Financial Wellness Decreases After Years of Improvement

Stress over money is contributing to distractions in the workplace, as well as health issues.
Employee financial wellness is on a decline after several years of improvement in many areas, according to PwC’s 2016 Employee Financial Wellness Survey.

Recent market volatility, continued wage stagnation and an election year are just a few of the factors that may be contributing to less-certain feelings about money. According to PwC’s survey, employees’ top financial concern is not having enough emergency savings for unexpected expenses, which rose 4% this year from 51% in 2015 to 55%.

“They just don’t have enough savings liquidity to withstand another downturn,” Kent Allison, partner and national practice leader at PwC, tells PLANSPONSOR.

Other concerns include not being able to retire at the desired age (37%), not being able to meet monthly expenses (25%), being laid off from work (20%) and not being able to keep up with debt (15%).

Millennials are slightly more worried about not having enough emergency savings (60%), compared with Gen X (56%) and Baby Boomers (50%). However, Millennials are the least concerned about being able to retire when they want to (25%), compared with 37% of Gen X and 45% of Baby Boomers. When asked if they think the next generation will be better or worse off financially than their own generation, 56% of all respondents predicted worse off, 21% predicted the same and 23% guessed they would be better off.

NEXT: Student loans, credit card debtOverall, PwC found that Millennials are in worse financial shape than older generations. They’re more likely to be stressed about their finances and distracted by their finances while at work. One big reason is student loan debt. Forty-two percent of Millennial employees have student loans, and 79% say these loans have a moderate or a significant impact on their ability to meet their other financial goals.

“You really have to have benefit plans that help people address [student loan debt],” Allison says. “So I would not be surprised if we see more focus on this student debt. It’s going to be a continued problem, and it’s causing additional stress, which impacts health, productivity.”

Allison adds that until financial issues including student loan debt are addressed, employees will have trouble focusing on long-term goals, including retirement.

According to this year’s survey, Millennials find it increasingly difficult to meet their household expenses (46% in 2016, compared with 35% in 2015). In addition, more Baby Boomers report carrying credit card balances this year (46%) than last year (37%). The survey doesn’t necessarily give an indication as to why credit card debt has risen in the Baby Boomer generation, Allison says, but he infers it’s because respondents feel increasingly uncertain about the markets and are struggling to meet everyday expenses. Using credit cards for monthly necessities they can’t afford otherwise is an issue across income levels, PwC found.

NEXT: Distracted by financial stress

Not surprisingly, employee financial stress rose this year with more than half (52%) of employees reporting that they find dealing with their financial situation stressful. Forty-five percent say their stress level regarding financial issues has increased over the past 12 months.

When asked what stresses them out most in life, 45% of respondents said financial challenges, compared with 20% who said their jobs, 15% each who said health concerns and relationships, and 6% who said other issues.

All of this financial stress can take a toll on work productivity. Twenty-eight percent of employees say that issues with personal finances have caused a distraction at work (up from 20% last year), and 46% of those who are distracted by finances at work say that they spend at least three hours each week at the office thinking about or dealing with issues related to their personal finances. What’s more is 28% of employees say these financial worries have affected their health, and 17% say they have caused decreased productivity at work. Millennials (12%) are more likely to have missed work occasionally due to their financial worries than Gen Xers (8%) or Baby Boomers (4%).

Considering all of these financial factors, Allison says plan sponsors and advisers should continue to explore holistic financial resources to pave the way for long-term savings. “The main thing we want to stress is while auto features are good to get people saving, you have to also couple that with resources to address the other issues,” Allison says.“If you’re getting them into the retirement plan, that’s great, but if you have lots of [leakage], it’s telling you you have another problem. We continue to tell plan sponsors to be holistic in their approach. Look at the other things that may impede or undermine their ability to save for retirement.”

The full research report is presented here.