Taking View of Employee Helps With Wellness Program Engagement

In a webcast sponsored by Benz Communications, the firm’s Engagement Strategist Megan Yost offered tips to better engage individuals in financial and health wellness.

In a webcast sponsored by Benz Communications, the firm’s Engagement Strategist Megan Yost said wellness benefits are becoming more focused on individual needs rather than programs.

“Financial stress and especially student loan debt is bubbling up as an American zeitgeist, and it expands across all generations,” she told attendees. “Some employees taking out student loans are parents and grandparents doing so for their children and grandchildren. The top Googled terms regarding financial stress are student loans, mortgages, payday loans and 401(k)s.”

Yost cited research from PwC that found not having enough emergency savings is the number one financial concern for all income groups, but second for those making less than $75,000 is not being able to make monthly expenses. PwC also found the top impact on employees of financial stress is on their health.

Yost said health and financial decisions are interconnected and related. The AARP finds one in five families struggle to pay medical bills, and a New York Times/CBS poll found 80% of respondents wanted to include discussion of costs in talks with doctors. PwC found individuals feeling financial stress are more likely to use health savings accounts (HSAs) for immediate expenses rather than long-term savings. Yost said these findings reflect the fact that employees are increasingly responsible for decisionmaking and costs.

Employers are expanding wellbeing beyond the traditional framework, and more are taking into account body, mind, wealth and purpose, Yost said. But there are barriers to engagement, including behavioral barriers, financial literacy, competing priorities, distrust of financial organizations and fear of discussing old age and death.

Yost offered tips to better engage individuals in financial and health wellness:

  • Keep jargon simple,
  • Provide employees with small steps to take,
  • Instead of scaring folks, use a positive framework,
  • Appeal to both logic and emotion,
  • Tell stories (examples) rather than facts,
  • Make it personal (about me), and
  • Treat employees like people not investors.

“We need to think about benefits in the way employees view them,” Yost said. “People see themselves as people trying to do the best for themselves and their families, not 401(k) investors or health care consumers, but patients trying to get the right care.” And she cited a PwC study that found perception has three times more impact than income alone on an employee’s overall sense of wellbeing.

Yost added that researchers have found education has a decaying effect. If concepts are not practiced over time, information is lost. This suggests plan sponsor and advisers need to communicate continually and show employees where they need to go to match their needs with resources. And, if plan sponsors or advisers communicate about something not applicable to employees, they will forget about it. Also, people learn differently, so some may need to hear it, read it or watch a video. Plan sponsors and advisers should use multiple mediums to communicate.

Yost said people are most engaged with finances at points of inflection—marriage, having a baby, buying a house, etc.—but also when there is a change within their workplace or a change in health or retirement plan design. “These are times employers can reach out and teach employees about resources to turn to where they know they can consistently find information they need,” Yost concluded.