A basic truth that wellness committees can embrace: People evaluate their well-being in financial terms before they do so in health terms. If they feel pain in the pocketbook, then the seemingly priceless details in your conventional wellness communication might be worthless to them.
Money issues are dominating your employees’ brainwaves, so including simple financial perspective into wellness communication should be a no brainer. Unfortunately, timely financial tips and messages about preventing financial stress are left out of most messages employees receive.
Throughout your organization, workers feel worried about their bank accounts, credit card statements, and retirement plans. Many of them lack basic knowledge about savings, spending, debt, and investments.
“A basic truth about finances is that everyone has concern, not just people who are struggling,” says Bill Russo, a certified financial planner and the principal of Concord Financial Planners in Solon, Ohio. “Those issues can begin to take on a life of their own. People fear what they don’t understand, so stress becomes ever-present.”
Money and Health Are Integral — They Should Also Be Integrated
To be informed health care consumers, people must be both health-literate and finance-literate. Both types of literacy require an understanding of numbers (e.g., monitoring blood sugar and preparing a budget), and a problem with one of them affects the other. For instance, low credit scores result from unpaid health bills, and overdue bills cause physical stress symptoms.
Most of our clients say health and financial literacy need to be integrated much more in wellness communications. In fact, some even suggest there is a moral argument for making sure we empower people to build a financial nest egg as we work to improve the quality and length of their lives.
For certain, money has stuck its toe into the wellness world via incentives. We see evidence of incentives being effective in boosting enrollment and early participation in wellness programs — for example, paying someone to complete a Health Risk Appraisal, or to participate in a specific component of a program. Cash incentives and reductions in premium contributions to health plans also are becoming more popular.
In the next few years, we’ll see financial incentives used to reward people who achieve positive, long-term health outcomes. It’s likely those incentives will be more of the “stick” variety than the “carrot.” Why? Behavioral financial research finds people experience more pain from investment losses than happiness from equivalent-sized gains. And employees seem to be more motivated to improve their health by the risk of losing their own money than by earning rewards.
In the near future, incentives will tend to utilize “refundable deposit” accounts and forfeit money if personal wellness targets are missed. Look for employers and health plans to devise programs that make everyone have a little “skin in the game.”
4 Tips to Start
You can make your wellness program a venue for basic financial education and inspiration. Here are 4 tips to help:
- Embrace the marriage. Helping employees become finance-literate goes a long way to helping them become health-literate. The two topics should go hand-in-hand under the same banner of “wellness.”
- Draw upon the benefit of “small steps.” Just as you aim to avoid confusing health terms and jargon, keep the voice of your financial material straightforward. Just as you create messages about the value of small steps to improve physical health, the same concept can be applied to “fiscal fitness.” When Russo explains the power of compound interest, he takes out a checkerboard and pennies. “I show people that if you double the number of pennies as you move from square to square, you’ll soon need millions. The point is to reveal a seemingly difficult concept in an accessible, interesting way.”
- Keep your communication simple and short. Communicate financial content with “scannable” headlines, bulleted lists and easy-to-read graphs. Try using one-minute videos.
- Check out MegaTrend #7 in our free eBook, “New Perspectives in Wellness & Benefits Communication.” It includes further information on including financial insight in your wellness communication.