Everyone has money issues. For some, however, financial problems are real stress inducers, pre-occupying their thoughts and even affecting their physical and mental health. When employees are suffering from financial stress, their workplace productivity may be negatively impacted. In times of organizational change, particularly where jobs are at risk, financial stress can be exacerbated.
Employers, however, have become more aware of just how stressful financial issues can be for employees since the 2008 recession, says Stephen Liptrap, executive vice-president at Morneau Shepell in Toronto.
“We’ve seen increased demand for financial counselling as a support component of employee and family assistance plans (EFAPs) in the last five years or so,” he says. “Services may extend from providing everyday budgeting guidance and debt management to helping with more complex issues like bankruptcy.”
Employees who are most likely to experience financial stress are, not surprisingly, those with less skilled jobs and lower incomes, according to the 2014 Statistics Canada report What’s Stressing the Stressed? Main Sources of Stress Among Workers. Most had children at home and they were more likely to be members of a visible minority group and to have immigrated to Canada within the last 30 years than those who were less stressed about money.
“Organizations with a large part of their workforce that meets this profile may want to give serious consideration to providing financial counselling, although all employees can benefit from the service,” says Liptrap.
Financial stress solutions
Nova Scotia Health Authority (NSHA) is one organization that has added financial counselling to its EFAP lineup.
“We’re focused on promoting the overall health of our 24,000 employees. That goes beyond illness and injury to encompass stress reduction, including stress caused by financial concerns. The reason is clear: Employees perform better when they are less stressed,” says Katrina Philopoulos, director of organizational health at NSHA in Halifax.
Employees can receive information and advice from financial experts on any of the following topics:
•credit or debt management
•financial aspects of separation or divorce
The organization offers a personalized and interactive online financial planning service. Employees can learn about a range of financial subjects and plug their own numbers into worksheets and calculators to gain a better understanding of their own financial picture.
They can then set their own financial goals and develop a plan to achieve them.
Consultations with an experienced network of financial professionals are available all day, free of charge, and are strictly confidential. If employees need more personalized or specific financial advice, they are provided with referral information to find a professional financial advisor, at their own expense.
NSHA workers also have options when it comes to accessing financial counselling services. Online resources are available via computer and mobile device, while counselling is offered by email, phone or, in large centres, in-person.
“We’ve made it easy to access financial counselling,” says Philopoulos. “Nevertheless, we find we need to actively promote this service or employees may not realize it’s available through our EFAP. It isn’t one of the primary support services that automatically comes to mind when one thinks of an EFAP. That may change as more employers focus on helping to alleviate financial stress.”
In the meantime, NSHA ensures that managers, leaders and supervisors are aware financial counselling is available for employees, and it highlights the service in newsletters and benefits brochures, stressing the confidentiality available through the EFAP.
Anticipating rising stress levels
Changes, both personal and professional, can prompt increased usage of financial counselling. NSHA was formed in April when nine district health authorities were amalgamated to create one unified provincial authority.
“We receive aggregate data periodically regarding our EFAP and noticed a spike in the number of employees seeking help in dealing with stress generally at that time and also looking for financial advice,” says Philopoulos.
“They were understandably concerned about possible impacts of the amalgamation on them personally and what it would mean for them financially.”
Liptrap recommends employers take a proactive stance and attempt to head off financial stress before it becomes overwhelming.
“Provide financial information to employees before they ask for it, at times when they can be expected to need it,” he says. “Financial advice of various sorts should be shared at key turning points — on marriage, divorce, the birth of a child, the purchase of a home, prior to retirement, and so on.”
Adding financial counselling to a new or existing EFAP is not difficult, though it does mean an extra expense for the employer.
“Organizations have to balance the small extra cost of the program against the potential for decreased productivity and increased employee absence if they do nothing,” says Liptrap. “As the economy continues to have its ups and downs, helping employees to better manage financial stress may be worth the investment.”
Marcia McDougall is a freelance writer and president of InteGreat Marketing PR Events. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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