The issue of financial literacy, or a lack thereof, has rightfully earned a great deal of mainstream attention in the wake of the Great Recession. It seems that while we refuse to learn our lesson about the dangers of habitual overleveraging, judging from the more than $73 billion in credit card debt that we’ve racked up in the past two years alone, we do want to help future generations avoid repeating our mistakes.
The question is how corporate America fits into the picture. It’s clear that parents and teachers have an inherent responsibility to prepare young people for the financial realities of the “real world,” and most school systems are experimenting with different methods of incorporating personal finance and economics into the curriculum. But do businesses, from small organizations with just a handful of employees to Fortune 500 companies, have any business coming anywhere close to the issue?
There’s a lot more riding on that question than you might think – billions of dollars actually. There are probably more potential marriages between personal and corporate finance than you might think as well.
Financial Literacy, Stress & Employee Productivity
There is a clear and logical correlation between financial literacy, employee productivity, and a business’s bottom line. Let’s work backward.
For a business to survive, it must produce a positive return on its biggest investments. Human capital obviously represents one of the most significant investments any company will make, both from a monetary and time perspective. Given that employee acquisition and training accounts for much of that cost, the most efficient businesses are those that are able to maximizing the productivity and output of existing staff.
The thing is, it’s rather difficult to draw blood from a rock when the rock is always missing work due to stress. Stress is kryptonite to productivity, keeping us up at night and robbing the economy of $60 billion a year in the process. Not only that, but around a million people miss work because of stress every single day. That’s another $300 billion in lost productivity right there.
What are the leading causes of stress? Money, work, the economy, and family responsibilities are the most commonly reported sources, according to the American Psychological Association. What do these things have in common? They all concern our ability to put food on the table, pay the bills, and otherwise support our families. They also reflect a perceived lack of control as well as anxiety about what the future may hold.
So, in summary, employees don’t feel like they’re in control of their financial lives and it is affecting their performance at work. It does make a lot of sense, after all.
“Think about it,” says Mitchell D. Weiss, an adjunct professor at the University of Hartford, management consultant, and serial entrepreneur. “If money’s a worry – you don’t have enough of it to go around, the bills are piling up, the collections companies have begun to call – how clearheaded would you be for the tasks at hand; particularly those that require creative thought?”
But by that same token, it’s fair to wonder how companies – especially small businesses – can address their workers’ financial concerns while dealing with monetary pressures of their own. One of the things you have to consider in that regard is what a more financially pragmatic staff will get you.
Using Financial Literacy to Boost the Bottom Line
Just think: When people are struggling to pay the bills, much of their frustration will inevitably be directed to the source of their perceived-to-be-inadequate salaries. When people know what to do with their money and wind up with a bit of money to save each month instead of an ever-larger balance, the prism through which they view their compensation is decidedly more positive.
The potential therefore seems to exist for workplace financial literacy programs to mitigate resentment in the ranks as well as preclude the need for salary increases or peripheral benefits. They can also be used to identify and correct workplace inefficiencies, says Barry A. Friedman, founder of the SUNY Oswego Center for Human Resource Management and a former longtime ExxonMobil executive.
“When at ExxonMobil, I taught machine operators how to read Profit & Loss statements and find line items they could impact,” Friedman told WalletHub. “They did so and could easily quantify a favorable return on the training investment. Employees loved the process as a form of empowerment and increased involvement”
Ask The Experts: Tips for Starting a Workplace Financial Literacy Program
WalletHub asked university as well as industry experts in the fields of management, marketing, human resources, and finance for tips on how to establish a personal finance employee training program. You can check out their insights on everything from program structure and content sourcing to potential corporate partners and employee engagement below. If you have additional suggestions, feel free to share them in the comments section below!