Press Release

Globally, employees are feeling financial stress

Long period of low wage growth driving employees’ financial anxieties, says Willis Towers Watson’s biennial survey

February 21, 2018
| Argentina, Australia, Brazil +19 more
  • Canada
  • Chile
  • China
  • Colombia
  • France
  • Germany
  • Hong Kong
  • India
  • Ireland
  • Japan
  • Mexico
  • Netherlands
  • Philippines
  • Singapore
  • South Africa
  • Turkey
  • United Arab Emirates
  • United Kingdom
  • United States

ARLINGTON, VA, February 21, 2018 — Employees across the globe are experiencing financial insecurity pressures, which are affecting their mental health and stress levels, according to leading global advisory, broking and solutions company Willis Towers Watson’s (NASDAQ: WLTW) biennial 2017/2018 Global Benefits Attitudes Survey. The survey revealed that nearly three in 10 workers (27%) reported severe stress, anxiety or depression within the last two years, and, in many countries, employees are increasingly concerned about their finances, both immediate and long term.

Financial satisfaction has taken a turn for the worse in most countries, reversing the gains enjoyed after the financial crisis. The U.S. presents a particularly gloomy picture, with financial satisfaction plunging by 13 percentage points between 2015 and 2017 — from 48% to 35%. Further, a substantial number of employees live paycheck to paycheck, underscored by around 30% in the Eurozone countries (France, Germany, Ireland and the Netherlands), saying they cannot come up with €2,000 in an emergency. The worsening financial well-being is having a negative effect on employees’ productivity, work engagement and health.

“Employers around the globe have acknowledged that mental health and stress are among the biggest challenges to health and well-being in the workplace,” said Steve Nyce, Ph.D., senior economist and director of the Research and Innovation Center at Willis Towers Watson. “Recognizing it’s in their best interest to help find better ways of reducing stress and its leading causes, many employers are making employee well-being a central piece of their benefit strategy. For many workers, these interventions can’t come soon enough.”

Nearly two-thirds of employees believe they’ll be worse off in their old age, relative to their parents’ generation. Across developed economies, roughly 30% expect to work to age 70 or beyond, and this number has grown over time. Today, almost half (45%) of Japanese workers expect to work to age 70 or beyond compared with just 12.5% four year ago, while over one-third (37%) of workers in Australia and the U.S. expect to do so, an increase from nearly one in three in 2013.

“Clearly a healthy, prosperous, happy and connected employee is more productive,” said Nyce. The survey found that employees who are troubled by their finances are twice as likely to be in poor health as those who declare themselves financially unworried; they also report considerably higher stress levels, more absence and presenteeism, and significantly lower levels of work engagement.

Workers are relatively satisfied with their core retirement and health benefits; between one-half and two-thirds say these benefits meet their needs. However, a range of less than one-half to as little as one-third say their overall benefit package offers sufficient choice and flexibility, e.g., voluntary benefits and the option to buy a more/less generous option for a given benefit. “Younger employees in particular want more benefit choices. Employees with considerable choice or flexibility and tools that help them make decisions around their benefits are more than twice as likely to report their benefits meet their needs as those without,” said Nyce.

Although companies are responding with programs that support physical, emotional, financial and social well-being, employees are merely lukewarm on what they’ve seen. Just about one-third say their employers’ health and well-being programs have helped them to live healthier lives, and only about two in five say these programs meet their needs — much lower than satisfaction with health care benefits.

“It’s time to move beyond point solutions and design programs that leverage the workplace environment and promote the use of new technologies,” said Nyce. “Emerging generations are coming into the workforce with new expectations for how a program should work, demanding a consumer-grade experience like we enjoy in most other areas of our lives. Programs that link together multiple aspects of an employee’s life are becoming the new norm and key to creating an experience that will attract and sustain employee engagement.”

While two in three workers say managing their health is a top priority, employee engagement in well-being programs remains low. There are ways for employers to increase participation in their programs. Wearables and other health and well-being technologies continue to gain traction, as 51% of employees in developed economies and 71% in emerging ones use technologies to manage their health. Nearly half of employers in Latin America and Asia Pacific have added or are considering incentives to boost health engagement.

“Creating an environment that connects employees with the people around them and encourages them to pursue personal needs can go a long way to enhancing the feelings of enthusiasm and accomplishment around personal well-being and for the initiatives offered by their employer,” concluded Nyce. “For employers who get it right, this research suggests a significant payoff on the other side.”

About the Global Benefits Attitudes Survey

The Willis Towers Watson 2017/2018 Global Benefits Attitudes Survey measured attitudes of over 30,000 private sector employees in 22 countries.

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