National Financial Literacy Month is upon us, and while this may not quite be the cause for celebration that other federally recognized events are, it’s certainly worth your attention. You may look at financial literacy as an issue only younger people face, but the numbers tell a different story: Some 30 million Americans struggle with financial stress, according to the Personal Finance Employee Education Foundation.
And that begs the question whether knowing more about financial issues might help those people. There’s also the possibility that many of them, including your own employees, bring that stress into the work environment, making financial stress your problem, too.
Still, there’s an upside here: You’ll be put into a unique position as a business leader; You’ll have the power to remove a serious burden from your staff members’ shoulders. Here’s how to do that:
Our culture encourages employers to give fiscal benefits to workers, including retirement-savings packages and student-loan debt assistance. But employees themselves often are undereducated about how to deal with and take advantage of these programs — on both the personal and professional levels.
This disconnect can create a chasm that doesn’t just hurt your employees by making it tough for them to stretch their paychecks — it hurts the company: After all, how can your personnel know what’s at stake if they don’t appreciate how to increase your bottom line?
That lack of understanding could lead to turnover and other issues.
Startups and smaller businesses would do themselves a great service — and secure and keep top talent — by offering financial literacy education in tandem with unbeatable incentives and perks.
At the same time, managers who offer financial literacy learning opportunities can decrease financial distress and, according to ComPsych,help slow the corporate leaking of around $300 billion annually due to stress-related causes. It’s not an overnight fix, but it can produce positive results.
Making sense of dollars and cents
Many companies have already developed in-house financial literacy programs to help their teams and influence their behavior over time. Here are ways you can do the same:
1. Deliver bite-sized resources. Individuals can gain financial literacy at any age, but they usually adapt better when given small bits of information rather than everything at once. Your goal should be to deliver financial literacy basics — such as the need to put aside about 10 percent of your income for the future — in easily digestible pieces for gradual comprehension — and changes.
Consider Yale University’s program for its team members in the IT community. The university hosts regular, informal “lunch and learns” that take place at work and broaden participants’ financial expertise.
You too could host a brown-bag lunch to talk about financial literacy in a low-key environment. Topics could range from retirement planning and paying-down debt to managing spending and understanding how 401(k) plans work. Make these sessions an informative experience that promotes financial wellness and better money handling.
2. Design the caboose before the engine. Sometimes, it’s best to start at the end to make sure you’re on the right track. What are employees’ needs and goals when it comes to a financial literacy program? Write them down. Then, have your team pick two or three metrics to focus on. You may have to tailor different programs to different levels of management or departments.
If you’re having difficulty, start by looking at each employee’s job responsibilities. What financial knowledge should each employee have to help the company achieve its mission? Where are people’s gaps in that knowledge?
When you’ve determined the areas they need to improve, you can map out financial education strategies, such as classes, clinics, workshops and online coursework. Over time, make it a practice to assess the financial health of teams and individuals to remain on target.
3. KISS: Keep it simple, sweetheart. This principle should be your guide throughout this process. So many best-in-class sites are accessible, and some are free of charge. These could provide amazing financial education you can bring to your teams.
For instance, the Institute for Financial Literacy helps employers incorporate education on financial topics into what they’re already doing. With almost half a million people served, it’s a great launching point.
4. Put people’s feet to the fire. While companies can offer training and tools, it’s up to employees to be responsible for doing what’s needed to attain financial freedom. It’s just like working out at the gym: You can have the best trainers to help you get in shape, but you need to show up, commit and work hard to see results.
Holding employees’ feet to the fire requires motivating and coaching. And, here, coaches push accountability. They can start by teaching and illustrating, but then they have the right to expect us to incorporate the habits they’re teaching into our daily lives. For this reason, you may have to coach your employees and bridge the gap between their knowing something and actually putting it into practice.
So, back to this Financial Literacy Month of April: It’s time for you to plant the seeds of financial literacy and incentivize your employees to share their newfound knowledge with family and friends. You’ll ultimately improve the lives of your people and the growth of your company. Plus, you’ll lift that stressful burden off your employees’ backs for good.