We are all living in undeniably stressful times. A deadly pandemic is sweeping the globe, people are holed up in their homes with no real sense of when normal life will resume, and every economic indicator–from the stock market to the unemployment numbers–is setting off alarm bells.
However, even before the coronavirus pandemic–and even during a strong economy–Americans were stressed about their finances. Surveys show a large percentage of Americans routinely rank money woes as the top stressor in their lives.
One poll reported that 85% of Americans say they sometimes feel stressed about money, and 30% say they always feel stressed by finances, many of them saying they don’t have enough money set aside to cover unexpected expenses.
That word, “unexpected,” sums up the current global economic situation. And it might be causing many of your employees’ already-elevated financial concerns to reach critical levels.
Financial counselor Cherrish Holland, of LSS Financial Counseling, told us in a recent edition of our 5 Questions video series that she typically works with people who are in the “struggling-to-stable” range of the financial wellness curve. Now, she said, “I think many of us that were in that stable area are now moving back to that struggling point.”
As the pandemic worsens and the economic uncertainty increases, some of your employees are seeing the value of their investments crumble. Some are experiencing a loss of income as a spouse loses their job or has their hours cut. Some are worried about losing their own jobs or about the cost of healthcare should they or a family member get sick. Others are simply (and understandably) anxious about what the future holds.
So, what can you do to help employees during this time? Your corporate wellness program can play a part, if you include financial wellness activities, training, coaching, and educational activities. A good place to start is by helping employees focus on the following five areas of financial wellness.
5 Financial Wellness Action Steps for Employees
Your corporate wellness program can help your employees regain some calm in this confusing and worrisome economic climate. Here some areas on which your wellness program and its messaging should focus during this time:
Feeling in Control
Uncertainty in all aspects of life comes from feeling at the mercy of forces beyond our control. Volatile global markets and microscopic contagions seem about as unknowable and uncontrollable as anything can get.
But individuals are not helpless in the face of these overwhelming forces. We already know that social distancing, frequent handwashing, and prudent respect for public health guidelines can help each of us carve out a small zone of control, and perhaps, a bit of peace-of-mind amidst the pandemic.
The same is true for the financial crisis. While no one of us can single handedly stop the economic consequences of COVID-19, we can each take small steps to shore up our finances for whatever’s to come. Even if it just means getting educated, every bit of preparedness will come with a noticeable decline in anxiety.
“I think if we can feel a little bit more in control during this time, we’re all going to be better off,” says Holland.
Review the Budget
Budgeting is a fundamental and critical tool for controlling expenses and your financial stress. In any economic situation, it’s always a good idea to get a handle on the money coming in and the money going out. (In fact, building a family budget makes a great wellness challenge for your employees.)
During financially uncertain times, offer employees resources on how to review and manage their expenses. One caveat: If your employees are not being paid at least at market value, offering budgeting tips will not be well-received. But if your company takes good care of its people, they’ll likely appreciate learning how to develop a strong but flexible budget.
Holland recommends employees have a conversation with their families about areas in which they can reduce spending. One area in which some families are currently spending more than they need to is supplies, including food and paper products. It’s smart to be prepared, but not at the cost of “exploding” the family budget. Major shortages have yet to materialize.
“[Hoarding] just doesn’t make sense based on what we’re hearing on the availability of needed supplies,” says Holland.
Don’t Stop Saving
Now is not the time for employees to drain their 401(k) or take loans against their retirement accounts, especially if they have an employer match program.
“Putting money aside on the front end is what really can help us when we’re in these financially uncertain times,” Holland said.
The truth is, most Americans haven’t saved nearly enough money to handle an emergency comfortably, should one arise. A poll from December revealed that 70% of Americans have less than $1,000 socked away.
So, if possible, employees shouldn’t touch their savings account. Indeed, your wellness program can be a creative way for them to continue saving, even if it’s just in tiny increments. And as for investments and retirement accounts, they should take the long view.
“The stock market’s all over the place, but a long-term approach to investing absolutely still makes sense,” Holland said.
Watch Out for Scams
While moments like these often bring out the best in society, they also sometimes bring out the worst. Scammers are already trying to take advantage of people’s financial uncertainty and confusion, falsely promising access to state and federal resources in exchange for thousands of dollars.
The Federal Trade Commission says scammers may try to get people to pay a fee for their stimulus payment or may try to get social security or bank account numbers. The FTC points out that the IRS will never contact people by phone, email, text, or social media concerning their stimulus payment. Anyone who does is phishing for personal information. To ensure employees are scam-savvy, consider bringing in an expert for a lunchtime seminar, or distribute helpful resources that they can read and share.
As an aside, Holland adds that consumers should only work with approved housing organizations to secure mortgage assistance. “Just because someone is saying, ‘I will help you work out a plan for your mortgage, but it’s going to cost you $1,500,’ don’t do that,” she said. “Those are scams.”
Know the Available Benefits
Whether employees are facing lost income or are simply apprehensive, it can be reassuring to know that there are community resources ready and waiting to lend a helping hand. The federal and state governments have, for example, made unemployment benefits more accessible. Aid for housing, food, and energy bills is also available.
“It’s really important to find trusted resources in your community,” Holland said.
Holland recommends steering employees toward their local branch of the United Way for assistance, either online or by dialing 211. Employee assistance programs can also direct workers to trustworthy sources of help in times of need.
Making Well-Being a Priority
With so much going on in the world and their lives, it may be harder than ever for your employees to thrive–at work and in their personal lives. As we contemplate the future of the workplace, it’s clear that businesses can’t afford to overlook the importance of mental well-being.