Plan your workplace financial wellness program
Thinking of introducing a financial wellness program in your workplace? Make sure you start with an effective plan.
Each organization has its own planning processes. The steps listed here for setting up a financial wellness program are not meant to be followed in a prescriptive order. Rather, they are strategies to guide your planning.
If you already offer a financial wellness program, there may be information here that could help you update and improve it.
Assess your employees’ needs
Before you introduce a financial wellness program, you need a good understanding of your employees’ financial challenges, needs and preferences. Not all employees have the same concerns and questions. Over their careers and at different life stages, they will have different financial goals and challenges. For example:
- younger employees may be trying to figure out how to pay off their student loans or buy a new home
- older employees might be focused on how much they need to save for retirement
Understanding the financial needs of your employees will help you:
- set objectives
- build a business case to get senior management support
- design a financial well-being strategy that engages and meets the needs of your employees
Start with some research to better understand your employees’ needs and challenges. The best way to do this is to ask them. This doesn’t need to be complicated. If you are a small business with only a few employees, consider talking to your employees directly or creating an anonymous questionnaire. Larger organizations should consider combining multiple methods, like focus groups and anonymous surveys. Regardless of your organization’s size, you can use any of these methods independently or together.
To help guide you, consider the following information on focus groups and surveys.
Focus groups are small, diverse groups of employees that you bring together to share their thoughts and opinions.
Tip: Keep it small
To be effective, limit focus groups to 6 to 10 employees at a time. This will allow for a good conversation to take place.
- Focus groups allow participants to exchange opinions and expand on each other’s ideas
- You can invite volunteers from different parts of the organization to ensure the group represents your workforce
Things to consider:
- Employees may be unwilling to raise sensitive financial issues in front of their colleagues
- Offering a participation incentive can make it easier to get volunteers
- More outspoken participants can sometimes take over the group and sway opinions
- Using an outside facilitator to summarize findings (without attributing them to individuals) can help ensure greater confidentiality
- Because it is an in-person group session, it cannot be completely anonymous
- It can be difficult to organize if employees are at multiple locations, work off-site or do shift work
When putting together focus groups, consider:
How to generate topics of interest
Open-ended questions such as, “What financial education topics would you be interested in learning about?” and/or asking for opinions on a list of proposed topics can spark discussion.
Understanding employees’ preferred format for delivery of financial education (in-person group workshops, webinars, other online methods, like self-paced programs, etc.) can increase participation.
Time of day
Find out when most employees would prefer to participate in the program (lunch and learn sessions, during work, after work).
Feedback on current financial education
If you already offer financial education, ask employees what is working about your program and what is not.
Feedback on why they would not participate in a financial wellness program
This could help you avoid pitfalls and build a plan to avoid these obstacles.
Feedback on the role they think their employer should play
This can help you understand employee expectations relating to your program.
An employee survey is an effective way to get input on employees’ needs and preferences.
Tip: Ensure confidentiality
Tell employees that any information they provide in the survey is confidential and that responses will be looked at on a group basis, not individually. This will make employees feel more comfortable providing honest answers and will make the survey results more useful.
- Can be anonymous and confidential
- Can be widely distributed, especially across multiple geographic locations
- Employees can answer at a time that is convenient to them
- There are many free survey apps that make surveys easy to implement
Things to consider:
- Because participation is voluntary, the results may not represent the entire workforce
- Surveys and focus groups can complement each other. You can do a focus group first to fine-tune survey questions. Alternatively, you can do the survey first and then use focus groups to get further details and explore interesting or unexpected results
Possible employee survey topics include:
Current state of financial well-being
Use this information to understand employees’ levels of financial stress, confidence making financial decisions, and current financial challenges.
Have employees rank the importance of various financial goals. Examples could include paying off credit cards, buying a house, saving for a child’s education or saving for retirement.
Have employees select from a list of life events that may be relevant to them in the next 5 years, such as living as a couple, buying a home, starting a family or caring for an ill or disabled family member.
Topics of interest
Get employees to rank topics of interest or suggest new ones.
Use the results to group data by profiles. For example, use age ranges to put respondents in groups such as early career (millennials, generation Y), mid-career (generation X) and late career (baby boomers). Be aware that age alone may not predict people’s financial needs.
Ask employees about their preferred format for financial education delivery (in-person group seminars, webinars or other online methods, like self-paced programs, etc.).
Time of day
Ask employees about their preferred time of day to hold the program (lunch and learn sessions, during work hours, after work).
Tip: Offer an incentive for participating
Offering individual or group incentives can increase participation rates and yield more relevant results. For instance, everyone could get a group incentive if the organization has a 75% participation rate.
Not sure where to start? Use these sample survey questions to help build your employee needs survey.
Assess your organization’s needs
Once you better understand the financial well-being needs of your employees, consider doing an internal assessment of your organization. This will help you evaluate what you need to do to implement a financial wellness program or to improve a current program. It will provide important information you can include in your business case and things to consider when implementing and developing your program see Develop the business case for your financial wellness program.
Know what financial well-being means to your organization
There are different ways of defining financial well-being. A commonly accepted definition is that a person:
- is able to meet their current and ongoing financial needs
- feels secure about their financial future
- is free to make choices that allow them to enjoy lifeFootnote 1
It’s a best practice to define financial well-being based on what that means for your organization. You can modify the above definition or write your own.
Determine your objectives
What role does your organization play in employee financial well-being today? What role do you want it to play in the future?
Outline a set of clear objectives to help bridge the gap between where you are and where you want to be. Develop a straightforward strategy for employee financial well-being that aligns with business objectives and employees’ needs.
There are many ways to help your employees achieve financial well-being. Questions to consider in determining your objectives could include:
- What is our vision and our philosophy regarding employee financial well-being?
- How does this fit into our existing learning culture?
- What do we want to accomplish?
Tip: Aim to meet the needs of your employees
Keep your employees’ needs at the centre when defining financial well-being and outlining your objectives.
Understand the organizational environment
It’s important to have a good understanding of your workforce, work environment and resources. For example, some things to consider include:
Compile aggregate demographic data (age range, gender, income, education level and employee type, such as full- or part-time).
Determine your budget. Good financial wellness initiatives do not have to be expensive. There are low-cost options that may meet your organization’s needs.
Identify the people you’ll need to create, promote and manage the program and to communicate updates regularly. Do you have internal resources, or will you have to bring in external ones? For example, will you have a dedicated employee running this program, or will you hire a third party to help?
Existing financial programs and resources
Identify any existing internal financial programs and resources that could be leveraged. For example, do you have an employee assistance program provider, pension plan consultant or benefits provider that could help? If so, ensure they provide unbiased, neutral information. Do you offer any financial education courses, such as retirement planning, or a wellness and/or mental health program that you could expand to include financial wellness?
Benefit plan participation data
If applicable, look at your company’s existing benefits, pension and/or retirement savings plan data. This can help you better understand employee participation rates. It can also show you how your employees are already saving or allocating their assets (if applicable).
Compare with others
If applicable, look at participation rates for the other education programs you offer. Use similar approaches that appear to work and avoid the approaches that seem less effective.
The organizational information you gather can help you get a better sense of your employees’ needs—and what may be missing—when creating your financial wellness program.
Identify internal challenges
Employers sometimes face challenges when trying to put a workplace financial wellness program into place. When planning your program, consider which internal challenges or obstacles you may need to overcome.
These obstacles will vary from one organization to another. Large organizations may find that having employees in different locations or working shifts is an obstacle. Smaller organizations may pinpoint lack of time and resources as their most difficult challenge.
Identify potential obstacles so you can address them in your planning process and business case. Here are some of the biggest challenges organizations face in creating financial wellness programs, and some strategies to overcome them.
Lack of time, money and other resources
Lack of time, money and other resources is often a concern when proposing new projects. Possible strategies to overcome this include justifying the need for more resources or minimizing the resources required.
To justify the need for a larger budget and more resources, consider the following:
- Focus on and highlight the benefits of workplace financial well-being. Talk about how it will reduce financial stress, make employees happier and more productive, and lead to a positive return on investment
- Outline the cost of doing nothing. Show how employee financial stress causes a significant loss of workplace productivity and impacts the organization’s bottom line
Use information from the section on Why your employees’ financial well-being matters? to help make these arguments.
Even if you do not have a lot of resources to invest in a financial wellness program, you can still do something. Consider these strategies to minimize the cost or complexity:
Start off small and build gradually
You could start your financial wellness program with just a few initiatives. This could be in the form of a pilot project. Build up your program over time, allowing employee feedback to inform the next steps. Use the resources that you currently have and build additional money and resources into your plan over time.
Use free resources
If your organization has a limited budget, there are some free sources of off-the-shelf financial wellness programs and resources you can use see the Financial wellness resources for employers section for more information.
Leverage your existing vendors
If applicable, use financial wellness programs offered by your employee assistance program (EAP), payroll provider, pension plan or benefits provider. Keep in mind that there may be additional fees for this. If you are a member of a professional association, the association may have financial wellness resources that can help you. Make sure the information is objective and unbiased.
Hire outside help
If you have the financial means but not the time or resources, consider hiring a third-party vendor. There are companies or consultants that offer employee financial wellness programs or that can guide you through the process. Make sure the information provided is objective and unbiased.
Lack of interest among participants
Some organizations may be concerned that they will invest in a program, but employees won’t participate. Minimize this risk by:
- Conducting an employee needs assessment to be sure you understand the level of interest and needs of your employees. This will help you plan a strategy and develop content that is relevant to their life stages and life events. Employees will be more likely to take advantage of and appreciate the financial wellness program
- Choosing a mix of delivery channels (online, in-person, paper, etc.) that engages employees and caters to their preferences. Focus on providing a positive employee experience. Make information easy to find, access and understand
- Promoting your program effectively. Programs can fail if employees don’t know about them. Use a variety of methods to promote the program and increase awareness and interest among employees
- Offering incentives, like rewards or games, to encourage your employees to participate
Logistical challenges, such as multiple locations or shifts
Some studies have found that in-person, facilitated sessions during working hours are among the most popular for workplace financial education. However, that may not be the best approach for all organizations. If employees aren’t all located in one place or if they work shifts, getting people together at a common break time in a common place may not work.
There are many ways to make sure that the program is inclusive and accessible to all employees, regardless of location or work hours. To overcome logistical challenges, consider:
- offering online, self-guided programs that employees can work on when it’s most convenient to them
- either scheduling in-person sessions at multiple locations, with the facilitator going to each one, or using webinars that allow employees to be in multiple locations and access the facilitator on-screen
- addressing shift work by offering sessions at a time when shifts overlap
No senior management support
Having the support of senior management is critical to a successful program. Develop the business case for your workplace financial wellness program to sell the idea to decision makers. Make sure that it demonstrates the benefits to both your employees and the organization and that it highlights the return on investment. Use the findings from your employee assessment and organizational assessment. Supplement this with external research to show why your organization needs a financial wellness program. Engage senior management as participants and champions of the program.
If you think you may have trouble getting buy-in from management due to a lack of resources, propose starting small with a pilot project or propose other ways to minimize the costs.
Tip: Identify a champion to help sell the idea to senior management
Find someone influential and credible in your organization who believes in employee financial well-being to help convince senior management of its merits.
Make sure the resources, materials and vendors you use are not offering advice. They should provide unbiased, objective content that helps participants strengthen their knowledge, skills and confidence when making financial decisions. Include disclaimers that clearly explain that the objective of the program is to educate, not to sell or provide advice.
Use external research
You can use external research to supplement your own internal information when building your business case for your organization’s senior management. There are several recent surveys and research reports that have examined the financial well-being, challenges and needs of Canadians.
Some of these include:
Now that you’ve done your research, it is time to develop a business case for your financial wellness program to get senior management support.
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