Despite a surging stock market and low unemployment, several years of apparent financial good times for American workers may be heading in the opposite direction, according to a new survey from Willis Towers Watson.
The consulting firm’s biennial 2017 Global Benefits Attitudes Survey found that only 35 percent of nearly 5,000 U.S. employees polled felt satisfied with their financial situation this year. Two years ago, that number clocked in at 48 percent. Also, employees feeling satisfied with their financial situation had been improving steadily since the recession year of 2009, when it bottomed out at just 25 percent reporting being satisfied.
Another survey finding revealed that 34 percent of workers believe their current financial concerns are negatively affecting their lives. Two years ago, only 21 percent felt that way. Finally, 59 percent worry about their future financial state, according to Willis Towers Watson. In the last survey, that number stood at 49 percent.
So what’s going on?
Vincent Antonelli, senior consultant at Willis Towers Watson, said in a release that the “ongoing financial worries that are plaguing so many employees are taking a toll on their financial confidence.” He added that WTW knows from its research that more than half of all workers have experienced a major financial event in the past two years, such as divorce; a significant medical experience; or borrowing money from a friend, family member or payday loan.
“These factors, combined with growing debt and low wage growth, are leading to heightened worker angst,” he said.
As a result, productivity is, in part, bearing the brunt of this emerging trend, according to the research. For example, among “struggling” employees (identified as those worried about their short- and long-term finances; about 30 percent of the employees surveyed identified as “struggling”), about one-third report that “money concerns” were keeping them from doing their best at work. That translates into more absenteeism for those struggling employees.
Stress levels also are rising, as seven in 10 struggling employees reported high (37percent) or above average (33 percent) stress levels.
“Employers understand that financial worries, which are linked to stress, can have a negative impact on their employees’ personal and work lives,” said Shane Bartling, senior consultant at Willis Towers Watson, in the release.
What can employers do? One thing is to offer and promote service providers and technology solutions to employees suffering from personal financial issues, though there is some pushback as to how deep employers can delve into that situation.
While employees are eager for their employers to provide support and technology that deliver valuable guidance and suggestions on retirement and financial decisions, employees are very wary of personalized outreach.
“What’s the nuance? Workers are saying there is a distinct line between personalized tools where the interaction is controlled by the employee and personalized messages that can be unsettling,” he said.