Why Do We Work?

Ask most people why they work, and you’ll hear, “For the money.” While that’s probably true on one level, ‘working’ is a complex activity that consumes most adult humans for a good part of their day, and their life.

About one-third of workers are ‘actively engaged.’

Let’s start with the big picture. About 125.97 million Americans were working full-time in 2017. About 13 million adults of working age were unemployed.

According to figures from the Gallup organization, about one-third of workers are ‘actively engaged.’ That means, according to Gallup, that “they are involved, enthusiastic and committed to their work and workplace.”

Conversely, that means that about two-thirds of workers are ‘actively disengaged.’ The UNC Executive Development blog says, “They are unhappy and let that unhappiness show in words, attitudes and actions. They undermine the performance of others by constantly voicing their displeasure and listing the many reasons why they are so miserable in their jobs.” In other words, they actively hate their jobs, are less productive, and become an HR liability at work.

Financial wellness has a wide range of paybacks.

In my book, The New Productivity Engine, I discuss work-related topics like ‘engagement,’ ‘loyalty,’ and ‘retention.’ The focus of the book is about increasing productivity through a series of employee benefits initiatives that I call “financial wellness.” I delve into common employee problems – including stress, personal financial problems and motivation – to show that financial wellness has a wide range of paybacks for both employees and employers.

One of the major causes of active worker disengagement are personal problems, often financial problems. Employees become focused on the problem – not having enough money to pay the rent or buy food, not being able to support a child in trouble, for example – that they burn hours at work worrying and struggling to resolve the situation. This causes negative stress which spills over to impact their health, relationships and, ultimately, their job performance.

Twenty percent of American workers don’t have a savings account.

In my research I discovered that one-third of employees are distracted by personal financial issues at work. Over half of American workers have less than $1,000 in savings and one-fifth have no savings. That means they don’t have the tools or resources to cope.

An effective financial wellness program has three parts. Financial education – a personalized assessment coupled with a series of online modules, dashboards and tools that help workers better manage their spending, saving, borrowing and planning. Motivation – recognition, games, competitions, and tangible rewards that require a working knowledge of personal financial concepts. Real-world financial solutions – knowing that financial challenges and needs will occur – the program should have components to help solve these challenges by providing payroll deducted products and services that have been vetted and integrated.

A major employer benefit is increased productivity.

While financial wellness benefits may appear to be all about the employee, the employer has a great deal to gain. If one central component of employee anxiety is personal financial problems, what would happen if that problem, and the attendant negative stress, was largely mitigated or removed completely?

I believe that one major benefit financial wellness offers to the employer is increased productivity. Research indicates that forty-six percent of employees spend an average of two to three work day hours a week on personal finances. Imagine if an employer could recover a significant portion of that time. Other paybacks include reduced absenteeism, lower health costs and increased employee retention.

Higher levels of employee satisfaction.

Increased worker engagement is another big benefit for employers. A Consumer Financial Protection Bureau report says “Financial wellness… also produced higher levels of employee satisfaction with their financial situation. Indeed, employers who participated in the program noted that employees ‘had more energy’ and ‘higher engagement levels’ at work.”

In The New Productivity Engine, I also spend some time chronicling the history of worker-employee relations. Back in the feudal days, serfs toiled from dawn to dark on farms owned by the nobility, hoping to be able to save enough food to prevent starvation.

Then came the days when workers slaved away in mills from childhood to death. Life was often harsh, dangerous, and sometimes short.

We work to be appreciated, supported and fulfilled.

Then employers took a more hands-off approach. “I pay them and if they can’t manage their money, that’s their problem.” Increasingly now, employers are choosing a more enlightened tactic, providing help to workers who want to manage their money better.

“We work for satisfaction,” is my answer to the question. “Of course, we want to be paid, but we also work to be appreciated, supported, fulfilled, educated, and to be part of a team on a worthwhile mission. If we can find a job that offers those qualities, we will be loyal, actively engaged and productive. Financial wellness can help both the employer and employee achieve that goal. It’s a win-win for everyone.”