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Living Well

Fridays (with Benefits) - Is your financial wellness program really working?

Financial wellness programs are becoming more common these days, but to many employees, they're just sort of "there." Meaning, there might not be a clear reason for how companies are implementing these perks into their existing benefits offerings. And if employees aren't clear about how to best use financial training, how can we determine if they're successful?

Thankfully, research from Cerulli Associates has managed to track the ROI of financial wellness programs, and how they could better benefit employees in and out of the workplace.

Measuring the Success of Financial Wellness Programs - Lee Barney, PlanSponsor

As mentioned above, it's not always clear how financial wellness programs are being digested employees, so it helps when things start with clearly stated goals. This isn't surprising, of course. Especially when it comes to things like improving retirement planning. But when it comes to things like financial literacy and improving productivity, there's a little more gray area to explore.

Cerulli asked record keepers how they measure the effectiveness of their financial wellness programs, and the results werefairly straightforward:

  • 71% participation
  • 67% website activity
  • 62% contribution rates
  • 57% participant surveys
  • 38% retirement income replacement ratios
  • 38% financial wellness scores

These barometers do a good job addressing top-line items. But some experts cited in the article feel some deeper data will give a better idea into how financial wellness programs are changing behaviors for participants. Things like users getting 401(k) deferrals, 401(k) loans, hardship withdrawals, and even short-term payday loans are far more telling. Because they're measuring financial stress -- a key reason for having financial wellness programs in the first place.

And this same research is showing that financial stress is directly correlated with lower employee productivity.

According to Cerulli's survey of 1,500 401(k) plan participants it conducted in Q2 2019:

"...participants under the age of 40 are markedly more concerned about student loan debt. Those between the ages of 30 and 49 are most stressed about saving for retirement, while those 50 and older are most focused on health care expenses. Those with less than $100,000 in investable assets are more likely to cite lack of emergency savings and credit card debt as a financial concern compared to their more affluent peers. Women say their top stressor is retirement savings, and men say it is health care expenses."

In other words, there's a lot of financial training that needs to happen … for a lot of different reasons. The article goes on to highlight more-detailed research about financial wellness, but the takeaway is clear -- proper financial training is going to do a lot more than just give workers knowledge. It's going to give workers security and planning ability, which may just result in better productivity along the way.

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Fridays (with Benefits) is a weekly roundup of the latest headlines about employee benefits -- from FSAs to fitness programs and everything workplace wellness. It appears every Friday, exclusively on the FSAstore.com Learning Center. And for the latest info about your health and financial wellness, be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Living Well

Fridays (with Benefits) - Are employers offering millennials the right benefits?

We live in a society that's all about "bigger," "faster" and "more." But, as we're learning in the workplace benefits arena, "more" doesn't always equal "better." At least that's what we're getting from the new employee research covered in BenefitsPRO, which told us that workers -- specifically millennials -- want more help for all-around wellness. It seems their needs simply aren't being met, even after companies continue to blindly pile on other offerings.

Millennials want more employer support for well-being - Katie Kuehner-Hebert, Benefits PRO

Let's get right to the numbers here. In a recent Welltok report, "Millennials: Raising the Bar for Wellbeing," this much-maligned, often-misunderstood generation isn't asking for the moon. They just want benefits that provide holistic support for physical, mental and financial well-being. Yet, of the 1,000 employees surveyed, 78% think their companies can do more.

In turn, just 23% felt they knew where (and how) to access the well-being resources being offered by their employers. In other words, the answers might actually be there, but employees are having a hard time finding them.

Despite all this automation, millennials have also shown an affinity for personalized experiences. And health and wellness is no exception. More than 60% of surveyed felt that their benefits were uniform across the board, even though employee needs varied widely. And it seems this "one size fits all" approach is preventing them from taking part in company programs, too.

So, how do employers change the story? Well, according to the article, adding incentives that encourage participation would help. These benefits aren't AS surprising, but it makes sense as to why millennials would want them. Here's what respondents seemed to want the most:

  • Extra vacation time (64%)
  • Wellness benefits (56%)
  • Flexible work schedules (53%)

And though it wasn't part of the incentives list, millennials are also (unsurprisingly) very interested in financial stability… and maybe the training to make it happen.

All in all, this was an interesting read that aligns with what we've said about what motivates millennials in the workplace. But it also reintroduces the biggest point -- companies likely need to adapt and evolve their benefits programs to help retain this diverse generation of workers.

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Fridays (with Benefits) is a weekly roundup of the latest headlines about employee benefits -- from FSAs to fitness programs and everything workplace wellness. It appears every Friday, exclusively on the FSAstore.com Learning Center. And for the latest info about your health and financial wellness, be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Living Well

Fridays (with Benefits) - Is holistic wellness the next big thing in benefits?

Wellness has practically become a buzzword in benefits circles. What used to mean "checkups" and "exercise" is now an all-encompassing term that covers virtually every part of a person's health. This means employers need to think bigger with their wellness offerings -- gym memberships and fresh fruit only go so far. The latest wrinkle in the wellness discussion? Holistic viewpoints. Let's dive in...

Investing in holistic wellness leads to more productive employees - Katie Kuehner-Hebert, BenefitsPRO

According to an Optum/National Business Group on Health survey of 2,200 workers from large companies, wellness needs to extend beyond the norm, to cover things as broad as financial health and mental well-being. Because these all add to a better employee experience.

In fact, the survey shows that a renewed, forward-thinking focus on wellness is directly related to employee productivity and loyalty, as well as their overall health. Not only did the surveyed employees indicate boosts in job performance and positive opinions about their employers.

However, it was clear from the results that financial well-being needs to be higher on the priority list. Nearly ⅓ of employees claimed they wanted more options available to them. This, along with improvements in prescription drug costs, are the biggest problem areas that employers could realistically solve, within reason.

But there was some better news -- 71% of employers are now offering mental health support. While these may not be as comprehensive as people want -- 25% claimed they wanted expansion in this area -- it's still a positive sign that employers are stepping up to prevent employee burnout and other long-term effects of stress.

The article makes some interesting finds about the things employees want the most from their benefits plans, and is well-worth the five minute read.

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Fridays (with Benefits) is a weekly roundup of the latest headlines about employee benefits -- from FSAs to fitness programs and everything workplace wellness. It appears every Friday, exclusively on the FSAstore.com Learning Center. And for the latest info about your health and financial wellness, be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.


Living Well

Fridays (with Benefits) - 5/17/19 - Making wellness programs better

It's safe to say we love employee wellness programs around here. Not only do we cover them extensively in this column, but we even launched an entire retail site around it!

But that doesn't mean these programs don't have room for improvement. In this week's headline, Employee Benefit News dives into some proposed ways employers (and employees) can boost the effectiveness of these programs to make strides in their health and workplace performance.

Making wellness work: 5 ways employers can improve programs - Rebecca Madsen, Employee Benefit News

We knew wellness programs were growing in prominence, but we didn't realize how much. But Madsen opens this article with a (really) encouraging stat -- midsize and large employers are expected to spend an average of $3.6 million on well-being programs during 2019, according to a study by the National Business Group on Health (NGBH).

And why wouldn't they? Any investment in happier, more productive workers is a win for all involved. But even we were surprised by how quickly workers were adopting these initiatives into their lives. According to the article, UnitedHealthcare reported 57% of surveyed employees said workplace wellness has positively affected their lives.

So how do employers plan to boost that 57% statistic? By empowering employees to make the most of their wellness opportunities. Here are a few highlights that Madsen felt were important to make this happen.

Modify lifestyle choices

Looking beyond basic dietary advice, employers should consider ways to encourage healthier choices throughout the workday, such as having meetings while walking, offering onsite fitness equipment to use while working, or providing the option for a stand-up desk.

(And for the diet-conscious? Healthy food options and incentives to eat better, even with that awesome burrito place located right down the block.)

Make incentives matter

According to the article, mid-sized and large employers this year will offer an average per-employee well-being incentive of $762, according to the NBGH study. It seems a little high, but it might be the going price. UnitedHealthcare's survey found that, among people who said it would require an incentive for doing health-related activities, 53% said between $1 and $3 per day would motivate them to achieve that goal.

Support socializing

Health isn't just about diet and exercise. People need to like being in the workplace, and socialization plays a big role in making it happen. The article suggests that incorporating social components into your well-being programs will improve adoption and retention. Some of these strategies include walking groups, employee appreciation days and team-building activities such as volunteer events.

It's clear that wellness programs aren't going anywhere but up, in both reach and quality of offerings. But now it's important that employees don't treat these opportunities as "one off" situations, and actually incorporate them into the regular work routines. In other words, those walking meetings need to happen more than once, and in-office snacks shouldn't revert to donuts and chips as soon as the seasons change.

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Fridays (with Benefits) is a weekly roundup of the latest headlines about employee benefits -- from FSAs to fitness programs and everything workplace wellness. It appears every Friday, exclusively on the FSAstore.com Learning Center. And for the latest info about your health and financial wellness, be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Living Well

Real Money: Taking stock of your mental health in the workplace

Taking care of your mental health should be as important as taking care of your physical health. After all, if you're not coping well in your daily life, it might affect your work, your relationships and even your peace of mind.

What if your job is really stressing you out, to the point where you're going to suffer from burnout, or the stress is a symptom of major anxiety or depression?

There is no shame in getting help. Seeking mental health screenings and other types of preventative measures is not only important, but might even be necessary. Of course, we're not doctors, so be sure to speak with a licensed medical professional before taking on any new wellness programs or making significant changes to your routine.

Keeping your emotions in check

While it's normal every once in a while to have a bad day at work, there are some emotions and symptoms that can indicate something more serious. For example, you can feel tired if you're working a lot, but constantly feeling tired to the point where you don't want to get out of bed isn't common.

Other signs include:

  • Extreme mood changes, like feelings of euphoria then prolonged feelings of irritability or anger
  • Drastic changes in eating habits
  • Consistently avoiding social activities
  • Excessive worry and fear
  • Inability to carry out daily tasks or handing daily challenges

If you're concerned, the first place to check is through your health care provider. This is because your employer may have a wellness program that includes mental health options like screenings, dependence counseling, depression workshops and proactive stress management courses. These are typically free and more employers are offering it to improve workers' lives, in and out of the office.

Getting a diagnosis

The first step to getting help is to get an accurate diagnosis from a professional and getting on a mental wellness plan. Seeing a mental health professional or going through a mental health screening isn't 100% accurate, so you may find that you want a second opinion, and that's okay.

After your assessment, a health care provider may develop a plan that includes medication, therapy or even simple lifestyle changes. While this can sound overwhelming, taking it one step at a time will help you get better.

Balancing therapy and medication

Not everyone is going to need medication or therapy, but it's a good idea to be open to the possibility. Luckily, both of these are covered by an FSA even if your insurance doesn't. FSA-eligible products and services include sessions with licensed psychologists, psychiatrists, counselors and social workers.

Even if your mental health professional suggests just some lifestyle changes, take those suggestions. For example, if you have a seasonal mental health disorder, using light therapy can help. Or if you require OTC medication on occasion, try it out and see how it affects you. Many of these types of products are FSA-eligible, but some may require a prescription and always check with your FSA provider to make sure.

We hope that you take your overall well-being into consideration. Work stress is fairly normal, but it's not worth it when it comes at the expense of your mental health. If you do find work is affecting you in negative ways or your mental health is affecting your work, speak to someone in your organization about how you feel. Employers want their employees to be happy and productive, so seek help if you need it.

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Whether you budget week-to-week, or plan to use your FSA for bigger things, our weekly Real Money column will help you maximize your health and flex spending dollars. Look for it every Tuesday, exclusively on the FSAstore.com Learning Center. And for the latest info about your health and financial wellness, be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.


Living Well

Real Money: Is your workplace affecting your health?

Just because you love your job, doesn't mean there aren't some small downsides to being there. For one, your workplace may be affecting your health.

No, really, this isn't like those annoying "It's Monday" memes that populate your timeline. Maybe it's certain times of the year when you're approaching deadlines. Or the noise levels get to you. Even the lights above your head can have an effect on your health.

Before freaking out, let's break down how some of these can affect your health and what you can do about it.

Fluorescent lights

Yes, the buzzing and occasional flickering of fluorescent light can be annoying, but it can have other negative impacts. For one, prolonged exposure to this type of lighting can interfere with our sleep patterns. That's because fluorescent bulbs produce blue light can which can suppress the creation of melatonin in your body.

This is the hormone that helps you sleep, so less production means you may be able to sleep well. And a continual lack of sleep has a whole host of other health effects.

Furthermore, fluorescent lights can cause eyestrain or headaches. These types of light emit rapid pulses of light, which explains the flickering and buzzing. If you're extra sensitive, you may even get migraines. (Trust us, those FSA-eligible pain relief eye masks are fantastic for helping to get some pain relief.)

There's not much you can do to get rid of these lights, but you can help mitigate the effects by taking breaks (go outside if you have to), creating a simple nighttime routine to trigger sleep and not stare at the computer screen all the time.

Lack of breaks

Speaking of breaks, are you taking any? It can be hard to get away from work, especially when there are deadlines looming and you're being called into multiple meetings in a day. Some days, it feels like all you can do is take a few minutes to eat lunch at your desk.

If this is the case, you need a break more than ever. Constantly thinking about work can seriously stress you out. Even a quick 10-minute walk outside (you know, by actually taking advantage of that lunch break) can do wonders for your mental health.

Your boss will understand that you need time to step away from your desk. After all, a happy employee is a productive employee.

Coworkers

No matter where you work, there will be times when you'll run into a coworker you don't prefer spending time with. And conflicts can happen even if you try to actively avoid it.

Sure, it's tempting to ignore everyone you don't like, but what if you're forced to work with that person? Or if you have a conflict over a project you're working on with some you do like?

You can't avoid negative situations at work, so the best we can do is to try and work through them. If there is a conflict, the mature thing to do is to speak directly to the people involved. If need by, get a mediator. Or if you're really stressed out, your employer may offer counseling programs specifically to help with managing work.

(And not for anything, but those eye masks are good for these moments, too…)

At the end of the day, your health is irreplaceable. Don't let any situation, even if it seems impossible to get out of, jeopardize your wellness.

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Whether you budget week-to-week, or plan to use your FSA for bigger things, our weekly Real Money column will help you maximize your health and flex spending dollars. Look for it every Tuesday, exclusively on the FSAstore.com Learning Center. And for the latest info about your health and financial wellness, be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Living Well

FSA Friday - 1/18/19 - Gauging and measuring employee wellness

For the last several months, we've taken a close look at the shifting priorities of modern workers. Not only discussing what employees want from their benefits, but also their motivations for doing so. However, we've never had much of an opportunity to see how these changing benefits are -- well -- benefiting the companies that made this happen.

This week, we do just that. Thanks to this article, centered on a Gallup study of employee engagement and wellness, we have a better idea of which shifts have had the most impact, and which areas still need some serious attention.

10 Timely Statistics About The Connection Between Employee Engagement And Wellness - Naz Beheshti, Forbes

Right from the outset, the author Beheshti sets a good tone for the piece, indicating that employee engagement is on the rise, topping out at 34% at the time of the survey. But then she asks a pivotal question: "...should we really settle for a situation where two-thirds of our workforce is still not fully engaged?"

The answer is (obviously) "no." Because, as good as it is to hear employee satisfaction is on the upswing, the effects of unhealthy, disengaged employees on workplaces are still damaging productivity in a very big way.

The author goes on to cite 10 key points from a Gallup survey that add some quantification to the still-ambiguous subject of employee wellness. We all know that engaged employees tend to be more productive - but now we have some more-recent data to support these claims.

Obviously, we can't highlight each of the 10 points here. But there are a handful of findings that caught our attention, as it relates to the work we do here.

First, the report found that "highly engaged teams show 21% greater profitability."

That's right - 21%. And truthfully, we're a little surprised it isn't a touch higher. Because it all comes down to efficiency. As the author points out here, successful companies engage employees at all levels, increasing productivity, reducing the number of times workers call out, and limiting turnover. Happy employees like their work, and show up each day to do it.

The flip side to this approach? Well, check the "loss" column for more insights. As we learn here, disengaged employees cost U.S. companies up to $550 billion a year.

Billion.

Data culled from a collaboration known as The Engagement Institute -- which includes contributions from Deloitte, ROI, The Culture Works and more -- not only highlights the financial ramifications of disengaged employees, but also maps out the reasons why this is a crucial, but often overlooked part of organizational culture.

In short? Workers that are healthy are simply more productive, and believe in the work they do. Companies can foster these positive feelings by engaging employees at every level, from physical surroundings, to wellness programs and an increased focus on work-life balance, so they come to work refreshed and fully behind the company's mission.

There are a wealth of other meaningful findings in the article, including some salient points about how employee wellness programs are even permeating healthier home lives. It's a worthy read, no matter which side of the employer/employee relationship you reside.

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FSA Friday is a weekly roundup of the latest topics, tips and headlines to keep you updated on all things flex spending. It appears every Friday, exclusively on the exclusively on the FSAstore.com Learning Center. And for the latest info about your health and financial wellness, be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.