In October 2017, Mary Griffin, a loan coordinator in Atlanta, Ga., was in a bind. Her car broke down and she didn’t have money to fix it or buy a new one. Griffin, 57, took rides from co-workers and the occasional Uber to get to and from work.
Although she didn’t tell management at her company that she was struggling, a co-worker did. When company leaders learned of Griffin’s circumstances, they bought her a car. The moment her bosses handed her the keys to a 2011 Ford Fiesta was “overwhelming, almost surreal,” she said.
“To be in an environment where there’s genuine care and concern — and being the recipient of that — let me know that I matter in the company,” Griffin said. “Having that emotional and financial relief takes all that weight and burden off me, so in return I can focus more positively and with more energy to my work and to my family.”
Some workers may tempted to tell their co-workers if they feel bogged down by credit card debt, student or home loans, or unexpected expenses. But should you let your boss(es) know?
Financial concerns can impact work performance, according to a 2017 employee financial wellness survey by Pricewaterhousecoopers LLC. Employees who are stressed about their finances are nearly five times more likely to be distracted at work, and are twice as likely to miss work. Financial stress also causes employees to spend more time at work dealing with finances, cutting into their time. The PwC study finds that 46 percent spend three or more hours a week handling personal issues when they should be working.
On the positive side, telling your boss about difficult circumstances gives your manager insight into what might be impacting your work performance.
However, there’s a risk that disclosing financial problems could change how your bosses perceive your ability to do your job.
Employees should be aware of potential downsides of asking for financial help at work. An employer might view personal financial struggles as signs of being financially irresponsible, particularly if the employee’s responsibilities include financial management.
Issues like defaulting on a car loan, for example, could raise questions by an employer, or hinder chances of a job offer, said Antowoine Winters, a financial planner at Next Steps Financial Planning in Kettering, Ohio.
Employers could also use financial troubles to their advantage during the hiring process, said Catalina Franco-Cicero, a financial adviser at Tobias Financial Advisors in Plantation, Fla., possibly offering less money based on an assumption that the applicant is untrustworthy or desperate for a job.
Winters added: “Some employers will take whatever edge they can get to get the level of experience they want at the lowest price they can reasonably get.”
How can employers help?
Rob Reiskytl, leader of the national retirement strategy and design team at consulting firm Aon Hewitt, said he has seen employers become increasingly interested in helping employees’ financial well-being. Companies are assisting employees plan finances, get out of debt, manage loans and create emergency funds to be more financially resilient.
In some cases, employers help pay off employees’ student loans in lieu of other employee aid, such as tuition reimbursement, said Franco-Cicero.
Companies also help employees pay off credit card debt with a one-time payment to help them get back on track, perhaps tied to a coaching program or a commitment from the employee to prevent future debt issues.
Some employers, including the U.S. government, have Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs), which can address a number of circumstances — financial or otherwise — by offering confidential assessments, short-term counseling, referrals and follow-up services.
Other companies have emergency funds for employees who are struggling with their finances. Pat Flood, regional operating partner for mortgage lender Supreme Lending’s Southeast region, invites employees to contribute to the assistance fund, which is subsidized by the company.
About 80 percent of employees contribute, Flood said. Employees can choose to request money anonymously, and Flood also informally assists employees if he learns about their financial challenges.
Benefits for employee and employer
The positive effects of helping employees financially often, in turn, help the employer.
Employees who suffer from overwhelming financial stress, or who struggle to maintain financial stability, cost employers money, according to a 2016 report by Financial Finesse, a financial wellness company based in El Segundo, Calif. Absenteeism, garnishments, payroll taxes and delayed retirement can all impact an employer’s bottom line.
“When you make people the highest priority every day, and they feel that, they will do anything and everything to help the company’s success,” Flood said.
As employees’ financial statuses improve, costs to the company may decrease. Financial Finesse ranked employees’ financial wellness on a 10-point scale. It estimated that an employee who scored 0-2 would cost their employer $198 annually, while an employee who scored 9-10 would earn the company $143 per year, on average.
Starting the conversation
Talking about finances can feel taboo, particularly at work.
Reiskytl said employees find it easier to discuss their finances at work if they have a sense that their employer will be able to help them, and that their privacy will be respected.
“If you do it in a way that’s flexible with a variety of solutions for employees, we find that the employees tend to react well and it allows them to select and choose how private they’d like to be,” Reiskytl said.
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