Something is lacking in employer financial wellness programs. Even though an increasing number of employers are offering these programs and employees express a desire for them, employee participation rates are low.
A recent survey of roughly 667 employers who offered 401(k) plans and 657 employees who contributed to a 401(k) plan from Bank of America Merrill Lynch found that less than one-third of employees participated in financial wellness programs. The problem: a disconnect between what employees want from these programs and what employers provide.
According to the survey, which was conducted by Boston Research Technologies, employees desire financial freedom, a focus on the single next thing to do, taking one step at a time, and saving and investing for the future (including retirement).
Employers are more focused on the current circumstances of their employees — their employee finances and budgeting, understanding of the benefits that the employer provides, including health care coverage, and the impact of those benefits on employees’ personal finances.
Only 7% of employees identify health care as an important component of their financial wellness and 53% report skipping or postponing at least one medical appointment or medication to save money.
Employees want a personal program that provides a financial assessment as well as specific actions to take and means to track and measure their progress in reaching financial goals. Advice from a professional is the number one resource they cite for improving their financial wellness.
“Employees are speaking loud and clear about their desire for programs that give them a holistic, personalized and measurable roadmap for achieving financial wellness,” said Lisa Margeson, head of Retirement Client Experience and Communications at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, in a statement.
The report notes that 56% of employers surveyed say they offer broad and holistic financial wellness programs to employees and 46% report that they have expanded their financial wellness programs. Together (there may be overlap, but that’s not explained) they report a 71% increase in employee participation compared to last year.
The report concludes with recommendations and options for employers to increase employee participation in financial wellness programs: