Employers Who Help Employees in Need: Valued Employers, Indeed

“When it all closes in, there are only two kinds of people: best friends and everyone else.” — Emery LordConnectingtheDots

This quote struck home with me as I thought of employers’ role in helping workers through what is potentially one of the most challenging times in their lives thanks to the current pandemic. The impacts may be emotional, physical, and financial.

Here’s why: A number of years ago, my husband had an accident that put him in the hospital for a week and incapacitated him at home for several weeks after. My colleagues at work and my employer could not have been more supportive. Co-workers covered for me so that I could take care of my husband, and my employer allowed me as much flexibility in my schedule as I needed. After things got back to normal for me, I never forgot how my employer and colleagues helped me out when I needed it most, and I believe it inspired in me greater loyalty and productivity.

Such is the challenge many employers face today: How do they support their employees in the face of a global crisis — show they care — even as they themselves struggle to stay afloat?

The good news is that many employers have already set themselves on the road to help employees by offering financial wellness initiatives and, in particular, emergency savings assistance. That’s because, even before the pandemic, workers demonstrated challenges with affording emergency needs. We know research from the Federal Reserve shows that families with working heads aren’t saving adequately for emergencies. According to EBRI estimates from Fed data, only 20.1 percent of such families had liquid savings of more than three months of their family income. In other words, most workers were struggling with unexpected expenses even before the pandemic.

And employers were taking notice. According to EBRI’s February Issue Brief — from a survey fielded in 2019 — titled “Emergency-Fund-Focused Employers: Goals, Motivations, and Challenges,” more than 4 in 10 (43.6 percent) employers that expressed at least some interest in offering financial wellness programs said they offer (28.2 percent) or plan to offer (15.3 percent) an emergency fund/employee hardship assistance as a financial wellness initiative. Granted, much of what is being offered is in the form of more traditional approaches to emergency help, such as employee relief/compassion funds (44 percent). However, employers expressed considerable interest in more cutting-edge offerings such as sidecar or rainy day accounts. While only 8 percent of the “emergency-fund-focused” employers offered such products, nearly 1 in 5 emergency-fund-focused respondents (19 percent) said they were planning to offer rainy day accounts; another 29 percent expressed some interest in such offerings.

Still, not everyone is on board with employers offering emergency savings help; some have suggested that employers should concentrate on improving job quality and pay and not just on ways to make it easier for workers to save for emergencies. And indeed, the Fed report notes that while only 56 percent of adults with family income less than $40,000 a year said they are doing okay financially, 79 percent of those earning between $40,000 and $100,000 annually reported this to be true, and more than 90 percent of adults with income greater than $100,000 a year reported this. Further, in the current situation, varying income will clearly be a source of financial fragility. According to the Fed report, one-third of those with varying income said they struggled to pay their bills at least once in the prior year due to their varying income.

However, the counterpoint to this is the high incidence of employers who point out that many of their financially strapped workers are earning six-figure salaries. Underscoring this, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau reports that while income is a predictor of financial behavior, both financial skill and financial self-efficacy are materially more significant predictors. In other words, financial stability is not just predicated on salary level but also on an individual’s skill and confidence in navigating their finances.

As such, employers’ efforts in providing emergency savings help appear well founded. In the “Emergency-Fund-Focused Employers: Goals, Motivations, and Challenges” Issue Brief, the number one reason for offering emergency savings help was improved overall worker satisfaction (44 percent). At a Financial Finesse employer conference, I noted that it was interesting that the primary motivation of employers appears to be altruistic. However, the employers in the room agreed that worker satisfaction is both altruistic and bottom-line oriented: Satisfied employees are loyal and productive employees.

Employee satisfaction can be difficult to measure. In contrast to the more than 4 in 10 employers that listed worker satisfaction as a reason to offer financial security initiatives such as emergency savings help, fewer than 3 in 10 said that employee satisfaction is used to measure their initiatives’ effectiveness. Meanwhile, the majority of emergency-fund-focused employers said they fully or partially pay for employees’ financial wellness initiatives, and they reported the average annual per-employee cost for initiatives to be $110.68. In short, if employers cannot connect the dots between improving overall worker satisfaction and offering emergency savings help, it will be difficult for them to justify paying for such initiatives.


To learn more about the latest trends in emergency savings help, join us on April 8 for a webinar on this topic.


 

The members of EBRI’s Financial Wellbeing Research Center understand this very well and are dedicated to EBRI’s mission of using empirical data to make those connections. Together, we are building a database of employee financial wellness initiatives and will explore how such initiatives move the dial on employee behavior in a variety of different ways. The goal is to provide research for employers as they continue seeking to make the case for assisting workers in need.

One more potentially pertinent quote about the current crisis: “I’ve got some bad news and I’ve got some good news. Nothing lasts forever.” (Kate McGahan). Well, perhaps one thing may last if my experience is any guide: Employees’ view of how their employers helped them navigate this crisis.

About ebriorg
President and CEO, EBRI

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