#SHRM18: Attract Students and Grads with Your Wellness Program, Especially Financial Wellness



Wellness programs don’t just reduce costs by increasing the likelihood that your employees show up for work. A holistic and well managed wellness program can also serve as a recruitment tool.

We know healthy employees who balance their work and personal lives are more productive. We know that poor physical, emotional and financial health distract employees while they are working and take them away from work to deal with personal issues. Employers have the opportunity to not only increase productivity but also attract talent by providing holistic wellness services. One important element to attract and support younger talent is a robust financial wellness program. Here we compile the expertise of several experts in wellness programs to help you sort out what will benefit your organization. 

Pamela Chan, Project Director of Human Insights at Prosperity Now, shares her insight into how employers can offer financial support to support their employees and attract talent of all generations. Chan will be a speaker at the 2018 SHRM Annual Conference & Exposition, presenting “Beyond the Next Paycheck: Financial Wellness for Young Workers!” Dinesh Sheth, CEO of Green Circle Health, offers insight here into how holistic wellness programs can increase productivity. Sheth will be a speaker at the SHRM conference as well, presenting “Looking Under the Hood: What’s Driving AutoZone’s Culture of Health and Wellness?” Finally, Jeff Oldham at Benefitfocus, shares research findings from his organization below. Oldman will also be speaking at SHRM 2018, presenting “Millennials & Mobile: Outfitting American Eagle’s Workforce with Rightsized Employee Benefits.

Look at your wellness program holistically

It is important to look holistically at mental, emotional and financial health because they are all important in reducing costs and increasing productivity. Dinesh Sheth of Green Circle Health encourages employers to see the importance of mental health by linking it to resilience. You can help employees build resiliency to improve their response to stress during and outside of work.

It’s not about which program is better for the most people, Sheth advises, but what program is right for each person. Employers need to pay attention to individual needs. Remember that not all aspects of health are of equal importance to everyone at the same time. For example, an employee who is a new parent has different needs than employee who is recovering from surgery. Both need support, but if your wellness program mostly promotes a gym membership, only some people will see how it benefits them.

It’s not about which program is better for the most people, but what program is right for each person.

Too often, employers want a quick solution to a singular problem, says Sheth. Unfortunately, there are no quick fixes. Even if one solution fixes one immediate need, it will only help for a short while. Sooner or later, another factor in the employee’s wellness will become a problem.

Wellness programs need more than just quick fixes

For example, Sheth has seen employers give out Fitbits to all employees and promise prizes for whoever walks 10,000 steps. People who don’t usually take walks, however, are unlikely to start just because you gave them a toy.

Instead, there needs to be a change in lifestyle or behavior. You need a holistic approach to wellness. A holistic program might offer an app that helps employees manage their money, emotional issues, social issues, and physical needs, from prenatal to geriatric care. “If you can manage all that in a single app, the chances that you will stay with that app for a long period of time [are very high,]” he says.  Improving each of these aspects of health will lead to more productive employees.

A great financial wellness program helps recruit and retain entry-level candidates

Many college students and recent grads don’t have families to support, and overall they have better physical health. So instead of touting a wellness program that offers a gym membership or a day care, talk about something that meets a need that is very real to them: financial stability.

After surveying young workers across the country, Pamela Chan of Prosperity Now heard strong themes emerge. First, it’s difficult to make ends meet. They worry about immediate financial needs more than older workers do. Scheduling work shifts can be unpredictable, and many work on a contract basis. They worry about paying off student debt as well as credit card debt. Sheth reminds employers that when these candidates graduate, they are looking to buy a car and learn the basics of managing their checking account, all while facing a mountain of debt. Financial education should be a main focus when attempting to attract young talent.

Increasingly, employers are seeing how financial wellness benefits their organization and Chan is seeing more employers use financial wellness programs as a recruitment tool to attract entry-level talent. In her report “Beyond the Next Paycheck: Creating Opportunities for Young Workers to Thrive,” she writes that “Young workers tend to worry about short-term financial issues, but services available at work primarily focus on long-term issues.” In addition, younger workers are less capable of financial planning than their older colleagues. This disconnect creates an opportunity for employers to better support young, and especially lower-income workers in improving their financial wellness. “This could help productivity, retention and morale in a developing workforce.”

Help entry level employee save financially

“Poor financial wellness can negatively affect performance,” says Chan. They might miss work because they have to take care of financial issues, or they are constantly leaving their jobs because they need more income. Nearly all organizations surveyed by SHRM said that personal finance issues impacted employee performance.

Gen Z, now in college, has seen inequality grow and they’ve seen their parents put off retirement because of the Great Recession. They feel less financially secure and are worried about making enough money to live the quality of life they want. In fact, research done by PwCindicates that younger workers are more stressed at work. 25% of millennials say that financial concerns impact their productivity, compared to 15% of Gen X’ers and 11% of Baby Boomers.

Related: These three benefits can help retain millennials

These financial wellness products can especially benefit employers who hire hourly or lower wage roles 

Employers are becoming increasingly interested in financial wellness programs that go beyond retirement. For years white-collar professionals have been given financial benefits such as retirement programs. Chan says there is a lot of promise, however, for financial wellness programs at employers who hire for many hourly or lower wage workers.

The financial wellness products Chan especially recommends for these employers include:

  • Financial coaching or counseling. Ongoing support through the workplace provides “a point of contact through which to navigate the complexities of finances.”
  • Pay advances or small loans to help employees who have less stable incomes or more volatility in their expenses. That avoids forcing them to use third parties that charge high interest rates.
  • More savings options. Employees want to save but finding the right savings product can be hard, and employers can facilitate saving by offering automatic transfers.

Measuring the success of financial wellness

According to the Society for Human Resource Management, McLeod Health in South Carolina claims a return on investment of $6.60 for every $1 spent on 12-week financial education classes (Prosperity Now). To measure employees’ financial wellness, Chan recommends that employers embed relevant questions in an employee survey. Example questions include:

  • How prepared are you to handle a $2,000 unexpected expense?
  • Are you confident building a career here?
  • How much financial stress are you experiencing?

Two organizations that are increasing their financial wellness benefits

Chan says Staples is one example of an employer doing well in this regard. Staples has gamified the financial education that accompanies their retirement program. They also started offering financial counseling by partnering with a nonprofit called Neighborhood Trust. Chan says this service is important to offer as a stand-alone, as opposed to embedding it within the Employee Assistance Program. EAP services, she says, are often limited.

Another example is Walmart. Walmart launched Even, a financial advice app for its employees that helps team members manage their cash flow. They also help with pay advances.

Create a culture of wellness at work

Create a culture of health and wellness in your organization

The organizations that are succeeding at creating a culture of health are the ones that engage leadership. When the CEO and other leaders all believe in wellness, organizational culture will naturally reflect that. Instead of a more traditional approach of hiring a youthful and fit wellness coordinator, Sheth advises getting broad and ongoing input from all levels, including the advice of your youngest talent. When a single coordinator tells an enterprise organization what sort of wellness people need, it just can’t represent everyone.

To create a true culture of health and wellness, Sheth encourages employers to add employee wellness to their set of values.

Employers can do more to remind employees about the available benefits, not just when they first start. New hires have so much information thrown at them, and HR forms alone can be intimidating to entry-level employees. Employers should take the time to explain why these benefits are important and how they can help employees.

Benefit trends in 2018 have some generational differences

Benefitfocus’ 2018 data show four key trends among benefit offerings (read more details in the report). Those are:

  1. Employees are embracing health savings accounts. Participation in HSAs grew and millennials were especially eager to adopt these accounts.
  2. Higher earners don’t mind higher deductibles. HDHPs are more appealing to employees with higher incomes.
  3. Reduced out-of-pocket risk offsets rising premiums. Most employees will again see their medical premiums increase, but will also enjoy lower deductibles in 2018.
  4. Voluntary benefits address a diverse set of employee needs, from critical illness to pets. In addition to options like hospital indemnity, critical illness and accident insurance, employers are increasingly offering products like legal insurance, identity theft protection and pet insurance to round out their voluntary benefit offerings.

Two additional perks can attract entry-level talent

Work-life balance. Millennials and Gen Z place great value on personal time and what is beyond the pay check. Your wellness program should encouraging employees to find work-life balance. Working for a company that offers the right work-life balance deals a positive effect on its workforce by boosting productivity, increasing motivation, lowering absenteeism, giving employers a more positive perception, and having less staff turnover (Manila Recruitment). Offering a truly flexible work schedule, or a work-from-home option, can be an attractive perk in recruiting entry-level talent. Especially for individuals who will be balancing two jobs to make ends meet, this flexibility can be enormously attractive.

“Employers should not be too strict in enforcing a sick leave, and in the same regard, encourage employees to go on vacation to de-stress and recharge. This will increase productivity and boost their motivation,” writes Manila Recruitment. For example, offer an annual birthday leave, a few days for emergencies, and a longer time off for maternity leave.

Offer occasional free healthy meals. Don’t rely on this perk to attract talent if you’re not already offering competitive salary and benefits. However, if your compensation package is attractive, this perk can be motivating. “You don’t have to be a huge company to do this,” writes Manila Recruitment. “Even a small company can offer free lunch at least once every month. This small gesture can have a huge impact to an employee’s productivity.”

Pamela Chan is Project Director of Human Insights at Prosperity Now. She is a consumer insights researcher and service designer with over 10 years of experience in the non-profit and private sectors. She strives to create innovations that advance economic justice in financial and social services. She regularly translates research into insights, advice, and training for practitioners and policymakers through conference presentations, learning groups, and individual consulting engagements.


Dinesh Sheth is Founder and CEO of Green Circle Health (GCH), a human resources engagement and medical services technology platform provider that leverages the latest advances in information,  communication and sensor technologies to enhance the organizational productivity and improve healthcare outcomes through holistic wellbeing of families.




The SHRM Blog does not accept solicitation for guest posts.

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