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Is Financial Stress Stressing Your Bottom Line?

By Ben Allen, AFCC, Community Outreach Manager, Consolidated Credit Counseling Services of Canada, Inc. (proud partner of Wellness Works Canada)

Calculating the costs of financial stress on Canadian organizations.

Life happens, and whether you’re financially prepared or not, those life events are often accompanied by stress. As we saw in our last article, healthy stresses can be a positive, motivating factor, but that motivational stress often builds up and spills over into a negative stress overload. Financial stress is no different. Most people won't pull their hair out if they miss a credit card payment or pay a bill a day or two late. But when that behaviour becomes a regular occurrence or habit, then the all too familiar side effects of financial stress crop up; anxiety, depression, anger. An organization is only as good as its people, and if those people are angry, depressed, and anxious, you can bet the organization is feeling it in their bottom line.

To see just how much financial stress can cost in dollars and cents, PWC put together a handy infographic that ties all these facets of financial stress together.

Financial stress will affect your employees in their professional lives at some point and isn’t something that is easily left at the door. It comes to work with them and can take an unhealthy toll on their physical health, the workplace culture, and even their mental wellness. As I mentioned in my last article, financial stress is a toxic type of stress, meaning it always looms overhead. This is why financially stressed employees take more time off, lack focus, and are often difficult to work with. Many more spend time on the clock trying to fix financial problems at work, whether checking their online banking or credit scores, taking calls from banks or lenders, or looking for financial services that can help them get out of trouble.

The Canadian Payroll Association's 2018 Employee Resource Survey found that almost half of all working Canadians admit financial stress directly impacts their workplace performance every day. Another study worth examining is one that was put out in 2017 by Pricewaterhouse Coopers; Financial Stress And The Bottom Line, that study found that;

Financially stressed employees are 5 times more likely to be distracted at work.

  • Those reporting financial stress are not as proud to work for their employer.

  • Are less likely to recommend their employer as a great place to work.

So what stresses Canadians out when it comes to money? According to both the Canadian Payroll Association and Sun Life studies, the top three stressors reported are 1) poor money management, 2) saving for retirement, and 3) paying off debts. The good news is that it's easy for an employer to provide services and tools to support these areas. Also, chances are high that your workforce is interested in learning more about these areas of personal finance, it's they just don't know where to go to find it. This means they click on links, watch videos, and engage with the content at higher rates than other wellness-related content. I've seen it happen time and time again with new wellness partners.

Financial stress is not just expensive for people experiencing financial hardship. It’s also costly for organizations big or small. Organizations that are already leading the way in financial wellness have started to reap the benefits that financially healthy employees bring to the workplace. For instance, a regional municipality we partnered with last year is already reporting increases in new retirement savings plan enrollments whenever they do a marketing or promotional push because of the financial literacy work they did ahead of time. They align these promotional pushes with similarly themed financial webinars and highlight any retirement savings content or tools through their communications, and the engagement and retention have been a big win for the organization.

More employers are beginning to understand the importance of addressing financial stress in their workforce. That stress is real, and although employees may not be asking for financial help directly, research from Sun Life shows that nearly three-quarters of employers (73%) believe it is their responsibility to help employees with their financial well-being. The same research study also found that:

  • 70% of employees feel their employer should support employee financial wellness.

  • 84% of employees would be interested in financial education programs in the workplace

There is a certain seasonality to personal financial content that can be leveraged, and much of it can be tied to other wellness initiatives like physical or mental health service promotion. For instance, New Year's financial resolutions (January) can lead into RRSP season (March), which is followed by tax time (April), leading into vacation planning (June) and back to school (September), followed by Financial Literacy Month (November) and the most expensive and stressful time of year for many, the holidays (December).

One such initiative that comes to mind was when a larger educational partner faced pushback from higher-ups when the idea of starting a monthly Financial Wellness Champion to be promoted in their internal newsletter was proposed. Some directors were concerned that this would make employees uncomfortable, and there wouldn’t be any engagement with the services. Fast-forward three years; that initiative has continued on to become one of their most successful projects. All it wound up costing was a few co-branded K.O.F.E. travel mugs and $10 gift cards, which was well within their budget.

Making the jump to a more productive, more engaged workforce won’t happen overnight. With proper development, promotion, and regular evaluation of the services offered, financial wellness becomes a simple service gap to fill at a relatively low cost. When properly delivered, a financial wellness program results in happier employees and lower human resource costs while simultaneously enhancing your reputation as an employer.

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 financial empowerment, his real passion lies in education and behavioural finance, specifically developing and evaluating financial wellness programs for other community service organizations, corporate companies, 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



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