Rebecca is CEO of LearnLux, a financial well-being company that helps employees feel great about their money so their work & wellness thrive
Employees typically don’t know how to talk about money. It’s something we all need to know but are usually never taught. In some families, it’s a total taboo. I hear the shame, confusion and discomfort each time personal finances come up. People get anxious, they change the subject and what isn’t said is much more impactful than what anyone actually says out loud. We learn from a young age that money is one of those subjects that shouldn’t be talked about because it’s private and personal and no one’s business. Instead, I believe this needs to be a focus for every business because we’re all dealing with money every day. Avoiding it is contributing to stress levels that are unsustainable, at work and at home, but change is possible. Employees need support to feel good about their finances, and employers have a responsibility to help enable this. It starts by talking about it.
In my experience, the silence surrounding money only compounds the problem. Shame plus silence is a recipe for trouble and leaves us feeling alone and isolated while those around us are having the same issues. But most importantly, we can’t get guidance for issues we can’t talk about. Since avoidance is not the answer, now is the time to get talking about how we manage our money in this pandemic and economic uncertainty-filled world.
I recently had a conversation with an executive in Human Resources who was struggling with how to use financial well-being benefits to support her team. She didn’t know where to begin the conversation because it all seemed too complicated. I told her that she was illustrating the problem perfectly. Her anxiety about even bringing these resources to her team told the whole story: We don’t have the language to understand how to get better at managing money because the financial system was not built for the majority of people. It often feels like the financial system speaks another language, so most people don’t even know what questions they should be asking. This leaves most people just getting by, in the dark, and unable to access the information and resources they need today.
The truth is that every working person has personal finance questions and needs advice they can trust so they can plan for a more secure future. This is exactly why we need to address the elephant in the room and begin a conversation about what the stress and extraordinary new pressures applied by this year have presented.
I shared some survey results from the National Endowment for Financial Education with the Human Resources executive I was speaking with: 90% of people are worried about money, people feel behind schedule saving for retirement and 58% of employees say they’re worried about their financial stability. I mentioned that we’ve all seen that working during the pandemic has introduced stresses many people had never thought about before. Everything we assumed was stable less than a year ago is now up for review, and money is the thread that runs through all of it.
Issues such as paying for health care expenses, child care, commuting and even paying rent with a home office that 42% of people are now required to use means we have more money-related questions than before. While everything has changed, there’s one exception: Most people are probably no better at managing their money than they were at the beginning of this year.
To address these issues, first, we need to get it all out in the open. Let’s admit we don’t know what we don’t know and start a conversation about how the stress of living and working in the U.S. today is extreme, and many people need expert advice on dealing with their money. This is where our workplaces must come in. They are where we earn a living and need to be where we get the tools and guidance to understand this moment in our lives, at least financially.
The Human Resources executive asked me if I thought people would be willing to really open up where stress and money were concerned. In my experience, the answer is absolutely, yes, but with a few key considerations. First, offer a financial well-being program built on trustworthy guidance created by professionals (not banks or 401k providers). The next is to provide access to digital tools and education so employees can go at their own pace, plus the ability to speak to a human financial adviser for the big, personal questions. Lastly, workplaces should have engagement plans to make sure employees know that the benefit exists and how to take advantage of it. With these strategies, I’ve seen people line up to see how they can save more, invest more, take more money home each week and plan better. But this only happens if the opportunity — quality financial well-being benefits — is available to them.
From looking at millions of employee financial well-being data points over the past five years, I can say that American workers are financially stressed. If we’re all feeling the same way, it’s hard to hold onto a feeling of embarrassment that we’re the only one doing it wrong. Once we’re all talking, we can start helping people manage their finances and answer questions by offering workplace financial education, simple interactive tools and access to unbiased, expert advice.
No matter what happens in the next few months, one thing is certain: Financial pressures aren’t going away. The sooner we begin dealing with how confused employees are about their money, the faster we can begin helping them manage it. This pays dividends now and in the future when, hopefully, there will be more stability and certainty around us. Until then, we can focus on financial health, which can be so much easier to achieve when we address it head-on.
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