Want to Get People to Save for 401ks? Stop Focusing on 401Ks

employee financial wellness program

On-Demand Webinar

The following post comes from Bright Horizons Marketing Manager, Sean McCarthy. Fiscal and physical wellness are a lot alike. Both take effort to reach ; and people work better when they achieve them. There's something else they have in common: you, as an employer, can't directly impact either of them. Just as you can't control employees' eating and exercise habits (though some have tried), you can't spend people's money for them. But you can create the conditions that lead to the best results. It's why 401ks have limited financial wellness reach. True, these days retirement accounts are considered a cost-of-entry benefit. But employer retirement matches aren't going to help employee financial wellness if people have nothing leftover every month for their employer to match. So what can you do that will make a difference?

Help them get a better job

We know ; this has a rather Captain Obvious ring to it. But higher education nets higher salaries. So education programs aimed at career development are exceptionally powerful financial wellness strategies because they direct people to a more solid future. Health insurer Aetna took that to heart with a generous tuition program aimed squarely at helping people build those futures. "If five to 10 years down the road, our employees are still only earning $16 an hour," Aetna's Kay Mooney told Human Resources Executive magazine earlier this year, "we've failed them."

Help them tackle college debt

College debt is more than a $1.5 trillion financial problem; it's a dead weight keeping Millennials from marriage, home ownership, and more. Payments made directly by employers to the lender can make a huge dent in how people feel about their finances ; and their employers. No wonder the number of Working Mother's top 100 that offer some sort of student loan support has increased from 23 percent in 2017, to 33 percent this year ; 40 to 60 percent among the top ten. It's also no surprise student loan benefits were recently called the hottest benefit of the year.

Help them get a hold of the finances they have today

Tangible student loan repayments are awesome. You know what's just as awesome? Showing employees how to pay down the rest. "Personal financial literacy isn't about smarts; it's about feeling out of control," wrote our CHRO Maribeth Bearfield after a financial workshop at MIT drew throngs of employees with unopened student loan envelopes. Such assistance ; for student loans or day-to-day budgeting ; does more than educate; it brings finances out in the open. "Most folks," wrote Maribeth, "would rather hide financial problems than almost anything else."

Help them make better decisions for tomorrow

If employees aren't paying their own college loans, they're likely saving ; or paying ; for their children's. And that can lead to catastrophic decisions like over borrowing, paying too much ; or even paying penalties for emptying 401ks. Since today's college decisions affect employees and their children, advice to help people choose, borrow, and pay for children's college wisely can affect financial wellness for decades.

Finally, why all the fuss about employee financial wellness? There's wide recognition that personal money worries sting business, too ; with many people bringing their financial problems to work.  "When our employees are struggling, we're struggling," said Aetna's Kay Mooney. "They're financially stressed, and they're not able to give 100 percent to their job because their worried about how they're going to pay their bills." No wonder a Prudential survey showed financial wellness benefits up from 20 percent to 83 in just two years. The catch is more than just tomorrow's retirement, you have to help people deal with the money they're managing today. But, "You'll know you've made an impact," said Maribeth of something we experienced here at Bright Horizons, "when you see your 401k participation start to go up."