The heavy toll of financial distress and helping workers cope with it

While the economy is picking up, many workers are still worried about how they will overcome debt and afford everyday expenses. At the onset of the recession in 2008, Americans amassed more than $2.5 trillion in personal consumer debt, with an average of $8,565 per household, according to the American Psychiatric Foundation’s Partnership for Workplace Mental Health. The organization, which advocates employers take active approaches to their workers’ mental health, also found that 81 percent of the population is stressed and anxious about its financial future. In fact, the stress caused by fiscal uncertainty is greater than that caused by work, relationships, health problems and personal safety.

Stress reduces worker productivity because they are preoccupied and unhappy. Anxiety can distract employees from tasks, which is dangerous when large or dangerous equipment is involved. In addition, according to the Partnership for Workplace Mental Health, the relationship between financial distress and poor health is very strong. It’s therefore a good idea for employers to take initiatives to help employees cope with financial distress.

Communication is often the first step to fostering a positive work environment in any situation. When employers and managers are approachable and speak often with workers, job uncertainty may be limited. If appropriate, it’s also a good idea to discuss the dollar value of employee benefits, retirement savings programs and life and disability insurance.

The Partnership for Workplace Mental Health also recommends providing financial education services. Business owners may consider implementing a program that covers retirement, credit use, savings, personal finance management and tax planning. It’s a good idea to hold these programs annually, as many workers may need refreshers.

Employers may also consider partnering with credit counseling and support organizations. These entities provide one-on-one confidential advising sessions. The mental health organization suggests employers encourage workers seek help from employee assistance programs, which may provide temporary psychological counseling and stress management.

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