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Employees who have worked remotely in the past year could start returning to the office as soon as COVID-19 restrictions start to ease across the country. This change in the work environment is a great time for employers to start thinking about how they want to work with employees to help them recover financially and emotionally from the disruption and stress of the pandemic.

The pandemic has affected employees in drastically different ways, with half of large employers expressing a change in their financial situation in just one year – both improving and deteriorating – according to Willis Towers Watson’s 2020 Attitudes on Business Survey. social benefits (GBAS).

“Retirement savings has become the top priority in almost all segments of employees who have retained their jobs, and employees are demanding better financial resources and better service from their employers,” said Shane Bartling, senior manager of retirement at WTW. “Now is a window of opportunity to engage employees in healthy financial behaviors by using improved resources and building support around those resources. “

A chance for employers to be proactive

John McFarland, senior vice president of client development for Vensure HR, said offering debt advice and savings incentives will become a mainstay for employers who focus on helping their families. employees to recover from the financial strains of the pandemic. In some cases, employees had to use retirement dollars or emergency savings to weather the crisis. The resulting financial instability can put pressure on employees which can impact productivity, especially as they return to work.

“Employers can help their employees by being proactive and offering financial wellness programs or even emergency savings benefits, including split direct deposits to increase the amount they retire,” McFarland said. . “Talking about personal finances can sometimes be taboo. However, embracing a culture that discusses financial well-being can help employees who are less financially savvy glean valuable information from those who are.

Employees bring their financial worries to work

Why should employers care about an employee’s personal emergency savings accounts? According to a recent Bankrate report, only 31% of Americans could afford an unexpected $ 1,000 bill. When a trip to the emergency room, a leaking roof or an unexpected car repair happens, people often have to go into debt to pay them off, McFarland said.

Stan Milovancev, executive vice president of CBIZ Retirement Plan Services, said these types of worries can lead to a situation called “presenteeism,” physically the opposite of absenteeism but with the same results.

“The employees are there, but they are worried about their mortgage. They worry about how they are going to make their next payment, where they can borrow and who they can call, ”Milovancev said. “He is not a productive employee.”

He noted that in the past, employees have generally resisted conversations about financial issues in the workplace, but thanks to fear and anxiety triggered by the pandemic, many employees are now seeking a partnership with their employer. on financial well-being. Employees don’t want to discuss personal financial issues with their supervisor or boss, but they want their employer to select third-party vendors who can help them with their finances and secure institutional pricing for these services, he said.

Short window of time

Time can be of the essence for employers to help some of their employees. Bartling warned that employees who struggled financially during the pandemic have reported that they plan to spend a lot once the pandemic is over rather than scrambling to rebuild emergency savings and retirement plans.

“It’s understandable when you look at the mental toll that this same group indicates they suffered,” Bartling said. “Employers have little time to commit employees to resources to support financial and mental health, as well as supportive social bonds, to restore resilience before big expenses happen. “

Helping employees focus on paying off 401 (k) loans, resuming pension contributions and replenishing retirement savings is another important area for employers as the immediate financial stressors of the pandemic is starting to fade. McFarland said employers can encourage employees to start somewhere and know that every savings made in a 401 (k) retirement fund will help them get on the right track, especially if there is a matching employer.

Milovancev also highlighted strategies such as positive peer pressure and gamification that can help motivate employees to participate in retirement savings plans and financial wellness programs.

The back-to-work shift is a great time for employers to capitalize on a strong sentiment in favor of saving for retirement. According to GBAS 2020 data from WTW, employees who have retained their jobs, in all segments, have a strong focus on retirement savings.

“Retirement has moved to the top of the agenda in almost every segment, possibly due to the widespread mental stress seen in the same survey,” Bartling said. “Now is the perfect opportunity to engage employees in resources to support financial and mental health, as well as supportive social bonds to restore tightly linked mental and financial resilience and help employees balance their financial priorities. while resetting their spending habits. “

Proven link between financial health and mental health

As employers engage with employees during what will be another big transition in their lives, it’s important to keep the connection between financial health and mental health in mind. Bartling noted that half of Gen Y and Gen Z express mental health issues, and almost half of them also report financial hardship, with a strong tendency to engage in addictive behaviors, including overspending.

Bartling added that we should not “underestimate the importance of jointly addressing the highly connected mental and financial health of employees, and the importance of building supportive social bonds using science and behavioral techniques. data-driven ”.

McFarland also noted the strong link between financial stress and mental health, both of which have been significantly affected by the pandemic and other events over the past year.

“According to Gallup, employee engagement has fluctuated in 2020 due to a number of factors related to the pandemic, politics and civil unrest, while the percentage of actively disengaged employees has remained unchanged,” he said. McFarland said. “As we return to our respective workspaces, an active approach to mental health and employee engagement will pay dividends for the employers who champion it. “

Kristen beckman is a Colorado-based freelance writer. Previously, she was a writer and editor for ALM’s Retirement Advisor magazine and online channel LifeHealthPro. She has also been a reporter for Business Insurance magazine covering workers’ compensation topics. Kristen has a journalism degree from the University of Missouri.

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