WCI, Inc
April 23, 2024

Paycheck to paycheck

A new survey from FinFit and HR Dive’s studioID has revealed the financial realities of average U.S. workers. The “Inside the Wallets of Working Americans” report shows three out of four workers are living paycheck to paycheck, with minimal savings, mounting debt and increasing anxiety.

“Living paycheck to paycheck is, by definition, going to result in financial stress,” said FinFit Chief Commercial Officer Michael Woodhead. “That’s especially true when workers are faced with unexpected financial shocks.”

This financial stress played out again and again in the survey data. About 60% of respondents said they experienced stress and anxiety when thinking about their finances in the past week. These feelings weren’t contained to workers’ personal lives, many of whom reported spending hours at work thinking about or dealing with financial issues. Thirty-eight percent reported taking days off work to deal with personal finance issues. These findings and many more illustrate the perilous relationship between workers’ finances and business outcomes: Financial stress leads to lower productivity, increased absenteeism and greater carelessness.

“That's why employers need to think about how to solve this problem,” Woodhead said. “Workers who are stressed are not as productive because they cannot focus on the minute-to-minute and day-to-day activities that are required for them to execute their job.”

The survey report evidenced the deep-seated financial stress workers face, the hope they hold for the future, the challenges thwarting long-term change and the widespread desire for effective financial tools.

The source of financial stress: The survey illuminated several common struggles faced by the average worker: three out of four respondents considered themselves to be living paycheck to paycheck. If workers were to lose their current income, more than half said they could meet their regular expenses for just a month or less before needing to borrow money. Nearly three-quarters of respondents (72 percent) said they do not have cash buffers or liquid savings or that their cash buffers or liquid savings add up to less than $5,000. As a result, about 60 percent of respondents said they experienced worry and stress when thinking about their finances in the past week. Almost half said they’re losing sleep over money.

Workers’ hope for the future: Workers want to improve their finances. Paying off debt was the most popular change desired by respondents, and the runner-up was building up their emergency savings. Nearly a quarter of respondents (23 percent) said the change they would most like to make in their financial lives would be to start saving or saving more for their retirement. And slightly more than half of respondents (54 percent) said they regularly contribute to their retirement savings.

Systemic roadblocks: Respondents’ progress is frustrated by cyclical challenges stemming from their lack of savings, forcing them to fall back on adverse borrowing practices. The number one way workers used borrowed money was to pay for household bills and expenses — the most popular choice by 24 percentage points. As workers fight to make ends meet, their long-term goals suffer. More than two-thirds of workers said they do not know whether their savings will suffice for them once they retire. As a result, 53 percent of respondents said they feel stressed and worried over the state of their retirement savings.

Need for targeted tools: Survey respondents expressed strong interest in employee benefits designed to help them save money and pay down debt. Among benefits respondents don’t already have, emergency savings accounts and hardship or emergency funds were the most popular by 10 percentage points.

If employers were to offer the benefits workers desired, large majorities of respondents said they would be:

  • 80 percent: More likely to stay at their company.
  • 78 percent: More likely to recommend their company as an employer.
  • 68 percent: Less likely to seek new roles outside the company.
  • 65 percent: More engaged in their work.

These findings evidence the widespread demand for financial tools that target workers’ financial pain points. While employer-provided financial benefits have existed for decades, they have failed to account for workers’ needs.

“Most employer-provided financial tools presume that the problem is solely employee behavior,” Woodhead said. “The tools that have been provided are often offered with an aura of judgment. ‘You need to do better, and when you do better, you’ll be less financially stressed.’ Employees often feel talked down to because the problem is presumed to be a misalignment of behaviors and lack of financial literacy.”

Source: FinFit.

From WCI's HR Answers Now ©2024 CCH Incorporated and its affiliates. All rights reserved.

Providing a caring workplace culture is essential for the bottom line. Managers, supervisors, and team leaders need to demonstrate that they care about employees' lives, not just their productivity at work. Every individual worker has five parts of their life: physical, personal, relational, occupational, and FINANCIAL. Each part affects the others as overall wellbeing.

A reminder from WCI's 2024 HR1 seminar.
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