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Survey: Young workers say employers have a responsibility to improve employees’ financial well-being.

By Rita Pyrillis

W

hen it comes to financial wellness, millennials face greater challenges than previous generations, from growing wealth disparity between younger and older workers to extensive college debt.

And increasingly, they are looking to employers for help, presenting companies with an opportunity to improve not only the financial health of younger employees, but also their own.

“The collision of student loans and economic uncertainty makes conditions quite different for millennials than other generations,” said Kristin Andreski, a general manager with HR software company ADP. “It also impacts businesses. The issue is the cost of stress and the impact it has on productivity.”

Elaine Florentino

Just under half of those born between 1982 and 2000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, say the want their employer to help them solve their financial problems, a response more than double that of boomers, according to MetLife’s 14th annual “Employee Benefit Trends Study.” And 75 percent of millennials say their employers have a responsibility to improve the financial well-being of their employees.

“There is a gap when it comes to financial wellness programs but also an opportunity for employers,” Andreski said. “There are a lot of tools available like debt management programs, college loan planning, voluntary insurance products, and retirement and investment planning.”

Companies that offer these benefits are especially attractive to millennials. More than half report that their loyalty is influenced by how much their company cares about their well-being, compared to 41 percent of Gen Xers and 35 percent of baby boomers, according to a 2018 financial wellness survey by accounting firm PwC.

Programs and tools that are most likely to appeal to younger workers are those that help them budget their money. Nearly half of millennials indicate that they are most worried about not having enough cash for unexpected expenses, with 48 percent citing it as their top concern, according to the study. They are also having a harder time than Gen Xers and baby boomers in meeting their monthly household expenses.

Not surprisingly, younger workers are also very concerned about student debt, with a whopping 81 percent reporting that their loans have a “moderate or significant impact” on their ability to meet their financial goals, the survey found.

A growing number of companies are addressing the problem through student loan repayment programs and other benefits that appeal to millennial employees.

Of younger workers, 81 percent report that student loans have a ‘moderate or significant impact’ on their ability to meet financial goals.

In 2016, PwC launched the Student Loan Repayment program, which gives eligible employees $100 a month for six years or until the employee becomes a manager, whichever comes first.

“We listened to our people, understood that they were feeling the weight of student debt, and then took action to try to help them,” Mike Fenlon, PwC’s chief people officer said in an email. “We expected we might hear some frustration from people who do not have debt. That didn’t happen.”

So far, more than 8,000 employees have signed up for the benefit.

Elaine Florentino, 26, is one of them. She is an auditor in the firm’s Boston office where the program first launched as a pilot. Florentino has been steadily paying down her $57,000 student loan debt since joining the firm three years ago after receiving bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Bentley University in Massachusetts.

“You might think that $100 a month isn’t that much but when you see how it accumulates and how much interest you’re saving, it’s a huge benefit,” she said.

Florentino considers herself to be financially savvy and feels confident about saving money for retirement, but she’s concerned about more immediate needs, like buying a home. She is a single mom living in Boston, where the average price of a house is close to $600,000, according to online realtor Zillow.

“My biggest concerns right now are paying my student loans and buying a house,” she said. “People my age are struggling to afford homes. I’m also worried about my son’s financial future. How do I ensure that I build enough generational wealth so my son doesn’t have to take on the debt that I did?”