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Money Matters: Support Your Employees’ Financial Wellbeing to Build a Resilient Workforce

Money worries can have a huge impact on employees’ ability to work well. Financial stress can lead to sleepless nights, anxiety, inability to focus, lower productivity and absenteeism. It’s clear that supporting the financial wellbeing of your workforce as part of an overall wellbeing strategy benefits them and your business. But since everyone’s financial situation is different, how do you ensure each employee feels supported in a way that’s tailored to their needs?

For many working people and their families, the pandemic put significant pressure on day-to-day budgets. Managing the financial impact of lost earnings through redundancy or furlough meant many households took on additional debt to help make ends meet. And it was employees on a low income or from deprived communities that were hit hardest. Often required to work in a physical location, they tend to be paid by the hour and in occupations with tough working conditions.

As the economy recovers, organizations can make a positive impact by recognizing the financial strains their employees face. By offering more thoughtful and comprehensive financial wellbeing support, they can improve employees’ lives, build resilience and enhance their productivity and engagement.

In this article, we explore how providing financial wellbeing support helps to build a stronger, more loyal and increasingly productive workforce. You’ll discover how the extraordinary response from Northwell Health, New York’s largest healthcare provider, to the pandemic has freed them to embrace the benefits of providing financial wellbeing support, tailored to individual needs.


With insights from:

Naomi Schulman, Vice President, Aon Health Solutions

Gregg Nevola, Vice President, Total Rewards (Chief Rewards Officer), Northwell Health


Is financial wellbeing working?

Stress has always been a part of working life. Successfully managing everything from family to finance while performing well at work is not easy. However, the pandemic created a level of instability not seen since World War Two. Working practices changed overnight, schools and businesses closed, many jobs were lost and those that remained often became much more challenging. For many people, being forced to live with an invisible enemy for nearly two years took a significant toll on their mental health. In fact, a global survey * showed that 42% of employees experienced a decline in their mental health during the pandemic.

Together with physical, emotional, social and work life elements, financial wellbeing is one of the key aspects of an individual’s overall wellbeing. In very simple terms, if an employee has money worries, they won’t bring their best self to work. Yet Aon’s Global Wellbeing Report 2021 found that just 54% of companies incorporate financial wellbeing into their strategy. Additionally, the survey revealed that 76% of companies have no plans to help employees with day-to-day money management and 83% have no plans to offer emergency savings. With depression in the U.S. counting for up to 400 million lost workdays a year, can businesses really afford to do nothing to help employees take control of their finances?


People are your biggest asset

Regardless of size, a successful business is simply a group of people doing incredible things together and it makes sense for the business to support each person effectively. If the individual thrives, then it follows that the company will grow and enjoy success.

Doing this at scale is not easy, but the key thing to remember is that each individual person isn’t only an employee -- Work is only one aspect of their life. Outside of work they will be a parent, sibling, relative or friend living as part of a wider community. Helping them cope with the financial pressures of the role they perform at home is critical in shaping how they perform at work.


‘Those employers who are starting to invest in supporting employees at home are doing so in the hope of bringing employees’ best selves to work, because they realize that people need to be supported in all aspects of their lives in order to function at their optimal level.’ 

Naomi Schulman, Vice President, Aon Health Solutions


In this respect, Northwell Health is a unique and innovative employer. As a healthcare provider with 75,000 employees, their corporate mission is to improve the health and wellbeing of their communities. ‘Well’ is part of their name and an inherent part of their culture, so it’s natural for them to focus on the health and wellbeing of their team members. It also makes great business sense.


‘We firmly believe and, you know, we have a lot of evidence on this, that improving the health and wellbeing of our team members improves the health and wellbeing of our communities.’ 

Gregg Nevola, Vice President, Total Rewards (Chief Rewards Officer), Northwell Health


Expanding financial support during COVID-19

It is well documented that working in healthcare was stressful enough before the pandemic. The physical demands placed on nurses and other hospital workers as they care for patients is significant while continually witnessing illness, suffering and death can be emotionally exhausting.

Northwell Health provides round-the-clock healthcare staff and was placed under enormous demand when the pandemic struck. With schools closed and the public transport system shut down, their employees' stress levels increased significantly. Juggling homeschooling, caring for vulnerable family members and safely travelling to work long shifts in an environment where they could easily contract COVID-19 was very challenging. Tragically, some employees paid the ultimate price for their commitment.


‘We’ve lost over 20 of our team members to COVID, and we put in programs for their families, to support them financially, emotionally, any way that we could think of to support these families because they are the true heroes in our fight against COVID.’

Gregg Nevola, Vice President, Total Rewards (Chief Rewards Officer), Northwell Health


Throughout the pandemic, Northwell Health focused on improving their financial support programs. Direct childcare support payments helped employees pay family or a trusted neighbor to look after their children, while transport schemes and ride shares got them to work on time. Other initiatives such as paid time off, behavioral health programs and bonus payments ensured employees had the time to recover between each wave of the pandemic and feel financially supported throughout the most challenging times. This helped each of them to be their best at work and continue delivering the high-level service for which Northwell Health is known.


‘Our approach to childcare was, 'Whatever we need to do.' And, I remember in some of the darkest days, it was very challenging on the health system. We didn't know where the money was coming from, or what to do. My edict was, 'Just do it, and we'll worry about it later’

Gregg Nevola, Vice President, Total Rewards (Chief Rewards Officer), Northwell Health


This willingness to do ‘whatever it takes’ demonstrates the power of strong leadership in a crisis. It creates a caring culture that cascades throughout a business and gives an invaluable sense of security to employees facing financial stress.

A notable example of how this culture worked at Northwell Health during the pandemic was in the provision of bonus payments to staff, many of whom asked for their bonus to be donated to team members who were struggling financially. Combined with support from generous benefactors and foundation donations, this led the business to create the ‘Caregiver Support Fund’ which enabled additional financial support to be given to those employees most in need. 


The whole lifespan view: Financial support from hiring to retiring

Every person employed by your business has their own specific needs around financial security which extend way beyond how much they get paid. New hires usually come out of college with significant debt. Parents of young children often prioritize childcare while older employees may have concerns about having enough money to live on when they retire.


‘People might be weighed down by financial concerns even if they are paid well, because there are so many different steps beyond just accepting a salary, right? They must plan for all their various needs, and they may have past debt, they have future needs that they want to save for. So, this can be a huge burden on employees.’

Naomi Schulman, Vice President, Aon Health Solutions


Whatever stage of life your employees are at, it’s critical to have a financial support benefit program with the flexibility to accommodate their differing needs. The triangular or pyramid structure of the health system is a case in point, as Gregg Nevola of Northwell Health explains:


‘At the bottom is everyone who makes the health system go -- The environmental workers, the dietary workers, the clerks, the receptionists. That's the biggest group of our employees and they're paid much differently than the small group at the top, who are physicians and executives. And, throughout that triangle, or pyramid, we really have to think about the different financial needs of each of those segments.

At the bottom we spend a lot of time on education, a lot of resources on education, and the value of budgets, how to set up a savings account, the importance of that, and creating those cushions that are so important in financial wellbeing. And, at the top, that's where we start talking about much more advanced budgeting. “What do you want to do in retirement? How do you save for these types of expenses?”’

Gregg Nevola, Vice President, Total Rewards (Chief Rewards Officer), Northwell Health


Offering useful financial security benefits means understanding the wider scope of employees' lives. It’s also the starting point for designing a coherent offering for employees on your benefits website, one that allows an employee to take the benefits journey best suited to their needs. Northwell Health’s approach provides relevant entry points for different employees based around needs that have been established through engaged employee feedback and continuous data analysis.


‘When you talk to someone about a retirement plan, they should also be able to tell you about education on opening up an account, or setting a budget, and it should look seamless and holistic to our team members. In a lot of cases, you only get one chance to communicate with them, and how do we make the best of that one chance? So that, they see this as not just another complex, overwhelming thing, that I'm “just going to put to the side”.’ 

Gregg Nevola, Vice President, Total Rewards (Chief Rewards Officer), Northwell Health


Think creatively but sensitively about flexible financial support

So you recognize that everyone’s an individual in your business, and you’re taking the whole life view regarding financial support. But what can you do when it comes to designing the actual financial support benefits? Can you dare to be different? The answer is ‘yes’ because attracting and retaining talent is becoming increasingly challenging. Meeting employees’ changing expectations around benefits provides the perfect opportunity to differentiate your business in a competitive talent market.

However, it’s important to be sensitive around financial security for employees. In many countries debt and financial concerns are taboo topics and many employees would feel uncomfortable talking about their money worries with their employer. Which is where using established third-party partners to deliver tailored financial advice in a confidential discussion can be invaluable.

For Northwell Health, lessons learned in the pandemic continue to be applied to their financial support programs, particularly around new models of childcare. Strong feedback from engaged employees showed that they liked the freedom to spend their childcare benefit with whomever they chose to provide it during the various lockdowns. Going forward the company continues to allow its employees this choice. Whether that’s a formal, registered provider or a close relative, employees can make an informed selection about childcare that best suits their needs. This unique and flexible approach keeps existing employees happy, builds resilience in the workforce and strengthens Northwell Health’s employer proposition.


Financial security - the next steps for people leaders:

  • Communicate financial security as a key pillar of employee wellbeing
  • View employees as key assets -- Invest in them and their wellbeing to improve the bottom line
  • View employees’ lives holistically -- The roles they fill outside of work affect their performance in work
  • Understand the differing financial security needs of your employees
  • Support employees’ financial wellbeing by designing innovative benefits programs

If you invest in the wellbeing of your people, they will invest in the wellbeing of your business.