When Employee Wellness Isn’t Working

Raffa Financial ServicesRaffa Financial Services on 03/08/2018

As companies jump on board with employee wellness programs, providing various incentives for healthy behavior changes, many of them find themselves wondering if they really make a difference.

But employees are still stressed out, perhaps more than ever. This inevitably leads to worse health outcomes and an increase in both absenteeism and presenteeism— which are exactly the things employers are looking to change.

So what’s going on? Have we been sold a bill of goods on employee wellness programs? Do they not work?

The problem with wellness

Many of us use the terms wellness and wellbeing interchangeably, and this is our first mistake.

When we think of wellness, we tend to think of physical health. As a result, traditional employee wellness programs often center around nutrition, exercise and disease prevention. And while all of these things are extremely important, this approach only addresses one aspect of wellbeing.

When it comes down to it, there is so much more to wellbeing than simply not being sick.

It requires balance

Think of wellbeing as a three-legged stool, relying on these critical components:

  • Physical health
  • Mental health
  • Financial health

Nail all three of these things and you’ve got a nice, sturdy platform to stand on. But what happens if one of the legs becomes unstable? Or falls off completely? Remove one leg from the stool and everything will fall apart pretty quickly.

Physical, emotional, and financial wellness are extremely interconnected, and employee wellbeing is all about keeping the balance.

Why finance matters

Working to increase physical fitness is always good, but those 10,000 steps aren’t going to pay the rent. And if that’s your biggest concern, no amount of exercise is going to ease that financial burden. Or reduce that financial stress.

A study by PwC found that nearly one in three employees reported that issues with personal finances are stressing them out.

  • 52% of workers overall reported being stressed about their finances, and the younger the worker, the more likely he or she is to be worried.
  • 64% of Millennials said they are stressed about their finances.
  • 45% reported their finance-related stress had increased over the last 12 months.

Research from Towers Watson also confirmed the obvious. Employees with financial worries have higher levels of stress, and high levels of stress lead to a.) poor health outcomes for employees and b.) reduced productivity for employers.

Think employee finances don’t affect you?

Better think again.

According to the Stress in America Survey, individuals who are highly stressed about finances are more likely to say they engage in unhealthy behaviors to manage their stress. This can impact employers in the form of increased absenteeism and presenteeism, higher risk of accidents, and escalating healthcare costs.

Meanwhile, of the PwC survey respondents who reported feeling stress about their personal finances:

  • 47% said they are either missing work occasionally or that their productivity at work has been impacted by financial worries
  • Half of these employees reported spending three or more hours each week— while at work— dealing with personal financial issues

Despite all of the evidence pointing to the fact that employee financial concerns are bad for business, employers have been slow to react.

Research from SHRM found that

  • 24% of organizations offered employees online financial/investment advice
  • 27% provided one-on-one advice
  • 22% had options for group or classroom financial advice

With these kinds of numbers, this is an area where you can make a big difference for your staff and your business. Why not lead the charge? Put together a financial wellness program that includes education, assessments and support.

Imagine the relief you could give your employees if they suddenly didn’t have to spend all day and night worrying about their finances and their futures. It could literally be life changing.

And this is where we circle back around to that third pillar of wellbeing: mental health.

The mind/body connection

We all know that physical and mental health are closely related. In fact, one of the biggest side benefits of regular exercise and healthy habits is that these things have been proven to help improve mood and reduce stress, anxiety, and depression. So by improving the physical health of your team, you’re also helping improve mental health.

The piece many of us haven’t necessarily connected is the financial one. But time and time again, research shows there is a tight relationship here, and that financial health is a huge indicator of both physical and mental health.

At this point, most of us can also agree that even the most physically and financially healthy people can struggle with mental health issues. And that running a 5K or having a 401(k) isn’t necessarily going to help.

In order to round out your employee wellbeing strategy, you’ll need to put support systems in place for those who need it. Some ways to address the social/emotional side of health include:

  • Maintaining realistic workloads
  • Creating work-at-home options
  • Offering employee assistance programs
  • Encouraging employees to take their breaks
  • Providing flexible PTO, including bereavement and parental leave
  • Creating a culture that values open communication, teamwork, and trust

These things can go a long way toward re-setting the balance for someone who is struggling.

The key to making them work is to make sure you’re not just offering them, but actually encouraging them. Having a time off policy in place doesn’t mean anything if your employees are afraid to use it.

Be sure to talk about these resources openly and often. Removing the stigma of mental health is one way to help work through it.

Moving toward wellbeing

If you’re not seeing returns on your current employee wellness program, maybe it’s because you haven’t paid enough attention to that critical financial piece.

Give your employees the gift of financial security and they will pay you back in spades.


Looking to enhance your employee benefits package? Want to be a coveted employer of choice in the greater Maryland, Virginia and Washington, DC area? Get in touch with Raffa. We love this stuff! And it’s what we do for our clients every single day.


Photo by  Ion Chiosea  

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