Posted by Elisabeth Leamy, Fri Oct 02 2015, 06:56PM

Should your company help you learn about money?

Your boss wants to help you lose weight and improve your vital signs.  More than 90 percent of employers now offer workplace wellness programs, according to one study.  So are you ready for another kind of wellness in the workplace?  Next your boss may help you lose debt and improve your financial vital signs.  In fact, it’s already happening.

Shawn GiIfedder, President and CEO of McGraw Hill Federal Credit Union believes this is the future of financial counseling —and of credit unions.  His credit union recently started offering what they call “Financial Wellness in the Workplace” sessions at a medium-sized content creation company in the New York/New Jersey area.  The program goes well beyond just offering information about the company 401k, delving into credit, debt, home-buying, budgeting and more.   

“Folks are clamoring for this and they just don’t know where to find it,” Gilfedder said.  “We do think the niche here is the  workplace environment.  If you ask the employees if they’d pay a sum of money to have that opportunity individually, they would say no.  But if it’s offered in the workplace, they’re happy to participate.”

First employees participate in “lunch and learn” sessions on topics like protecting your identity, understanding your credit score and better budgeting.  About 300 employees attend in person, others remotely —one even calls in from Guam.  McGraw Hill Credit Union facilitators have watched in amazement as coworkers share and commiserate about financial topics that are normally private, even taboo.

Still, Gilfedder says he knows only about 10 percent of participants in a brief seminar will actually act upon what they hear.  So he’s designed his program to go deeper.  He says it’s not enough to give people information to take in, that you must give them actions to take.  “We write prescriptions for people to meet their money goals,” he explained.  

But how do you get people to take what might be tough medicine?  For that, the credit union has “Lifecycle Labs.”  A colorful touch screen computer program takes participants through exercises like figuring out their adjusted gross income and their retirement readiness.  More vivid, they create a visual timeline with goals like throwing a wedding, buying a car or a home, paying for their children’s college tuition and then their own eventual retirement.  They walk out of the office knowing if they save X dollars each month and that money appreciates Y, then they can achieve Z.  "It’s a way to get them to vest in the process,” Gilfedder said.

The final, most personalized, layer of the McGraw Hill Credit Union program is called “Ask a CFP.”  CFP stands for Certified Financial Planner.  Each employee has the opportunity to meet with the credit union’s CFP.  They answer a questionnaire first to make the best use of the single visit. Gilfedder points out many working Americans need the advice of a pro like this but don’t feel they can afford it.  In this case their employer is paying the tab as part of the overall Workplace Financial Wellness offering. 

So why would a company pay for a program like this that doesn’t contribute directly to the bottom line?  Gilfedder has two answers.  Here’s the philosophical one:  “From an employer’s perspective, if you promote a culture that embraces employees as an asset, then this program is for them.”  And here’s the practical one:   “Financial stress is still at the top of people’s list and I can tell you 90% of the time people are addressing that stress at work.  Guess what?  They’re sitting at their desk to do their banking while they’re at the office. Reducing that stress helps them be more productive and should make them a better employee."So… is it working?  Gilfedder and his team point to what they see as several positive signs after just a few months.  With their help:

•1 employee reduced her student loan debt from  $600 at 12% to $190 at 6%. 

•A 50-year-old employee with credit card debt got his finances in order so that he could purchase a home. 

•An employee who made a good salary but still had a low credit score managed to consolidate some loans and raise his score.

Perhaps even more gratifying to Gilfedder, other companies have begun inquiring about his Financial Wellness in the Workplace program and other credit unions have too.  Could financial wellness coaching come to your workplace sometime soon?  Would you want it to?  Is work an appropriate place to talk money?   I’m curious.  Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.