5 Lessons Applied From Health and Wellness to Build Financial Courage

Organizations have every reason to want their employees to be financially sound. Improving employees’ financial wellness isn’t just a paygrade question. With the proper programs, financial wellness can lead to physically and emotionally healthier employees, reduced absenteeism, and lower turnover.

However even the best constructed program can fall flat without participation. Mercer’s latest research on the topic indicates that the key to financial wellness is less about financial literacy and education – the traditional approach – but more about the individual employee’s willingness or “courage” to act. 

Given this more behavioral-based reality, how can we build up an employee’s courage take the incremental action in their financial lives? We’ve learned over the years that awareness doesn’t necessarily drive behavior, and the idea of “an educated consumer is our best consumer” doesn’t always ring true. There has to be a head-heart-gut connection before people take action to improve their health, and the same is true for their financial wellness. So, how do employers help their workers develop financial courage? 

Some might look to the engagement patterns and tools of health wellness programs for answers. There are definite parallels between the behavior change required to affect change in physical, emotional and (increasingly) financial wellbeing, and the tools available to employers to help workers build small, incremental good habits that have a lasting, positive impact. 

5 Financial Wellness Applications from Health and Wellness Management

  1. Population health strategies: Health management has shifted over the years from more acute-based interventions and fee-for-service models to preventative wellbeing with a goal of managing the health of a population with shared characteristics or conditions. Many employers are taking a similar approach to financial wellness programs by leveraging the role of the employer in the form of payroll, data capture and rewards/recognitions across an employee’s lifecycle. Not all employees will need the same “condition management”. 

  2. Personalized interventions: We’ve seen the impact of communications strategies that meet people where they are with a message that acknowledges their unique situation.  One size fits all communications get the outcomes they deserve given the effort required to send an email or mail a flyer. That said, creating personas, cohorts and (ultimately) personalized communications strategies are increasingly possible by leveraging the falling costs of technologies that would typically support the “front of house” marketing and sales functions of the business.   

  3. Leveraging new technologies: From connected devices and integrated mobile messaging we can apply similar tools to bring someone’s daily, monthly and long-term financial decisions to life.  Imagine that your wallet becomes “intelligent” and helps you make spending and savings decisions in the moment from the palm of your hand or on your wrist, not unlike tracking the steps we take or the hours we sleep.  

  4. Put data to work: Data is ubiquitous and (increasingly) employees are willing to share it with their employer or other vendors if there is perceived value delivered in exchange.  A financial wellness score, not unlike an HRA or even a BMI should help employees understand their risks and opportunities for improvement and allow providers to target the interventions that are most valuable.   

  5. Rethink plan design: While traditionally financial benefits have been restricted to products and services to support retirement planning and insurances, plans and programs are expanding to a more holistic approach to financial benefits including income and expense management, credit health and employer-sponsored or even subsidized lending. 

It’s increasingly evident that including the financial wellness conversation in the context of an employee’s “Total Wellbeing” is becoming best practice at leading employers.  That said, many of these programs continue to lean on traditional models of education, open enrollment-centric communications and “one to many” type programs.  To truly drive outcomes worth measuring, we would challenge employers to look to lessons learned from their health management programs and to the behavioral-based strategies that continue to be tested and refined.  Making it easier for employees to access and influence their financial lives in incremental steps that are acknowledged, rewarded and reinforced will ultimately build the financial courage and the increased resiliency, health and productivity of their workforce that employers rely on to remain competitive.

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