By Ben Allen, AFCC, Community Outreach Manager, Consolidated Credit Counseling Services of Canada, Inc. (proud partner of Wellness Works Canada)
Far too many Canadians go to work every morning with that nagging thought in the back of their head; “How am I going to make ends meet this month?” How many? Almost half. According to the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada, the federal agency responsible for consumer protection and promoting Canada’s national strategy on financial literacy, 40% of working Canadians feel overwhelmed by debt, 43% say that financial stress impacts their workplace performance, and 46% admit to spending 3.5 hours a week or more dealing with financial issues at work.
In an organization with 200 employees, that would mean:
80 employees are overly indebted
86 employees are stressed about money
92 employees spend company time trying to fix financial issues.
Long-term financial stress often brings about a sense of hopelessness or feeling trapped in a never-ending paycheque to paycheque cycle. Given that November is the 10th anniversary of Financial Literacy Month in Canada, I think it’s safe to say that there is still a lot of work left to do in empowering Canadians to change their financial behaviours. I mean, had you ever heard of financial literacy month before now?
So what is financial stress? Financial stress is considered a toxic type of stress, as in it feels unending; the calls from collectors, the late notices in the mail, hours spent staring at online banking screens wondering how this month will work out. Other symptoms are subtle, like only making minimum payments, the inability to save every month, and worrying about which bill to pay are all lingering stressors for many working Canadians. Financial stress, much like misery, loves company in that it is often a contributing factor to marital or work-related stress. The Canadian Payroll Association and the Financial Planning Standards Council data unfortunately sheds light on some disturbing trends form their respondents, for instance:
48% reported losing sleep due to financial worries
44% reported it would be difficult to meet financial obligations if their pay were late
37% say they have to delay retirement because they have not saved enough money
35% spend all - or more - of their net pay every month
Recognizing the Symptoms - The Stress Curve
The first step in reducing stress is to recognize those warning signs, and this curve offers a great visualization of that. Take a second to look at it and ask yourself, “Where am I on this curve?” As working Canadians have reported, too many of them have crossed over from the positive or “motivating” side of the curve and into the dangerous or “exhausted” side. The problem with the never-ending type of stress is that people report trouble sleeping, difficulty focusing at work, and finding the motivation to get out of bed almost immediately, while the physical effects - headache, anxiety, arguing, isolating - take longer to manifest.
Educate, Don’t Reiterate
Spend less than you earn, save for retirement early, invest wisely: none of these are paradigm-shifting personal finance mantras but repeating them to someone under financial stress only makes them feel worse. The answer isn’t as simple as "stop buying lattes and eating avocado toast," but that doesn’t mean you should give up on the basics either. Most adults are happy to learn on their time. Better yet, they’re more than willing to learn on company time. So why not offer financial wellness resources in conjunction with company wellness strategies and reward employees for completing tasks? Be the financial empowerment champion your organization needs. When you do, more employees will sign up and contribute to matched savings programs, mental health resources that don't cover financial inquiries will be used more efficiently, and employees will feel they are better supported by their employer.
D.I.Y versus Investing in Financial Wellness Programs
So why are financial wellness programs so few and far between in the wellness industry? Essentially it comes down to two things, investment and marketing. Organizations either need to invest the time and human resources into developing a financial wellness program themselves, or pay someone to do it for them. The resources for developing and evaluating a financial literacy program are out there, so building one from scratch has never been easier. For a plug-and-play financial education option, something like Knowledge of Financial Education, or KOFE, has already helped thousands of Canadians set financial goals and start taking steps to achieve them. Users have free and unlimited access to financial coaches and non-profit credit counsellors, access to webinars presented by an AFCC Accredited Financial Counsellor, and so much more. Incentivizing the use of these tools is easy and also a great way to help drive the Canadian national strategy forward while showing that investing in financial wellness pays!
To learn more about this financial wellness platform, please visit the free WWC KOFE portal we set up and please contact me to learn more about it. https://wellnessworks.kofetime.ca/
About the Author
Ben is an insolvency counsellor and an Accredited AFCC Financial Counsellor by trade and is currently the Community Outreach Manager at Consolidated Credit Counselling Services of Canada, the largest non-profit credit counselling service in Canada. Outside of financial empowerment, his real passions lie in education and behavioural finance, specifically developing and evaluating financial wellness programs for other community service organizations, corporate organizations, and government agencies. Day to day, Ben is involved in training the financial coaches and seeking out new educational partners. If you’re interested in a partnership or learning how an engaging financial literacy program can fit into your organization’s wellness strategy, please contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.