Building Your Strategic Plan for Financial Well-Being

Gathering the right data and setting specific goals helps employers build a relevant financial wellness program for employees, according to Carrie Alexander and Tom Swain, with Findley.

Financial well-being programs are now mainstream among employers. Recent survey data show that over 76% now offer a program to help employees improve their financial health[1]. And for good reason: Financial stress is a leading detriment to workplace productivity, accounting for almost three hours of unproductive work time each week for every employee experiencing financial stress, according to New York Times bestseller “Wellbeing: The Five Essential Elements,” by Tom Rath and Jim Harter.

But the data also show that current financial well-being programs engage only a fraction of the workforce[2], and this is despite employee feedback that financial stress affects a majority of workers today[3]. The fact that so many employers now offer a financial well-being program is a strong indicator that executives believe in these programs.

The lack of employee engagement, however, is also a strong indicator that the programs being offered miss the mark with most employees. How should an employer address this issue? This article describes a strategic planning process to ensure that your financial well-being program engages your employees and realizes short- and long-term benefits to your organization.

Identify and understand your employees’ financial issues

There can be no one-size-fits-all strategy for financial well-being programs, because the financial challenges employees face depend on many factors, including age, family status, education and compensation. For instance, your Millennial employees are likely more concerned about managing their budget with a growing family, paying down student loan debt, affording a home and saving for long-term goals other than retirement. Your Generation X and Baby Boomer employees are likely more concerned about caring for parents and children, paying for their children’s college, saving for retirement, purchasing life insurance, and doing estate planning, for their family.

As an employer, you have a wealth of employee financial health information readily available. Your payroll, benefits enrollment and retirement program data enable a solid baseline understanding of your employees’ financial health and challenges, and provide important information for goal-setting, financial well-being program design, and execution strategies for your financial well-being program.


Employee Financial Well-Being Data Currently Available:

Employee/Household Demographics

Employee age

Status (exempt/nonexempt)

Job title

Employee location

Marital status

Number of dependents

Dependent ages

Employment history

Financial Stress/Success Markers

Wage garnishments

Recent 401(k) loans

Recent hardship withdrawals

Health-benefits-plan election

Health saving account (HSA) deferral rate

401(k) deferral rate

401(k) account balance

Current financial well-being program participation


Employee data analytics can help you establish employee profiles, including geographic, demographic and financial well-being profiles that will help define possible gaps that are causing underperformance in your current programs. It also can be used to establish baseline metrics—such as current financial health scores and projected successful retirement ages—that can be used in setting goals and evaluating the effectiveness of your strategic plan and programs going forward.

Define your goals

Your organization’s leaders understand the value of a strategic plan for critical initiatives but may not have time for a traditional multi-day approach—especially, specific to employee financial well-being. Yet, deploying these programs without clear objectives and desired measurable outcomes leads to ineffective use of resources. And without a clear plan for the outcomes and approach for financial well-being, you may not significantly positively affect those who need the most help.

Consider using Compression Planning, a facilitation technique designed to help busy leaders rapidly identify and build consensus on key goals and action items that form the foundation of their employee financial well-being approach.

Before the Compression Planning session, your leaders should gather workforce analytics on employee financial well-being. In the session itself, a trained facilitator poses prepared questions to guide leaders through brainstorming and action planning. The questions may include:

  • Three years from now, what does a culture of financial well-being look like at our organization?
  • What does our workforce, and its financial challenges, look like in 20xx?
  • What does success in our financial well-being program look like in 20xx? What should employees be responsible for? What should the organization take responsibility for?
  • What unique challenges exist in our environment—either within or external to the organization?

The facilitator then leads a prioritizing activity to define and build consensus for the top goals and objectives that become part of your strategic plan. Action steps for your strategic plan are then developed.

Create, implement and monitor your multi-year strategic plan for financial well-being

Your employee financial well-being project leaders then define the multi-year milestones and metrics for monitoring the success of your program, the improvements in employees’ financial health and return on investment (ROI) expected for the organization.  

A scorecard approach can then be employed, tracking the following common ROI measures against your organization goals, to measure improvements in employees’ financial health and ROI to the organization:

  • Wage garnishments and other deductions
  • Employee absenteeism
  • Employee self-reported financial stress
  • HSA participation and deferral rates
  • 401(k) participation and deferral rates
  • 401(k) hardship withdrawals and loans
  • Retirement ages
  • Employee turnover rates
  • Employee engagement and other survey feedback

Monitoring actual experience against goals begins as soon as leading indicator measurements can begin, with cumulative data gathered throughout the course of the multi-year strategic plan. Continuous monitoring enables measuring and evaluating your actual experience against the metrics and milestones set in the planning process.

In perspective

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau wrote, in 2014, “Financial wellness programs are not something employers are promoting just because they want to be good corporate citizens, though many do. Large and small employers are beginning to think about financial wellness programs at work because it makes business sense to do so. In an economy where so many employees are stressed about money, providing talented workers with tools to address that stress can be a competitive edge.”[4]

With several years’ more experience, we can now add that a strategic approach for delivering your employee financial well-being program is the key to successfully engaging your employees, helping them succeed financially and achieving your organization goals.  

Carrie Alexander is a managing consultant and Tom Swain is a principal, both at Findley.

This feature is to provide general information only, does not constitute legal or tax advice, and cannot be used or substituted for legal or tax advice. Any opinions of the author do not necessarily reflect the stance of Strategic Insight or its affiliates.

[1] National Business Group on Health/Fidelity Investments, Moving from Wellness to Well-Being: Seventh annual employer-sponsored health and well-being survey.

[2] Only 31% of employees participate in financial wellness programs. Bank of America Merrill Lynch, “2018 Workplace Benefits Report.”

[3] 54% of employees are stressed about their finances. PWC, Employee Financial Wellness Survey, 2018.

[4] Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, “Financial Wellness at Work: A Review of Promising Practices and Policies.”