How to Collect and Use Data to Improve Workplace Financial Wellness

Editor's note: This is the fourth of a series of five blog posts from the Workforce Financial Stability Initiative (WFSI) at Washington University in St. Louis (funded by the W. K. Kellogg Foundation) and Prosperity Now discussing workplace financial wellness. To learn more, visit Prosperity Now’s website for actionable resources for employers and WFSI’s website for research on approaches to building financial wellness at work.

Data can be a powerful resource to guide decisions on selecting and improving financial wellness programs in your workplace. But data can also be easily misused or misunderstood. The first step in leveraging data in the workplace is to make sure you are using the right information.

Without knowing what the financial lives of your employees look like, it’s hard to know how to improve their financial wellness. Before asking what your employees need, it’s best to ask, “What are the financial realities our employees face?” Answering this question up front will not only help with program selection, it can pay dividends after program implementation to help measure progress.

A wide range of data can help you develop a picture of the financial lives of your employees. Some are right at your fingertips, others may require some worthwhile time and effort to gather. Here are some options to consider before selecting a financial wellness program.

Organizational Data (This Could Be Data You Already Have!)

Review data from your Human Resource Information System (HRIS) such as job characteristics (e.g., wage/salary ranges, full-time/part-time status and benefits eligibility), retirement plan deferral rates (can illustrate employees’ ability to save), retirement plan hardship withdrawals/loans (can be an indicator of financial distress) and turnover rates (can indicate job instability).

Audit your benefits package to determine the degree to which your benefits support the four components of financial health: spending, saving, borrowing and planning. For example, high-deductible health plans without employer contributions to employee Health Savings Accounts may create cash flow challenges, especially for lower-wage workers.

Interview “on-the-ground” management such as frontline supervisors and HR professionals. When things go wrong for workers, these are the folks who usually hear about it first and they often understand the most common financial challenges employees face. They also understand how workplace policies and practices may impact the financial stability of workers at different worksites or in functional areas and job types.

Employee Feedback

This might require some work to gather but will provide insights to what employees expect from employers.   

Conduct individual interviews to get a firsthand account of employees’ financial lives or feedback on your financial wellness programs. This can offer insights into employees’ most pressing concerns in a private space. For example, you might explore what financial issues keep them up at night, or whether employees are aware of your financial wellness offerings. Remember, employees need to feel comfortable discussing financial topics, so choose interviewers they can trust to keep information confidential and take steps to ensure their privacy is protected.

Hold focus groups to generate ideas on what employers can do to help employees’ financial lives or how a new financial program might be rolled out. Group settings are too open for personal conversations that touch on financial matters, but they are great for brainstorming and revealing employee preferences.  

Field surveys to understand the financial well-being of employees at scale. For example, SunTrust Bank started a general well-being survey in 2014 and included questions about employee financial stress and employees’ perception of whether the company cares about their financial well-being. If you’re not sure what to ask in a survey, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau offers a free and publicly available Financial Well-Being Scale. This survey is a well-validated tool that can provide insight into employees’ perceptions of how financially secure they feel.

Putting Your Data to Work

Once you have a solid understanding of employees’ financial lives, it’s time to start thinking about solutions. Prosperity Now and Washington University in St. Louis created a directory of financial wellness programs to catalog some of the more common financial wellness programs available. While the list is not exhaustive, it can help you compare different types of programs and see the range of options that are available. You also might find existing solutions in some of your current management practices or benefits packages that could help build employee financial well-being. In our next blog, we will discuss these solutions in more depth and offer additional ways to approach workplace financial wellness.

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