EBRI Issue Brief

Perceived Helpfulness of Financial Well-being Programs: Results From the 2017 and 2018 Retirement Confidence Surveys

Aug 20, 2018 19  pages


Executive Summary

Employers are increasingly focused on the financial stress that their workers are facing, and are seeking ways to help reduce it. The goals are myriad: increasing worker productivity, reducing workplace turnover, attracting talent, improving the use of defined contribution (DC) plans, and more. In other words, increasing workers’ financial well-being can be beneficial not only to workers, but to the employer as well.

In order to document workers’ interest in various well-being programs, the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) along with Greenwald & Associates added questions to the annual Retirement Confidence Survey (RCS) about these programs in 2017 and 2018. Questions were asked about whether workers felt stressed about their finances and preparation for retirement. Subsequent questions were then asked about if the workers felt that various workplace financial well-being programs would be beneficial and help them be more productive at work.

Stress about retirement: Workers were asked if they felt stressed about preparing for retirement in two different manners between the 2017 and 2018 surveys. Despite the differences, it was clear that a significant percentage of workers were stressed in both years. In particular, workers with lower incomes or in poor health were more likely to feel stressed about preparing for retirement.

Worrying about finances at work: Thirty percent of workers overall reported worrying about finances at work. Furthermore, of those worrying about finances, 70 percent worried at least somewhat often. Many important factors were correlated with this worrying. For example, nearly three quarters (71 percent) of those who said debt was a major problem worried about finances at work, compared with just 9 percent of those who said debt was not a problem. More than half (55 percent) of those who were not confident about living comfortably in retirement were worried about finances at work vs. just 7 percent of those who were very confident.

Helpfulness of workplace financial well-being programs: An overwhelming majority of workers thought the following programs would be either very or somewhat helpful: help calculating how much to save for a secure retirement (75 percent), help calculating how much to anticipate spending each month in retirement (72 percent), planning for health care expenses in retirement (72 percent), and help with comprehensive financial planning (68 percent). Other financial well-being programs scored lower when it came to perceived helpfulness. Fewer than half of workers thought debt counseling or budgeting help would be helpful. Notably, fewer than four in ten (39 percent) workers thought student loan debt assistance programs would be helpful in preparing for retirement. However, younger workers were much more likely to perceive these programs as being helpful than older workers. 

Impact on worker productivity: A majority of workers thought retirement planning and financial planning programs would increase their productivity at work. The other programs that had higher likelihoods for increased workplace productivity include financial planning (48 percent) and health care planning (47 percent) programs. Interestingly, debt counseling (29 percent) was thought to be the least likely to be helpful for productivity. Again, younger workers were more likely to think that some of these programs were helpful than older workers. In particular, younger (ages 25-34) workers were more likely to think that debt counseling, expense management, prioritizing savings, and budgeting programs were helpful than older (ages 55 or older) workers.

Improvement of mental health: Patterns were similar to those on the impact on worker productivity when it came to the perceived impact of financial well-being programs on workers’ mental health. Just over half (51 percent) of workers said that financial planning and retirement planning programs would be somewhat or very helpful in improving their mental health. Corresponding to the results on worker productivity and debt levels, workers for whom debt was a major problem were more likely to report that the same programs would also be helpful in improving their mental health