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Employers, employees diverge on what financial wellness programs should be offered – Alight

SOS sign on sandy beach

There's a sharp difference between what workers want from employers in terms of financial wellness and what employers say they should offer, according to new research from Alight Solutions published Tuesday.

"Workers are asking for more help," especially outside the traditional retirement programs, said Robert Austin, director of research for Alight. There's a wide gap, for example, between what employees want vs. what employers want to provide in areas like debt management, student loans and children's education, he said.

The non-retirement assistance is important because "so many employers are using benefits to retain and attract employees," Mr. Austin said. "There are non-traditional avenues that they can use."

To compare employees' wishes vs. employers' reality, Alight used the results of a survey of 187 employers from its annual report, "2018 Hot Topics In Retirement and Financial Wellbeing," published Tuesday. The responses — from clients as well as non-clients — covered plans with approximately 8 million participants.

Alight matched these responses to comments from 2,003 employees in an Alight survey published last year. The questions for both groups were the same; the workers in the 2017 survey were not chosen from the list of employers in the 2018 survey.

Comments from participants and from employers were most closely aligned when Alight asked if employers should help workers save for retirement. Eighty-eight percent of workers and 84% of employers agreed.

On questions if employers should help workers, some of the biggest disparities in the two surveys were:

  • helping with debt management, with 46% of workers and 23% of employers in agreement;
  • saving for children's education, in which 47% of workers agreed but only 20% of employers agreed; and
  • helping pay off or refinance student loans, in which 46% of workers but only 18% of employers agreed.

Student loans should be a special concern for employers because huge outstanding loans are "handcuffing workers," Mr. Austin said. "They're saving less if they're paying off loans."

However, the survey of employers found little interest in helping workers outside of providing tools to help consolidate or refinance loans (11% do this) or providing tools that allow for payroll contributions to 529 plans (10%).

Only 5% provide money to help workers pay off student loans and only 1% of employers contribute money to 529 plans. For the latter category, 86% said they had no intention of contributing; for the former category, 62% said they wouldn't help.