taking off unplanned time from their jobs as a result.

How can employers prevent financial flu from spreading in the workplace? Here are some ideas:
  • Introduce financial education
Teach your employees skills – basic budgeting, expense forecasting and long-term goal planning.
  • Be creative with benefits
Workers who are satisfied with their benefits are three times as likely to report satisfaction with their jobs.
  • Improve work-life balance
Encourage your employees to exercise each day for as little as 20 minutes. This can make a big difference in a person's physical and mental health. Another consideration is flextime for some employees.
  • Show your appreciation to your employees. Matt Kelly, "Stop 'financial flu' from spreading around workplace," (Feb. 8, 2012).

According to the Federal Judiciary website, more than 1.5 million bankruptcy petitions were filed by individuals with predominantly nonbusiness debt in 2010. This was an increase of nine percent over the number of filings in 2009.

Bankruptcy rates may continue to rise even with recent improvement in the job market and overall economy because some people have accumulated excessive debt during the recession. Bankruptcies, job loss by a spouse, struggling to make payments on home loans, medical bills, or delinquent taxes are just a few examples of factors that may contribute to personal financial stress for employees.

To help address the issue, employer wellness programs should consider not only physical illness, but also personal financial stress. Education programs, like those mentioned in the source article, can go a long way toward alleviating the stress associated with financial issues.

Getting employees to participate in these education programs may be difficult, but employers have been successful. Two ways to encourage employee participation are establishing trust as to the employer's motives and effective communication.

Employers should communicate honestly about the primary reason for the program to establish trust — that healthier, less-stressed employees mean happier employees, which leads to lower health care costs and higher productivity. At the same time, wellness programs that include personal financial education or counseling can empower employees to achieve their own personal and family goals.

The programs should be designed so that no employee feels shamed or embarrassed, but rather empowered by participating. It is important that an employer not punish employees for not participating in any type of wellness program. Be sure to explain to your employees that participation is voluntary and that their employment opportunities will not be based in any way on whether they participate in wellness programs.
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