Untapped potential – rethinking wellness

Wellness programs at work are plentiful and are becoming more and more popular, yet there’s a concept that’s right under our noses that isn’t being tapped.  It seems fairly unrelated but as we do more research it’s becoming clear that a basic need of many Canadians is not being met and fruit baskets and gym passes aren’t going to fill that gap. Financial literacy is something that employees need more of and it’s an area that can have a big ROI for employers. Talking about money at work might seem scary to employers – it’s sometimes looked at as a faux-pas; and we need to change that.   

Financial education is one of the biggest gaps in our society’s education system that is negatively impacting a huge number of Canadians health and happiness.

Financial Stress is a buzzword that seems to be everywhere these days. It’s something that we’re starting to realize is having a very real and tangible impact on the well being of millions of Canadians. As I went down the path to become a CFP I started to realize that financial education is one of the biggest gaps in our society’s education system that is negatively impacting huge numbers of Canadians health and happiness. Prepare yourself for some obligatory stats and sources that help me prove my point. Manulife/Ipsos Reid did a study to gauge the financial wellness of Canadians – an indicator of their ability to manage their financial life. They found that 40% of the respondents were financially unwell, which leads to worry and stress. Those who were financially unwell typically didn’t eat as well and also exercised less than their financially well counterparts. Financial planning standards council found similar results, with 42% of  respondents saying that money is their #1 cause of stress. Reports tell us that consumer debt is high and that on average, Canadians are failing to save properly for retirement and 69% of us don’t have a comprehensive financial plan that address these issues. There’s countless articles out there but I won’t labour it too hard.

Not to overload you with negative stats, but it doesn’t take a superior intellect to put the pieces together and see that this is a real problem. We know that Chronic stress leads to health issues. Is it hard to imagine that living in a precarious financial position, like paycheck to paycheck or with a mountain of consumer debt or no idea of how to properly manage your finances that maybe that stress is having an effect on the health of people and by extension, the workplace? My intuition tells me yes – without question. 

Not being taught to understand things like retirement, taxes, budgeting and debt has huge consequences for Canadians and their employers.

There is a massive amount of positive effect to be captured by helping employees get into a better financial position through literacy and education. Financial literacy and education have never been a priority in the public school system which probably explains where a lot of this turmoil comes from. It should be taught at an early age and continue throughout high school; my experience was void of such teachings. The fact is people are just not being taught how to think about money or manage it in a meaningful way.  Most of us spend the majority of our first 25 years of life learning about all kinds of topics in preparation for “the real world” and a skill as crucial as financial literacy isn’t a priority? Craziness. Not being taught to understand things like retirement, taxes, budgeting and debt has huge consequences for Canadians and their employers. The lack of literacy is compounded by the fact that we are increasingly becoming more responsible for their own financial destiny. This needs to change if Canadians are expected to navigate their way safely down the increasingly complex road of life. In 2009 the finance minister of the time Jim Flaherty announced a task force for financial literacy. Things are getting better but it’s been a slow go to get things implemented it seems. Employers need to step in and address the void that for those already in the work force that don’t have the education or skills to manage their finances effectively.

Infusing the workplace with financial education can also increase efficacy that becomes a catalyst for action

Outside of school, the workplace is the ideal place to educate Canadians about financial matters. If the employers provides this valuable information it says that not only do we believe it’s important enough to make it a priority, but it shows that we care about our peoples bigger picture and growth, not just an exchange of time for money.  Research shows that those who experience financial stress and don’t believe they can fix it are also the most likely to NOT seek the help they need. Infusing the workplace with financial education can also increase efficacy that becomes a catalyst for action.  A good place to start is to provide access to some of the various resources that are available and to start the conversation about the importance of money and planning. A better plan is to promote a Group retirement savings plan if it makes sense. Having a retirement savings plan and information available is fantastic, but much bigger results can be achieved when employees are engaged and have a vision for where they’re headed. I believe the best way to accomplish that is by providing one on one advice and planning for employees, provided by an planner. Group sessions like lunch and learns, while convenient in many aspects, give one size fits all advice which works just about as well as one size fits all shoes. Things that are personalize always make a bigger impact and motivate because it connect with the individual on a deeper level. They need individual advice that applies to them, given by a trained professional like a Certified Financial Planner.

People are craving this kind of information and interaction but just aren’t sure where to get it or who to trust.

Some people will probably argue that it’s not the employer’s job, responsibility, or right to force this on people. I would argue that we only need to look at how important this really is to the success of our business and employees to see that it’s a no-brainer. People are craving this kind of information and interaction but just aren’t sure where to get it or who to trust. If the studies are right, then there is a lot of people running around out there acting as if everything is OK when under the surface they’re stressed out. If financial literacy and education is implemented and communicated in the right way it could be a game changer that motivates employees in a huge way. It shows we care about their long term success in life and when we know someone cares and supports us we tend to go the extra mile for them when we can. Employers would feel the gratitude through increased productivity and happier staff. At a minimum, employees need to be given the information and resource to  learn more about areas they are weak in when it comes to financial literacy. The best solution in my opinion (a biased one for sure) is to have a “trusted adviser”, a qualified professional who can give unbiased advice and become familiar to staff. Someone they can go to for advice as they progress through life and career stages. Someone they can ask the pressing questions they’re too afraid to ask family and friends. Helping them reduce stress,  and increase the satisfaction that creates a feedback loop of positivity in the workplace that uplifts everyone. 

The paradigm about money talk in the workplace needs to change and once it does, everyone will be better for it.

JC

 

 

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