Financial Well-Being is a Health Benefit: Archetype Advisors Thoughts
ARCHETYPE’S ADVISOR THOUGHTS
an Interview with Shira Wilensky, National Practice Leader, Health and Wellbeing at OneDigital
Published June 17, 2021 by Archetype Solutions Group
8 minute read
It’s about time we start thinking of financial well-being as a health benefit we offer to employees. Financial stress takes a massive toll on both our mental and physical health. Offering financial well-being resources to employees does more than just teach them about interest rates or help them save for retirement. It can impact their overall health and quality of life.
When we talk about holistic solutions to improving the well-being of our employees, we should be using resources like financial well-being that get at the root cause of problems. Our Advisor, Shira Wilensky, National Practice Leader for Health and Wellbeing at OneDigital, agrees. In our interview, Shira gave us her insight on the front lines of benefits innovation. She shares where employers need to rethink their approach to traditional wellness benefits if they want to really support their employees.
IT’S AN EXCITING TIME FOR EMPLOYEE BENEFITS
Prior to the pandemic, financial well-being, much like mental health benefits, were projects that were often relegated to the very corner of someone’s desk. While financial well-being has been a hot topic in the workplace well-being industry, most employers struggled to prioritize it highly on their list of things to accomplish for employees. Post the pandemic that has all changed, and Shira says that it’s an incredibly exciting period of time to be working in the employee benefits space.
“We are definitely in the midst of an opportunity to really make advances that normally would have taken years in a very short amount of time.”
The benefits marketplace is reacting to the growing needs of employees with many new products and fresh takes on older ones. With companies taking a customizable approach to their offerings, now really is the perfect time for employers to invest in something new.
EMPLOYEES WANT FINANCIAL WELL-BEING SUPPORT
Most people had to take a frank look at their finances during the pandemic. Many were left with the stark realization that if they had been laid off their savings wouldn’t have been enough. Adults who lost their jobs were forced to move back in with their parents. Those hoping to buy a home were met with highly inflated prices. Women were especially impacted by the pandemic, as they were forced to put their careers on the back burner because of the cost of childcare.
Now, nearly 60% of individuals feel it’s important for employers to offer financial well-being support as a benefit. Why? Financial stress doesn’t just go away once someone opens their laptop.
“Everybody likes to pretend that their employees leave ‘personal issues’ at the front door when they walk into work every day, but we have seen that it all comes with them,” Shira shared. Employees carry their financial stress into meetings, while sending emails, and every other part of their jobs.
HEALTH AND FINANCES ARE LINKED
Shira highlighted that financial strain and stress can cause real health issues. The stress that issues related to finance can cause has been linked to insomnia. It can cause overeating and make it difficult for people to eat healthier, which impacts chronic conditions like diabetes. Financial stress has also been linked to mental health issues; it can triple the likelihood of developing mental health problems like depression or anxiety.
Shira says, “In some cases, the best mental health solution is a financial well-being solution.”
Financial stress also impacts productivity, impairs your ability to problem solve, increases absenteeism and presenteeism. All of these put your job at risk, “which is your ability to earn money, which is the reason why you’re stressed out in the first place. So, it is certainly a vicious cycle.”
“78% of adults are losing sleep, worrying about their everyday expenses. I guarantee they’re not just worrying about it when they’re going to bed every night.” Financial stress is pervasive as it infects every part of your life. Shira says that business leaders need to pay more attention to the fact that “the whole person is coming to work every day. Any opportunity to do good for employees, to take care of them, to prioritize your people, results in doing well as a business because you’re maximizing your investment in your people.”
WELLNESS ISN’T ENOUGH
New studies are coming out which question the efficacy of employee “wellness” programs. Rather than wellness, leaders in the space suggest employers should focus on the programs which help improve holistic well-being. Programs, such as those that tackle financial stress, create real results by improving an employees’ overall sense of well-being. This, in turn, results in higher productivity and increased employee loyalty.
“We are getting away from some of the traditional programs and getting more focused on what is it that employees really want and value. More and more companies are offering the tools and resources to really expand access to and address whatever aspects of an employee’s health and well-being that are meaningful and important to them.”
FINANCIAL WELL-BEING IS THE LAST PIECE
Gallup asserts that true well-being is the combination of five factors: Career, Social, Physical, Community, and Financial Well-being. Financial well-being encompasses concepts like financial security, income, debt mitigation, and so much more.
Shira explained that most employers are probably already doing a lot to support the financial well-being of their employees. 401k programs, offering tuition reimbursement, student loan assistance, and matching programs help support employees significantly. However, if these resources already exist, it is imperative that the way we communicate them changes. “How we put it all together and put it in the context of well-being” is important Shira says.
With more than half of adults in the United States financially illiterate, employers who are able to provide educational solutions will make all the difference. However, there are some challenges that can impede adoption. Most people feel that their financial stress is too big of an issue to tackle, and they aren’t fully aware of how carrying that stress impacts their health. In fact, thirty-two percent of Americans would rather go to the DMV than work on a detailed financial plan. Americans also find the concept of finances highly personal. Shira provided a straightforward solution to these challenges:
“There are plenty of tools and resources available to educate, budget, and save, but the most impactful solution is individualized coaching with a financial expert.”
Every employee is unique, and they will approach their well-being differently. Employers should look for solutions that are both educational and customizable in nature if they want to ensure high engagement rates. The bottom line is, if you want to provide a holistic benefit that really can make an impact on the physical and mental health of your employees, financial well-being resources should be at the top of your list.
Shira brings 15 years of experience in corporate wellness and healthcare, innovative and cost-saving strategies, and infectious enthusiasm for wellbeing. Shira creates organizational strategies to manage healthcare costs, promote wellbeing and engagement, and ensure OneDigital clients maximize their workforce and organizational performance. OneDigital’s three-prong approach to Health & Wellbeing includes proprietary tools to identify cost drivers, organizational challenges, and employee needs and interests. Prior to OneDigital, Shira developed medical management and care coordination programs including a reference-based pricing plan as the VP of clinical affairs for a health plan administrator. Her wellbeing and employee engagement consulting experience includes program development, compliance and evaluation, oversight of implementation and operations, and creating customized strategic plans.
Shira’s academic background includes a BS in Sports Medicine and an MS in Sports Administration from Florida State University. She has also completed coursework for her Ph.D. in Health Services Research at UNC Charlotte and taught at the undergraduate level. Her area of study focused on primary care and appropriate healthcare utilization including the use of the Emergency Department, chronic disease management, and compliance with well-visits and preventive screenings.
Shira attributes her career in health and wellbeing to her early exposure to health and fitness as an aerobics instructor and strength and conditioning coach in college. Shira remains enthusiastic about exercise from yoga to CrossFit. You can also find her in the woods with her German Shepherd, Cajun. Born and raised in New Orleans, Shira remains a foodie, true to her roots (extra motivation to stay active)!