Press Release

U.S. employees’ financial well-being falters, Willis Towers Watson survey finds

Biennial survey results increase in employees who say financial problems are negatively impacting their lives

November 29, 2017
| United States

ARLINGTON, VA, November 29, 2017 — The financial well-being of U.S. employees reversed direction this year following several years of steady improvement, according to a new survey by Willis Towers Watson (NASDAQ:WLTW), a leading global advisory, broking and solutions company. The biennial survey also revealed a large increase in the number of employees who say their financial woes are negatively affecting their lives and who are worried about their future financial situation.

The 2017 Global Benefits Attitudes Survey found that barely one-third of U.S. workers (35%) were satisfied with their financial situation this year, a sharp decline from 48% just two years ago. The number of employees who were satisfied with their financial situation had been improving steadily since 2009 when just a quarter were satisfied.

The survey also found more than a third of U.S. workers (34%) now believe their current financial concerns are negatively affecting their lives, compared with just 21% two years ago. Additionally, nearly six in 10 employees (59%) worry about their future financial state. Two years ago, just under a half (49%) were worried about their future finances.

“The ongoing financial worries that are plaguing so many employees are taking a toll on their financial confidence,” said Vincent Antonelli, senior consultant at Willis Towers Watson. “We know from our research that more than half of all workers have experienced a major financial event in the past two years, such as divorce; a significant medical experience; or borrowing money from a friend, family member or payday loan. These factors, combined with growing debt and low wage growth, are leading to heightened worker angst.”

According to the research, the worsening financial well-being is also having a negative effect on employees’ productivity, engagement and health. This is especially true among “struggling” employees, identified in the research as those worried about their short- and long-term finances. About 30% of the employees surveyed identified as struggling.

Among these struggling employees, 31% said money concerns were keeping them from doing their best at work. Higher levels of absenteeism were found among struggling employees. Additionally, seven in 10 struggling employees reported high (37%) or above average (33%) stress levels while 30% described their health as poor. Only 29% of these employees were fully engaged at work compared with more than half of employees without any worries who were fully engaged. There is a clear connection to good health.

Employees without money worries were also in good health (35%) or very good health (55%) while only 5% reported high stress levels.

“Employers understand that financial worries, which are linked to stress, can have a negative impact on their employees’ personal and work lives. And there is an array of service providers and technology solutions available for employers to offer to employees on personal financial issues. The research provides powerful clues as to why many of these approaches are under-utilized and how we can do better,” said Shane Bartling, senior consultant at Willis Towers Watson.

In fact, a majority of employees (53%) would like their employers to offer tools that provide suggestions on how they can improve their financial situation. However, an even larger percentage (57%), say it’s not the role of an employer to send personalized messages to employees who are facing important financial decisions, and half say employers should not send personalized messages to employees who are not saving enough for a secure retirement.

“While employees are eager for their employers to provide support and technology that deliver valuable guidance and suggestions on retirement and financial decisions, employees are very wary of personalized outreach. What’s the nuance? Workers are saying there is a distinct line between personalized tools where the interaction is controlled by the employee and personalized messages that can be unsettling,” said Bartling.

Among other findings from the Global Benefits Attitudes Survey:

  • Only 31% of employees do budgeting on a regular basis; however, the 24% who don’t budget, but instead actively monitor, have even higher financial confidence. Providing tools that could be valuable for the 69% who don’t budget should be a key objective.
  • Less than half (47%) of U.S. workers are confident they’ll have sufficient resources 25 years into retirement while 57% are confident they’ll have enough resources 15 years in retirement. Both figures are down from 2015.
  • 81% of struggling employees are living paycheck to paycheck. Only 20% of struggling employees pay their credit card in full each month.
  • More than a third of U.S. workers experienced a moderate (24%) or severe (13%) financial hardship. Ten percent have taken a loan from their 401(k) plan while 6% have made a permanent hardship withdrawal from their plan.

About the Global Benefits Attitudes Survey

The Willis Towers Watson 2017 Global Benefits Attitudes Survey measured attitudes of over 30,000 private sector employees in 22 countries. A total of 4,983 U.S. workers participated in the survey, which was conducted in July and August 2017.

About Willis Towers Watson

Willis Towers Watson (NASDAQ: WLTW) is a leading global advisory, broking and solutions company that helps clients around the world turn risk into a path for growth. With roots dating to 1828, Willis Towers Watson has more than 40,000 employees serving more than 140 countries. We design and deliver solutions that manage risk, optimize benefits, cultivate talent, and expand the power of capital to protect and strengthen institutions and individuals. Our unique perspective allows us to see the critical intersections between talent, assets and ideas — the dynamic formula that drives business performance. Together, we unlock potential. Learn more at willistowerswatson.com.