The official newsletter publication dedicated to retirement plan insight topics and financial sustainability best practices for American workforces

by Jason Ashline ICMA-RC, Retirement & Financial Wellness Plan Consultant and

Founder of SUSTAINING FINANCIAL FUTURES

According to the American Psychological Association’s Stress in America, 2020 Study 72% of Americans reported feeling stressed about money at least some time in the past month. The COVID-19 pandemic has created a health and financial crisis in America. It has generated an opportunity and a wake-up call for organizations to reprioritize the need to implement comprehensive and long-term impactful Financial Wellness Education initiatives. Now more than ever, there is a critical need to develop a multi-channel approach and create long-lasting change in how financial decisions are being made by employees and their families. Our future health financial sustainability as a society depends on it.

Over the past 15 years, I have worked with hundreds of businesses and not-for-profit organizations and their thousands of employees to create and implement customizable financial wellness and retirement savings education initiatives that obtain highly measurable and sustainable results. It may seem like a daunting task, but I am going to share some of my top secrets from my years of experience about the best practices employers can take to create awareness and boost employee engagement and morale when it comes to financial wellness education.

PRACTICES FOR FINANCIAL WELLNESS IN 2021

The following 10 best practices by Jason Ashline ICMA-RC, if implemented correctly in 2021, will drive results, and create a powerful and effective financial wellness program:

(1) MANAGEMENT SUPPORT

 The number one reason why employer-based financial wellness education programs don’t work is the lack of C-Suite level executive support. The strength of the Human Resources Director or a key FinanceManager is often what makes or breaks it. Having a diverse and inclusive employee committee bolsters and ads credibility and buy-in from the employees’ standpoint and can provide “cover” to the executives that this initiative is important and legitimate.

(2) RESOURCES

The biggest myth out there is that it takes a lot of time, effort, and resources to create a high-impact program. However, what I have learned from my interactions with decision-makers over the years, is that if you can show them in a logical, and organized way how the program works, and who does what when they are more apt to buy-in. The critical element is showing them that they nor their support staff have to spend an excessive amount of time promoting and advertising.

(3) CONTENT PROVIDER

From a fiduciary perspective, the content provider should not be cross-selling products or services that have the potential to generate commissions or incentive compensation for the content provider’s employees. Avoiding this conflict of interest is crucial but is often overlooked. If the content provider or vendor has a turn-key, fully customizable multi-channel curriculum and repeatable approach, and if it can be done “out of the box” without having to invent topics on the fly, it will lead to a much higher success rate.

(4) MULTI-CHANNEL CURRICULUM

 In-person meetings are becoming more infrequent because of work priorities and due to circumstances like the pandemic. Also, learning styles vary based on a number of factors. Mobile apps are becoming a more critical tool to engage all populations, and customized apps are relatively inexpensive today. It is important to design a program where employees have an opportunity to seek out information on their own or in groups of people who they know. In-person or virtual breakfast and lunch, meetings can be quite effective. Virtualhappy hours are becoming the norm in some circles. Short videos using YouTube, Vimeo, or Brainshark technology have shown effectiveness. No longer will a one-channel approach be effective to drive the results and engagement desired.

 (5) CENTERS OF INFLUENCE

Typically, the key influencers like department heads, supervisors, or someone who is very knowledgeable about money and finances, will be the drivers of engagement on a business unit level because these are the individuals who employees in the unit look to for guidance and troubleshooting for daily job responsibilities. So, it is critical that the curriculum content is deep enough to fully engage influencers. If it is, they are more apt to take a keen interest and spread their influence to the masses. If you are able to “deputize” key influencers and they feel like they have a vested stake in promoting the wellness education program benefits, this will dramatically increase the success rate.

 (6) CALENDAR & MARKETING

 Some employees like to plan ahead, while with others, it is“go with the flow.” In order to make the programming appealing and ensure high participation, a well-timed,well-publicized, easy-to-follow schedule of events publicized well in advance is critical. Make sure it is“rinsed and repeated” several times.

(7) INCENTIVES

Some of the most successful organizations I have worked with over the years have used monetary and nonmonetary incentives to drive engagement and participation. Tying attendance or course completion and linking it to an individual annual performance review score, or by offering free vacation days, or other perks like wellness credits often drive high participation.

(8) RECOGNITION

 In addition to incentives, there should recognition of the individuals who attend and complete program events. A certificate, badge, pin, challenge coin, a stamp book like a passport of sorts signify that the employee has participated in and completed the program. Employees really appreciate a“thank you” from the employer or an employee committee member.

(9) FEEDBACK

At the end of each individual session, there needs to be a way for the employees to provide feedback about how useful the curriculum and information were. Feedback will help the content creator and employer make changes going forward to ensure future sessions are high-impact and well-received, and relevant.

(10) MEASURING RESULTS

Results should be both quantifiable, quantitative, and qualitative. Increasing contribution rates to 401(k) plans and increasing investment diversification with those plans could serve as one measure. Better overall awareness of the benefit offerings and services the employer currently provides new offerings that could be provided in the future is another possible outcome. Goals, objectives, and result measurements should be set early in the process. As noted by author Stephen Coveyexpressed in 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, “begins with the end in mind.”

CLOSING THOUGHTS

These 10 best practices if implemented correctly will make your workplace financial wellness program a key driver of employee happiness, retention, and financial engagement. I’ll be further expanding on these best practices in future posts, along with providing a sample Financial WellnessProgram curriculum to help you and your organization and its employees reach new peaks with sustainable financial futures in the 21st century.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jason Ashline ICMA-RC is a Minnesota-based, award-winning Retirement Plan Consultant and Financial Wellness Educator. In his over 15 years of professional experience, most recently at ICMA-RC and Mutual of America, he has assisted over 700 private companies, not-forprofit organizations, and government entities and their 85,000 plan participants with financial wellness education, investments, and plan design. For more information, contact at  j[email protected].

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