Despite optimism, U.S. employees keen for workplace financial help: study

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While the revitalized United States economy and strong financial markets are part of the story, the biggest factors affecting American employees’ financial optimism are tied to their personal situations, a study from Bank of America Merrill Lynch has found.

The majority (87%) of employees are optimistic about their financial future, including 48% of millennials, 37% of generation X-ers and 22% of baby boomers who said they’re very optimistic. The top reasons for their sunny outlooks are living within their means (51%), being in good health (49%) and having a well-paying job (45%).

But because their optimism depends on their individual situations, significant numbers of employees are concerned about those situations changing unexpectedly. More than half of respondents said they’re worried they might need to work for longer than they had anticipated (51% of men and 61% of women) or not be able to work because of illness (52% and 58%).

The study also found 56% of employees are stressed because of their personal finances. Of those, 53% said stress interferes with their on-the-job productivity. Employees are spending significant time at work dealing with their personal financial matters, ranging from an hour a week for baby boomers to four hours a week for millennials.

The top financial stressor across all age groups is saving for retirement, with 64% of respondents worried about saving enough. Millennials are also concerned about developing good savings habits and paying down debt, while generation X-ers worry about debt, budgeting and savings habits, and boomers think about planning for health-care costs and paying down debt.

To address these worries, respondents want their employers to facilitate financial education. “Whether just getting access to educational materials, financial professionals or a comprehensive financial wellness program, employers are seen as a trusted source for help by employees,” the report notes.

Read: Hamilton hospital hosts back-to-basics financial education series

The vast majority (86 per cent) of respondents would participate in a financial education program provided by their employer. At least 40 per cent of employees would like their employer to bring in professionals who provide general financial education as well as education tailored to age and finances, and who help them create a personalized financial strategy. Furthermore, half of respondents said they’d be more involved in their financial situation if they had a regularly scheduled financial review.

According to the study, 67% of employees said their employer helps them save for retirement.

“Making slight changes to retirement plan design and offering access to an action plan can encourage employees to make better decisions today and for the future — potentially positively impacting their financial situation and retirement savings because they are taking a more active role in managing their finances,” the report notes.

“More importantly, it can help employers establish a culture of financial wellness that can help reduce employee stress, help employees save more for retirement and help put them on a path towards retirement success.”

Transcontinental Media G.P.