Flu Shots to 401(k)s

Flu Shots to 401(k)s: It’s Time to Bridge the Gap Between Health and Wealth in the Workplace
It’s no secret that your local pharmacy loves this time of the year. As temperatures cool and the year begins to wind down, over-the-counter drugs start flying off the shelves. It’s the start of flu season, and for employers, that means more employee absences, poor productivity, and higher healthcare costs.

Although the flu is a highly contagious virus that nearly every workplace will be exposed to in the next few months, there are ways to limit the flu’s impact – like the flu shot. Encouraging employees to get flu shots is one basic example of a way to improve employee wellness. Offering incentives that encourage healthy living can also limit the flu’s impact. This is not news. In fact, most companies fully understand the value of promoting healthy lifestyles for employees and have therefore introduced wellness programs. Better employee health means lower healthcare costs, better morale, and better productivity. It all makes sense. But as wellness programs focusing on physical wellness have been around for a while now, it’s the financial wellness programs that have often been neglected. But that could be changing…

A recent study by Aon Hewitt showed that 90% of the 250 employers surveyed intend to implement or improve an existing financial wellness program in the coming year. After all, financial stress is actually a leading factor that impacts physical health. It’s all intertwined. A recent poll by the Harvard School of Public Health revealed that 53% of respondents who had experienced a great deal of stress in the last month said financial problems were to blame. According to Allianz, we also know that when it comes to financial fears and stresses, most Americans actually fear not having enough money to retire more than they fear their own death! Since anxiety and depression are two of the most common effects of financial stress, isn’t it in the best interest of employers to not only offer a solution, but to offer a solution that actually works?

The fact is that more than half of all employers today do offer a financial wellness program of some sort, although there are many different ways to define them. One of the most common is simply access to an advisor. This typically means the ability to attend an annual luncheon that provides broad advice to a large group. Employees may even have one-on-one opportunities to discuss their finances with an advisor, but how many people that are embarrassed and hate even thinking about their situation will actually seek help? And for those that do seek help for something confusing like choosing how to invest in their 401k, how many will actually take the required next step and implement the advice they are given? Unfortunately, we know that the answer is very few. So what’s the solution?

Well, we now see that the problem is really no different from the way employers spent years encouraging physical wellness at annual benefits meetings or by simply handing out informational brochures. It didn’t work. One of the most obvious solutions to this problem has been the introduction of new fitness technology in the workplace. FitBit trackers and other devices are just one example of an increasingly popular solution that can actually encourage, motivate, and hold employees accountable for their goals of living healthier lives. Just as we’ve seen with physical wellness, advances in technology are now offering a brand new way for employers to help employees help themselves with their own financial wellness like never before.

For example, Tuition.io can be offered as a wellness benefit to employees with student loan debt. Employers are able to contribute toward their employee’s student debt payments, providing a tremendous tool for both retention and recruiting.

One of the most significant contributors to financial stress is a widespread lack of financial literacy. Combine that with a general apathy for seeking financial help and you have a recipe for never-ending financial issues. Edu(k)ate is a financial wellness solution that uses the latest technology to provide easy-to-understand, personalized financial education to employees based on their unique situation.

Another voluntary benefit product called Kashable uses innovative technology to provide easy-to-use, affordable and reliable access to socially responsible financing to employees. This can help employees that may already be in a bind and would otherwise charge unexpected expenses to a high-interest credit card, or turn to a 401k loan. Loans are then paid back through payroll deduction.

And when it comes to investing, Robo-advisors have revolutionized the way individual investors are able to gain access to investment advice that was once only available to the extremely wealthy. Blooom helps solve the biggest problem with financial wellness products – getting the employee to actually take action when it comes to what is likely their largest financial asset – their 401k. Rather than simply giving 401k participants a crash course in finance and then sending them on their way, a solution like blooom offers them the ability to have someone Do-It-For-Them.
Technology is offering employers incredible opportunities to improve the lives of their employees and therefore, their businesses too. Wellness should no longer be divided between health and wealth. Financial wellness doesn’t have to be a waste of time and energy for employers or employees any longer.

Andrew Thomas

Andrew Thomas is a Registered Paraplanner® and Investment Advisor at blooom. Andrew has spent more than 5 years offering personalized investment advice to retirement plan participants and helping middle class investors navigate the complex world of personal finance. At blooom, Andrew offers advice to clients and works in Business Development and Marketing.

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