Financial Wellness Programs: The Link between Health and Wealth

The link between physical and financial health is more closely related than you might think. Your financial fitness can directly impact your health and vice-versa.

According to the Financial Health Institute, three quarters of Americans report finances are the main cause of their stress.

Financial stress can include the amount of savings you have, college tuition costs, healthcare costs, and how much you’re putting away for retirement.

Those stresses can lead to negative side effects such as depression, anxiety, migraines, high blood pressure, stomach ulcers and heart disease. It can also stimulate unhealthy coping behaviors like drinking, smoking and overeating. This in turn leads to more stress.

Health and money woes are oftentimes carried into the workplace where we spend a large portion of our time, and can have a profound impact on our productivity and ability to focus. The strain frequently contributes to higher absentee rates in the workplace as employees seek ways to resolve their issues.

Building a Financially Savvy Workforce

While many corporate wellness programs focus on preventable chronic disease management, improving physical fitness, and stress management, they often overlook an important aspect to overall health – financial wellness.

However, as employers start to recognize the connection between health and wealth, they’re taking steps to incorporate financial education into their benefits programs.

A recent report by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) found that employers who establish good financial wellness programs helped to reduce employee financial stress, boost productivity and improve overall financial health.

Financial wellness programs are defined as those that assess and support an employee’s “complete financial picture” or the “overall financial health of an individual” and look at how all the pieces of an individual’s financial life fit together.

The programs provide proactive education and tools that go beyond basic money management by offering guidance on other fiscal issues like estate planning, long-term care, taxes and retirement investing.

The idea behind these programs is to remove some of the barriers people may face, such as time and cost.

“By providing this education in the workplace, the cost barrier is removed because now it becomes a benefit paid by the employer as opposed to it coming out of your own pocket. And because it’s being promoted through the workplace, there isn’t a sense that you’re taking away time from your employer to improve your financial wellness and build your wealth,” says Greg Ward, Think Tank Director and Senior Resident with Financial Finesse, a provider of financial education programs.

Financial education tied to major life changes and critical needs, such as retirement and health insurance, are particularly valuable.

Danielle Encincas, Marcom Manager with Financial Finesse, says that her company has noticed employees are most concerned about retirement and are very uncertain about their ability to comfortably retire.

“Because employees are being asked to shoulder a larger share of the employer-sponsored health coverage, through higher co-payments and deductibles, it oftentimes decreases their ability to save for retirement – which adversely impacts their ability to retire on schedule.”

“We encourage every employee to take an assessment to find out where they may have financial vulnerabilities,” says Greg Ward.  “Those vulnerabilities could be insufficient life insurance or college savings, or maybe they aren’t as retirement ready as they thought they were.”

The Financial Wellness Program has several different ways employees may access the resource:

Online Financial Planning Center: Each employee takes a self-assessment that looks at their whole financial picture and provides them with a score and action plan.

Webcasts: Online webinars that include tools and games that provide employees with a holistic overview of their financial picture and examines individual needs.

Workshops: Covers all aspects of financial planning from debt management to more advanced estate planning in a group setting.

Face-to-Face Guidance: Employees can receive one-on-one guidance with an experienced Certified Financial Planner™ professional. This is a great opportunity for an employee to address issues they may not feel comfortable airing in a group setting.

From an employee standpoint, the wellness programs can often lead to less physical illness due to lower stress – which can help increase productivity and financial security.

A study from Olin Business School at Washington University in St. Louis found that people who save for retirement and plan for their financial futures are more likely to take steps to improve their physical health and actually become healthier.

The study also discovered that 401(k) plan contributors showed improvements in health behaviors about 27% more often than non-contributors.

Financial & Physical Check-Up

Though only a small percentage of companies offer a holistic financial wellness program to their employees, the trend could be changing in response to demand. For those companies who do provide this benefit, they have found employees stress levels have improved, along with productivity, focus and there has been a reduction in turnover.

Interested employees can ask their employer about financial education programs offered at their workplace.

If your company doesn’t offer this benefit, an alternative is to talk with a financial planner to help you take control of your money to ease your stress – some offer low-cost or even free instruction. Utilizing a variety of online financial programs and resources is also beneficial in helping you to understand and improve your overall financial wellness and meet your goals.

Just as eating well and exercising is a continuous journey, so is a comprehensive financial wellness program. A continual review of ones finances can help diagnose problem areas and make the necessary adjustments in order to avoid stress.

Good health and financial habits take work and require discipline. While getting your whole financial picture in order will not automatically improve your health, it will set the course for a more positive physical and fiscal future.

After all, planning your future wealth is equally important as your future health.

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