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Measuring the value of financial wellness can be tricky

Some benchmarks are simple to evaluate. Looking to find out how a particular midcap equity fund performed? Check out Standard & Poor's MidCap 400 index, or those offered by FTSE Russell and Wilshire Associates.

Things can get a bit murkier, though, when it comes to measuring the success of some workplace programs. Financial wellness, which can cover an array of programs and is a hot new offering among America's top employers, comes to mind here.

As a recent story in Pensions & Investments reported, more employers are interested in launching such programs, which aim to help employees better manage their financial lives, and, in doing so, cut their workplace stress and improve productivity.

It's a noble goal. But proponents of such programs say a big stumbling block sits in the path toward adoption. Financial wellness can be a hard sell to senior management, who understandably are looking for ways to evaluate whether these programs are worth the investment. Do they really help improve retirement readiness or lower turnover? In an all-out race to secure and retain talent, do they help ensure employee satisfaction? It isn't easy to parse the real factors that are changing employee behavior.

Some early adopters are tracking health-care costs and absenteeism as a way to evaluate return on investment. Experts also urge employers to capture data on loans and withdrawals from defined contribution plans.

Employers have plenty on their plates these days and taking on a new initiative isn't done lightly. One of the best ways to ensure a successful retirement, a defined benefit plan, has become an endangered species among corporate employers, stamped out by rising costs and employers' hunger for a fixed exposure to funding costs.

But employers also recognize there is value in helping employees successfully navigate their financial lives. A recent survey by Aon Hewitt of about 250 employers sought to gauge why employers offered financial wellness programs.

The most common reason? "It's the right thing to do."

That's not something that can be quantified. But financial wellness programs are worthy of C-suite consideration.