What employees really want to be happy, productive, and loyal

GUEST POST: Digital transformation expert Laurence Smith suggests the true way to connect with staff is through their individual financial literacy and wellbeing.

The last two years have been incredibly stressful for every employee, leader, and family.

Companies have experimented with many combinations of offerings to enhance

productivity and engagement, as well as reducing stress and attrition of key talent, while also

simultaneously moving to a digitally enhanced and socially distanced hybrid work

environment. Phew!

There have been many worthy initiatives launched — but we have lacked certainty on what

employees really want and need, and then how to deliver it. But now we have the data.

A comprehensive survey by research firm Future Workplace reinforces our own on-the-ground experience working with companies throughout Southeast Asia.

Financial and mental wellbeing are the highest priorities

Perhaps the biggest surprise for those new to this field is that Financial and Mental Health

wellbeing are now the highest priorities for employees. Interestingly, financial matters are

also the main driver (54%, according to PwC) of mental health concerns amongst professional staff.

So your employees literally do have money on their minds. In fact your typical employee is

distracted from work due to money concerns for about an hour a day on average. Just imagine how you would react if you could actually see most of your employees

leaving the office at 4:00pm most days! We now have the data to know this is actually


Money matters most

The below chart shows conclusively that financial wellbeing is the primary lever employers

can pull to impact employee engagement, productivity and retention. However, it is still an area few employers have any experience with (to learn more, see the case studies in my previous guest post: Why caring for staff is the real secret to profitability).

This brings us to the the question of how leaders should respond. This data probably

reinforces your own experience and anxiety about the mental health and financial wellness

of your workforce. What are your options to improve productivity, engagement, and

retention — while controlling costs?

Once again the research gives some powerful insights. The Future Workplace study found that there were several key initiatives that `could help to improve the wellbeing and engagement of professional staff.

“When employees were surveyed on what their employer could do to improve their overall

well-being, in addition to additional paid time off, the top benefits identified were fairly

evenly ranked as: improved mental health support (29% of respondents identified this), adequate staffing (28%), better health insurance (28%), and financial wellness training (27%)," the report stated.

In reality it is often hard for most companies today to invest more in additional paid time

off, better mental health support, hiring more staff, or improving health insurance. However

high impact financial wellness training with measurable results, can be deployed for as

little as SGD 10 to SGD 25 per employee per year.

This makes Financial Wellness campaigns the intervention most requested by employees,

and the most affordable for employers. Indeed, Deloitte research show a 5:1 return on investment, with dollar invested in financial wellness, returning five dollars in business benefits.

In addition, The 2021 PwC Financial Wellness survey revealed that “72% of employees

report being stressed about their finances and would leave for another company that

demonstrates how they care about their employees’ financial wellbeing”.

In the case studies referred to in my previous article, we found that employees of all kinds — and in multiple industries — were desperately hungry for learning and the opportunity to develop their financial literacy and improve their financial wellness.

What next?

In the last two years, leaders have learned how to be more empathetic, to focus more on purpose and meaning at work, and to communicate better in hybrid work environments. Now the most progressive organisations are looking at their employees as whole human

beings and realising that just teaching them the technical skills to do their jobs is not enough.

You can be the best leader in your industry, but if your employees are in mental distress

due to their personal finances, even with the best will in the world, they cannot operate at

their best.

As leaders we have an opportunity here, to step forward, provide some fundamental training and development in financial literacy, and assist our employees in making their way towards financial wellness. This will not only impact the firm’s bottom line, but give you the happiest, most loyal, and most engaged workforce in the industry.

And a final point, if you are trying to drive digital transformation in your industry and asking

people to take risks and try experimentation — or even "failing fast" — how can you expect

them to do that without a firm foundation of financial wellness and psychological safety?

Most of us care about making a difference at work. Now is the time for you to step forward

as a leader and help your employees achieve health, wealth and happiness — so that they

may help to passionately grow the business they have chosen to be with and genuinely

care about.


Laurence Smith is Head of Digital Asia for PictureWealth.com, a fast growing FinTech focusing on improving employee engagement through Financial Literacy and Wellness.

He is the global #1 best selling author of Transformation Mindset and was previously Managing Director of HR, and Group Head of Learning and Talent Development at DBS Bank.

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