It is hard to have a discussion about employee benefits without the topic of employee financial wellness programs becoming part of the conversation. In fact, some experts suggest that 2016 is the year that financial wellness programs finally come to the forefront of employee benefits. On the surface, the proliferation of workplace financial wellness programs should be a win-win for employees and employers alike.
Well, not so fast. Employers, benefits providers and employee benefit brokers have access to an increasing number of options when it comes to offering a financial wellness program to employees, but not all programs are designed to deliver the results or have the impact that providers expect and employees need. So before jumping in head first to implement an employee financial wellness program, consider these seven ideas to make your program great:
- Answer “why” and be specific. It is not enough to suggest that a financial wellness program is “important” or “my employees need one.” You need to be able to communicate to all stakeholders the specific problems you are trying to solve well before you try to figure out what your program might look like. These insights will impact how you design your wellness program and the outcomes you are trying to achieve.
- Listen to your employees. One way to identify the problems you are trying to solve is to engage your employees. As crazy as it might sound (said with a healthy dose of sarcasm), a great first step is to ask the employees about their needs, interests and goals. A good way to accomplish this is by offering – to start – a holistic and substantive financial health assessment. What is meant by “substantive” is that a 10 question financial wellness quiz is not worth your time or your employees’ time. By listening to your employees, you avoid guessing or assuming that you know what “they” want. This approach also helps to avoid implementing a one-size-fits-all solution.
- Start with the end in mind. Much as you should have specific reasons “why” you want to offer a workplace financial wellness program, you need to have specific outcomes in mind and clearly defined measures of success. If you listen to your employees as cited earlier, the outcomes for your program should be much easier to identify. Yet, it is critical to have realistic expectations on what can be achieved in the near term versus over time. To that point…
- Have realistic expectations. While it would be great for every employee to save more, pay down debt and improve their credit score, these all take time. In other words, start with more tangible outcomes in the short-term such as participation in a “financial wellness challenge” each month. Engagement will improve, and the longer-term outcomes will follow. It is important to manage everyone’s expectations out of the gate – and by doing so – you are setting up your program for success.
- Make it personal. Your employee financial wellness program needs to offer a high-level of personalization because these programs are about “personal” finance after all. The goal of your financial wellness program should be to “meet each individual where they are.” Otherwise, you will have a one-size-fits-all approach that lacks relevance. And if it lacks relevance, you won’t get the engagement or the results you want or your employees need.
- Take a holistic view. Too often financial wellness programs focus on retirement related needs or another narrow slice of an employee’s complex and inter-related financial life. It is important to note, however, that even employees will often identify that retirement education is top priority. Yet, the reality is that most people have a lot of other financial needs that need to be addressed before tackling retirement. Put another way, retirement readiness is impacted by every financial decision people make every day. It is imperative to help employees see that their day-to-day financial habits today will have a huge impact on their retirement security.
- Make it interesting. It can be challenging to get people excited about a topic that many don’t have a real interest in. It can be just as challenging to keep people engaged with a financial wellness program if the focus is on long-term outcomes that don’t provide some sense of immediate achievement. Are long-term outcomes important? Of course. Will slow moving progress towards these long-term goals keep employees engaged? Probably not. This is where creativity in financial wellness programs can yield big results. The idea of a “financial wellness challenge” or allowing users to earn “badges” and unlock “rewards” can keep people engaged as well as help to foster a culture that values good financial health.
These seven simple steps can have a huge impact on the success, sustainability and impact of your employee financial wellness program.
Blake Allison is CEO & President of FELA, Inc. (www.myfela.com) a leading provider of financial education and wellness solutions. LifeCents is FELA’s online financial wellness program used by employers, employee benefits providers, financial services companies and nonprofits.