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Closing the Gap: Strategies for Aligning Employee Realities and Leader Perceptions on Financial Wellness

BrightPlan Team

Financial wellness is a critical component of employee experience and well-being, and plays a pivotal role in overall organizational success. However, a significant gap exists between leaders' perceptions of their employees’ financial well-being and employees' actual experiences. This disparity highlights the heightened need for employee listening to better align company support and resources with employee needs. 


Perception vs. Reality

BrightPlan’s 2023 Wellness Barometer Survey uncovered a number of discrepancies between employees and leaders related to financial well-being, company benefits, and workplace trust. Here is a summary of some of these disconnects.


The state of financial health

According to the survey, the majority of employees have debt, over a third have little or no emergency savings, and most are saving either nothing at all or less than 10% of their income for retirement each year. Yet, leaders tend to overestimate their employees’ financial health. Just 9% of employees reported having an "excellent" financial situation, while leaders estimate that 26% of their workforce falls into this category. This disparity underscores the need for leaders to gain a deeper understanding of their employees' financial challenges and offer up the appropriate level of support.


Satisfaction with employee benefits

Less than half (48%) of employees believe their company offers them the necessary financial guidance, support, and tools to achieve their life goals, yet 94% of leaders believe they provide adequate support. Additionally, 74% of employees express dissatisfaction with their company's financial benefits, and a quarter of them are unsure if their employer offers benefits beyond retirement matching and stock options. These findings emphasize the need for employers to reassess their current offerings and actively listen to employee feedback to effectively bridge the gap.


Diversity, equity & inclusion (DE&I)

50% of employees feel they are not paid fairly (yet leaders estimate only 35% of their employees feel this way) and 80% of employees believe their employer should take action to address the racial wealth gap. 97% of leaders say their company is taking action. Additionally, 71% of employees vs. 96% of leaders say their company has handled DE&I issues “extremely” or “somewhat” well in the past 12 months. These findings emphasize the urgent need for employers to reassess their current practices and take proactive measures to address financial disparities, promote pay equity, and foster an inclusive workplace.


Strategies for Effective Alignment

Here are some strategies to help close the gap between employee realities and leader perceptions and ensure employees’ voices are heard.

  • Data-based decision making: Anonymized and aggregated data and insights from digital solutions can help uncover trends in workforce challenges by demographic, location and more. For example, the data might reveal a significant burden of student loan debt among employees, indicating a pressing need for financial wellness programs or student loan repayment benefits. Data-driven decision-making allows businesses to make strategic choices that align with employee needs, resulting in higher engagement, productivity, satisfaction, and positive outcomes for the business.

  • Feedback mechanisms: Establishing regular channels for employees to express their challenges, offer suggestions, and feedback fosters a culture of open communication. Actively listening to employees' concerns and demonstrating empathy by acknowledging and addressing their financial challenges is crucial. By creating a safe and supportive environment for feedback, employers can gain valuable insights into the specific financial needs of their workforce.

  • Tailored support: Provide personalized financial support to address employees' diverse and unique needs, helping employees make informed decisions and achieve their financial goals. A comprehensive financial wellness program can help ensure that your employees fully understand and utilize company-provided benefits. A holistic financial wellness program provides education tailored to your benefits program as well as access to financial planners trained in your company’s benefits package. This can help drive understanding, adoption and utilization of the company’s 401(k), HSA, insurance, stock compensation, and other benefits.

  • Meet employees where they are: Effectively communicating company benefits and support requires more than a one-size-fits-all approach. Employers must meet employees where they are through the format and channel of their choice. Tailored communication, aligned with employees' preferences, will promote trust and empower informed decision-making. This personalized approach ultimately fosters a sense of appreciation for company-provided benefits.

  • Employee advocacy: Encourage the formation of employee resource groups or committees to represent employee interests, providing a platform for their voices to be heard and driving positive change within the organization. These platforms not only allow employees to represent their unique interests but also nurture a sense of belonging and understanding. Serving as safe spaces for open dialogue, these groups become powerful catalysts for change, driving initiatives that foster inclusivity, diversity, and employee trust and well-being.

Narrowing the divide between leaders' perceptions and employees' lived experiences requires empathy and understanding. It starts with listening intently to workforce needs, curating a mix of benefits that resonates with diverse needs, and then communicating those offerings effectively.