Participation in financial wellness programs needs boosting
NEW ORLEANS — Why do employees fail to participate in financial wellness programs when they say they want them?
The answer is tied up with pride, according to SunTrust’s financial well-being executive Brian Ford.
“They think that by participating in the program that it will negatively reflect on them both personally and professionally,” Ford said at the Benefits Forum & Expo, explaining that many fear showing up and being “only one of seven dudes in the room.”
To help them overcome their worries, Ford urges employers to make it clear that the program is for everyone and not target “folks with 401(k) problems” or those making “only $10 an hour.”
“The program needs to be confidential,” he said at the conference, sponsored by Employee Benefit News and Employee Benefit Adviser.
Other reasons for the no shows are also at play. Some employees may decide not to participate because they think financial topics, like budgeting, are boring, while others fear being sold insurance and other financial products.
Employee misgivings help explain the gap between their professed strong interest in financial wellness programs and their low participation in them. Some 60% to 70% of employees say they want the programs, but only 10% actually participate, according to Ford.
The gap is wider than that observed with health and physical wellness programs.
Ford urged HR professionals to provide employee incentives to boost participation in financial wellness programs. Providing perks, such as lunch or raffles, usually doubles participation, according to Ford.
Some of the best companies on this front are rewarding employees by helping them build emergency accounts, he said. If an employee goes through a financial wellness program and establishes an emergency account to which he or she is contributing on a regular basis, the employer might consider throwing in a certain amount monthly.
“The incentive is helping the person get in a better place financially,” he said.
Ford also exhorted HR leaders to measure the performance of their programs. At a minimum, they should track employee satisfaction and utilization rates. Employees should be able to give the program at least an eight on a scale of one to ten, and at least 90% should be willing to recommend the program to others.
Employers should shoot for utilization rates of about 30% if their financial wellness programs do not come with incentives. With incentives, they should aim for 40%.
Employers with fewer than 500 employees, however, need to aim higher and hit 50% participation.
“The smaller you are, the more you should expect greater participation,” Ford said.