How benefits can become more beneficial
by Sharon ScanlonMs. Scanlon is Senior Vice President, Head of Customer Experience, for Lincoln Financial Group’s Life and Annuity Operations and Retirement Plan Services businesses. She leads a team that is focused on blending high-touch and high-tech experiences with strategy and omni-channel solutions to drive positive outcomes for Lincoln Financial Group customers. Lincoln Financial Group is the marketing name for Lincoln National Corporation (NYSE:LNC) and its affiliates. Visit lincolnfinancial.com.
Over the years, most American households have reported struggling with at least one aspect of their financial health. But, in the midst of the evolving environment surrounding COVID-19 and its impacts, 91% of full-time U.S. employees are currently concerned about some aspect of financial wellness.
This concern is not just impacting them at home, as 55% say money concerns keep them from doing their best at work. In fact, research shows that half of financially stressed employees spend time on finances at work, 19% spend three or more hours per month on finances at work and 5% have missed at least one day of work as a result.
But there’s good news, too. They know they need help and many employees are looking to their employers to find it.
Reaching Out To Employers
Nearly two-thirds of full-time employed U.S. adults say it is important for employers to offer financial wellness programs, and 34% of employees report they have reached out to their employers for benefits information. Nearly a quarter of employees report that they more often look to their employers for benefits information now, as compared to the time before COVID-19.
In order to help employees and offer the right financial benefits, employers must first understand the needs of their workforce, which can vary by generation — and it’s not a one-size-fits-all approach. Millennials are currently the largest generation in the workforce and reaching them is an essential need for employers. An easy way to reach that generation is to offer financial wellness resources.
More than 70% of millennials (those born 1977-1995) and Gen Z (those born 1996-2015) think financial education should be something that employers provide to every employee, and 62% of full-time employed U.S. adults across generations say financial wellness programs have become more important as a result of COVID-19. 
A Renewed Focus On Long Term Goals
But just offering a webinar on budgeting or sharing content on financial planning is not enough — as an industry, we have the responsibility to help Americans improve their financial health so they can focus on their long-term goals. Many employers offer financial wellness help, but we must work together to make those solutions and benefits more beneficial.
Regardless of industry or workforce size, many employers face similar challenges when launching financial wellness programs, including gaining buy-in, starting a program, engaging employees and measuring results.
First, employers should engage senior leaders across the company, so they understand the value and relevance of an employee financial wellness strategy — even more critical in a post-COVID-19 world. By sharing statistics like the ones above, leaders will understand just how important it is to offer a program that helps employees tackle their financial concerns and can help them be healthier, happier and more productive.
Financial wellness support and a robust benefits package can often help millennials when deciding on accepting a new job or staying at a job. For example, Gen Z, the newest generation to enter the workforce, is already showing an emphasis on benefits. Two thirds of the oldest members of Gen Z, now in their early 20s, said benefits are very influential in their decision to accept a job, and 35% rated employee benefits as the most important consideration for a new job. 
Strong benefits packages — including retirement plans and insurance offerings beyond health insurance, such as dental, vision, life, disability, accident and critical illness insurance — don’t just get younger generations in the door, they keep them there. Many Gen Z-ers are just now taking their first full-time positions, but 91% say that being offered a great employee benefits package would make them work longer at that first gig. After salary, millennials said that benefits most influence keeping them at their job (51%), and 57% have stayed at a job longer than they wanted to — even though they didn’t like the job — because the job offered good benefits. 
Starting A Program
Before embarking on a financial wellness program, it’s important to uncover the unique needs and wants of your workforce. To gain a greater understanding of employees’ financial wellness, research shows that more than half of employers survey their teams, while more than one-third have held employee focus groups.
It is important to collect this feedback — maybe a majority of employees are thinking about paying off student loans, while others are focused on how to max out their retirement plan. To better understand employees’ financial stress and wellness levels, employers should get answers to the following questions to help them determine where to focus: How do employees feel about their financial situation? How many are struggling and how many are thriving? Which financial issues are most important to them? Which financial resources and tools would be most useful?
Looking at employee data is also a great place to start. Here at Lincoln, we help our clients do a deep dive into retirement plan participation rates, contribution rates, loan amounts (if offered) and participation in benefits like life or disability insurance, to see what actions participants are taking following the launch of a financial wellness program.
Even the best financial wellness programs are not effective if employees do not use them. According to a recent survey, 42% of employees say they don’t feel adequately informed about their employer’s financial wellness benefits, so it is critical to focus on engagement. Survey results showed that employees would be more likely to use their benefits if they understood them better, could find them more easily or were incentivized to participate.
One way to do this is to recruit on-the-ground financial wellness program champions who can help inspire fellow employees to participate. Employees who are mission-drive and motivated, who have a passion for the program’s goals, are well-connected and trusted, and can communicate effectively and engage their colleagues can help increase participation and engagement with the program.
In addition to program champions, there are a number of other participation strategies to consider, including incentives, scheduling regular check-in communications, making the program a part of new hire onboarding, highlighting the program during open enrollment, and communicating during bonus season, as extra money may inspire employees to take a closer look at their finances and is a great time to spotlight the financial wellness program.
Most financial wellness programs will measure not just how many employees are visiting the website, but will also give employers insight into how many employees are taking action – whether completing a “to do” or assigning a goal and more. It is also a good idea to review the other benefits you offer and see if there is a difference in participation, including whether participation or contribution rates have increased in the retirement plan, for example.
While 2021 may bring the end of COVID-19, financial concerns and a focus on financial wellness will continue to be important for employees. And as an industry, working together with the plan sponsors we serve, we can help them navigate their financial challenges by offering benefits that help them focus on brighter futures ahead.
1 National Endowment for Financial Education’s Harris Poll, October 8, 2020.
2 Lincoln Financial, COVID-19 Sentiment Tracking Study, 7/1/20-7/14/20
3 LIMRA Consumer Sentiment Survey (May 2020)
4 Millennial & Gen Z Reflections on Workplace Benefits & Financial Planning, Lincoln Financial and The Center for Generational Kinetics, 2019
5 Lincoln Financial, COVID-19 Sentiment Tracking Study, 7/1/20-7/14/20
6 Millennial & Gen Z Reflections on Workplace Benefits & Financial Planning, Lincoln Financial and The Center for Generational Kinetics, 2019
7 Financial Health Network, Better for Employees, Better for Business: Providing the Tools to Meet the Financial Health Needs of Employees, May 2019.