By KERRI SISSON, DANIEL BRYANT and HEATHER GARBERS
As far back as 2011, the Orlando hospital today known as AdventHealth was receiving kudos for its wellness program, called CREATION Health.
Designed by the hospital, then Florida Hospital, and the Adventist Health System, it was conceived as a holistic, faith-based family of solutions to the physical and emotional causes of poor health, and not just among its employees, but among people in the community it serves.
In addition to employee seminars on topics ranging from rest and relationships to nutrition and personal finance, it steers families in need to resources to help with their financial issues, including a hub for discounts and rebates on medical supplies and prescriptions and a service offering copay and medical bill relief to qualifying individuals.
How financial stressors are ailing healthcare workers
The healthcare industry’s growing focus on the wellness of its employees – particularly their financial wellness – has never been more timely. The coronavirus pandemic has taken more than a physical and emotional toll on frontline healthcare workers. It has destabilized the financial security of more than a third of them. One survey found that a substantial percentage are dealing with reduced income, starting with physicians (31%); health technologists and technicians (23%); physician assistants and nurse practitioners (22%); and paramedics and emergency medical technicians 21%).
Even before the pandemic, healthcare employees at all levels were dealing with financial stress. A 2018 survey, for example, found that 75% of employees in the healthcare and pharmaceutical industries believed their employers needed to take the lead on the issue. And small wonder: 45% of respondents said they were burdened with student debt, and the tab surpassed $50,000 for 55% of them.
There’s good reason for employers to act, given the costs to replace qualified health system staff – which some estimates put at 50% to 200% of the annual salary of key employees. In fact, another study of hospital systems found that every percentage point improvement in employee retention created an average annual savings of $373,200.
Another area of concern should be the lost productivity as a function of absenteeism and presenteeism when employees bring their money worries to work with them – with a cost of about 47 hours per employee per year.
How employers should look at financial wellness strategies
If the pandemic has aggravated the financial standing of healthcare workers, it has also provided a big opportunity for their employers to rethink their financial wellness strategies.
Employers that do incorporate financial wellness into their wellness program benefits typically institute financial literacy programs that offer on coaching and investment advice geared to retirement savings and 401(k) plans. That’s not a bad thing. This meets a big need. Employees would be happy with a higher employer contribution to their retirement savings. But studies show they would be happier still with improved guidance on how to save smarter.
A more effective financial wellness strategy, though, is to put a more holistic spin on solutions offered as there’s more to an employee’s financial stress than retirement savings shortfalls. And there’s a wealth of solutions to sponsor, many at a low cost, or no cost, and some may already available, just hidden within the current employee benefits lineup.
It does take rigor, utilization of employee analytics, and follow-through, though, to create financial wellness programs that respond to the particular needs of employee segments within the healthcare system. The best starting point is through a task force for the re-set that brings together employee and retirement benefits specialists and whose work is clearly championed by company leadership.
Three steps to achieve optimal outcomes
The team should concentrate its efforts on three areas:
Dig deep into employee needs. A one-size-fits-all approach results in underutilized benefits. Employee analytics help uncover specific financial pain points and which employee groups experience them. The issue is which data sources will inform the strategy and guide the choice of relevant solutions. Utilization trends for current benefits can be one avenue, along with patterns for sick and vacation day usage. Retirement plan contribution and borrowing patterns also help. Confidential employee surveys are useful. And consider employee persona analysis for deeper insights than generational segmentation. Analytics will be invaluable for pointing the way to financial solutions that matter to employees.
Explore the possibilities. The level of financial illiteracy in America is shocking. It’s not just learning how to save for retirement, but how to invest and how to dig out from debt – and avoid it altogether – that employees would value. Employee assistance programs (EAPs) may have services to be promoted in the program. The current benefits lineup likely has other services like legal benefits that have been overlooked and also should be promoted. Consider a benefits audit to uncover them even as new services are added. For example, an industry has been built around student loan debt solutions; direct contributions by employers are optional (though there are tax benefits for doing so). Paycheck advance or early wage access programs can also help employees avoid the usurious costs of payday loans. Just the act of providing these services is a boon as they likely would be inaccessible to individuals.
Get the word out and build engagement. Design a campaign to promote programs facets and benefits. The best results will come when promotional messages are aligned with solutions and employee segments that need them the most. Optimal exposure and utilization of the financial wellness solutions will hinge on communications that are clear and concise, sent regularly and through channels that are relevant to specific employee groups. Another must-have is an engagement strategy to drive awareness and enrollment.
Kerri is Area Vice President, Leading Edge Benefit Advisors, LLC, a HUB International Company. She joined Leading Edge Benefit Advisors in Fort Myers in 2004 and most recently served as managing partner. Leading Edge was acquired by Hub Florida in November 2020.
Daniel Bryant is the President of Retirement and Private Wealth for Sheridan Road Financial, a division of HUB International. He also is an adjunct lecturer, entrepreneur, philanthropist and Iron Man, and recently published The Financial Wellness Mandate.
Heather Garbers, CVBS, is Vice President of Voluntary Benefits and Technology for Hub International, where she is responsible for driving voluntary benefits sales and strategy. She is also responsible for partnering with clients to build optimal enrollment and communications solutions that enhance employee understanding of and engagement in voluntary plan options.