EBRI Issue Brief

2021 EBRI Financial Wellbeing Employer Survey: Focus on COVID-19 and Diversity Goals

Oct 28, 2021 29  pages


The fourth annual Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) Financial Wellbeing Employer Survey shows that maturing financial wellbeing programs have become increasingly holistic and are highly likely to have a strategy for improving their employees’ financial wellbeing. However, the uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic persists, and the programs being offered are being impacted. With costs continuing to being reported as the top challenge in offering financial wellbeing programs, employers are looking for ways to measure their impact, with employee retention and productivity being cited the most.

  • Concern for Employees' Wellbeing Grew — In addition to the signs of financial wellness programs maturing, the companies’ level of concern about their employees’ financial wellbeing also grew in 2021.  On a 10-point scale (10 being the highest), 34 percent of employers rated their concern at 9 or 10 (high) in 2021, up from one-quarter in the prior years.
  • Top Issues, Areas of Focus, and Challenges — The top issues companies seek to address with their financial wellness initiatives are retirement preparedness, health care costs, and financial-related stress. Likewise, the top areas of focus by employers with financial wellness initiatives are health/medical/physical and retirement planning. Basic finance or budgeting are also in the top areas of focus. The top challenges to offering these programs continue to be costs both to the employer and the employee. Outside of costs, data and privacy concerns and complexity surrounding the programs are the top challenges employers say they face.
  • Benefits Gaining in Importance — Some of the benefits that were the most commonly currently offered also ranked highest among those that companies plan to offer: personalized financial counseling, coaching, or planning and basic money management tools. At the same time, a relatively high proportion of employers also plan to offer financial wellness benefits such as credit/debt counseling, coaching, or planning and incentives/gamification around savings and financial actions.
  • Caregiving Benefits — The caregiving benefits most often offered have to do with leave policies as opposed to benefits in the direct provision of caregiving. However, one-third of employers said they plan to offer each of the surveyed caregiving benefits, even those dealing with the direct provision of care, in the next 1–2 years.
  • Top Priority Since Pandemic— Initiatives that are a top priority of employers, deal with immediate financial help — emergency fund/employee hardship assistance and short-term loans through payroll deduction, through a third party. Roughly half of the emergency fund/hardship assistance features currently offered were added in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Companies Have Taken Actions to Understand the Needs of Diverse Workers and Have Tailored Benefits for Different Groups of Workers — Benefit decision makers were highly likely to agree that their companies provide safe spaces for their employees to provide feedback on their needs, understand the needs of their distinct employee population, and have put substantial effort into identifying the financial wellness needs and inequities among their work force demographics. Furthermore, benefit decision makers were also highly likely to agree that their companies’ financial wellness initiatives are tailored to the values and needs of various communities in their work force, that their companies ensure that their employees have access to financial counselors or coaches from diverse backgrounds, and that their companies’ financial wellness initiatives address the unique barriers faced by many racial and ethnic groups.
  • Specific Actions Addressing Diversity —The most cited action for addressing diversity, equity, and inclusion was offering communication and education materials in multiple languages, while the second most cited action was ensuring that the look and feel of communications/solutions is diverse. The least likely action to be taken was tailoring messages by gender or for minority populations.

Financial wellness programs have evolved from a focus on retirement preparedness to a more complete picture across all aspects of an individual’s finances. With the hope of reducing employees’ financial stress and increasing productivity, companies are looking for better ways to evaluate the impact of their financial wellbeing programs, whether on a retention/recruitment or productivity basis.

The continued evolution of financial wellness programs is a crucial question going into 2022. As these programs grow in value to employees, the expectation that they will be provided will only increase. These programs also have the potential to address companies’ diversity, equity, and inclusion goals, as they increasingly focus on providing help in all aspects of individuals’ finances, allowing them to match the specific issues faced by those in different groups.

This survey was made possible through funding from Bank of America, Church Pension Group, Financial Finesse, HealthEquity, International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans, J.P. Morgan, Lincoln Financial Group, Mercer, Morgan Stanley, Principal Financial Group, Prudential Financial, and SoFi.