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Welcome to The JoyPowered Workspace® Podcast, where we talk about embracing joy in the workplace. I’m JoDee Curtis, owner of Purple Ink, an HR consulting firm, and with me is my co-host and good friend Susan White, a national HR consultant.
Our topic today is “It Takes Strength to Seek Financial Help.” But let’s talk about what is financial health. “Financial health” is a term used to describe the state of one’s personal monetary affairs. There are many dimensions to financial health, including the amount of savings you have, how much you’re putting away for retirement, and how much of your income you’re spending on fixed or non-discretionary expenses. So some of the key takeaways on financial health are the state and stability of an individual’s personal finances and financial affairs are called their “financial health,” a different definition. Typical signs of strong financial health include a steady flow of income, rare changes in expenses, strong returns on investments, and a cash balance that is growing. To improve your financial health, you can assess your current network, create a budget you can stick to – I’m still working on that one, Susan – build an emergency fund, and pay down your debts. If you’re wondering why this is a topic on the JoyPowered® podcast, I’ll refer you to an article written by Stephen Miller, CEBS for SHRM in July 2020 titled, “Well-Being, Voluntary Benefits Help Stressed Employees Cope.” Financial health, or the lack thereof, has a significant impact on the well-being or stress of your employees.
No, it just makes such good sense, doesn’t it, right?
If you’re stressed, it’s gonna be hard to focus and be productive.
Right. And that all impacts their productivity, their engagement, their ability to cope in the workforce. So in this article, Miller refers to the results from an HR advisory firm Buck’s 2020 Financial Wellbeing and Voluntary Benefits Survey. Said that 40% of employers polled say adding…addressing financial stress is the top reason for increasing benefit options that employees can select. And that was up from 16% in 2017.
“Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, companies were deeply aware of the financial stress many Americans struggle with every day,” and that was said by Tom Kelly, who’s a principal and voluntary benefits leader in the Buck health practice. But he goes on to say, “Hourly and millennial workers are seen to be most in need, and we’re seeing a renewed focus on voluntary benefits as a way to move employees from financial instability to stability and ultimately to enhance financial peace of mind.”
So number one, they could help with meeting short-term financial obligations, such as budgeting and saving, 68%.
66% of employees said they could help them with credit card debt.
59% said unexpected medical expenses.
Yeah. And finally, paying off student loans. The surveyed employers, all of whom had 500 employees or more, offered on average 10 programs that provide help addressing unexpected expenses, tackling debt, and paycheck to paycheck issues and securing legal services. “Financial well-being is clearly a top priority for employers,” said the health practice leader for Buck, Brian Stitzel, “Now, as we navigate the impact of COVID-19 on the U.S. economy, it’s even more critical. Workers who’ve had wages reduced, been furloughed or rehired after a period of unemployment may need extra support.”
According to the survey, 80% of employers see direct savings by offering voluntary benefits through employee attraction and retention, behavior change, and increased participation in cost-favorable plans. Another recent survey further highlights the importance of a robust benefits program to help employees dealing with emotional and financial stress due to the pandemic. Results from the MetLife 18th Annual U.S. Employees Benefit Trends Study 2020 shows that most employer…employees, 67% of them, are feeling more stressed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, especially women and low income workers. In fact, some of the stats around that are 72% of women feel more stressed compared to 61% of men.
Interesting. And 70% of employees who earn less than $50,000 a year feel more stressed compared to 62% of those earning more than $100,000.
Finally, 68% of employees in 2020 said that because of the benefits they receive at work, they worry less about unexpected health and financial issues. Makes good sense.
Yeah. So it does really make a difference what employers can offer.
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Our expert today is Peter Dunn, otherwise known as Pete the Planner. He’s a USA Today columnist, an author of 10 books, a syndicated radio host, and CEO of Your Money Line and Hey Money. Pete will help us further explore this topic of financial health.
I have to tell you, JoDee, I’m dazzled that we have Pete the Planner on our show. I love to read his article, I follow him on Twitter. I think he has a great sense of humor and also wonderful advice, and so I feel very lucky that we get a chance to get some advice from him today.
Yes, me too. Pete, thank you so much for joining us today. We’re so excited to have you on the JoyPowered® podcast.
Well, thank you, JoDee. It’s good to be with both you and Susan.
Yeah, thanks. So kind of a big question, but what are people going through financially right now?
They’re going through a range of feelings. You know, the tough part about what we’re all dealing with right now is this economy, this pandemic, this recession has split us into three groups of Americans. Previously, there were two, frankly, there was people who make above living wage and people who make below living wage. That’s…that’s how the economy of the United States typically works, but now we’re split into three, and it has nothing has to do with living wage. It has to do with people who have been greatly impacted by what we’ve all gone through in the last six months, and I mean greatly impacted from a financial standpoint, JoDee. You’ve got group two, those are people who have not been impacted, yet they don’t have financial stability, so they’re more likely to head towards group one than to group three. And group three are people who have not been impacted, yet do have financial stability. So to ask what are people going through right now, it’s through the lens of what group you’re in. If you’re in group one, you’re scared out of your mind, and you’re trying to survive. And the challenge with that, of course, is when you’re scared, it’s hard to look ahead. People in group two…this sounds rough, but frankly, we see a lot of complacency in group two, because we see people who say, “Well, you know what, it’s not that bad. Let’s look at the bright side here.” Meanwhile, they’re ignoring their need to get to objective stability. And group three, very frankly, while there are some…there’s some trepidation, it’s business as usual. And I think that will actually lead to a larger wealth gap in our country, because the people who have stability can appropriately take advantage of it and strengthen their position.
Yeah, interesting. I love that you have three groups, because I’ve been talking to people, I feel like at least from a business standpoint, that their businesses seem to be in two camps, and now probably really three. But I feel like with our clients, there’s ones who are thriving right now, and then there are ones, like restaurants and bars and hotels, that are getting demolished right now. But you’re right, there’s also that group in between.
Yeah, it’s…it’s interesting, because I think Americans tend to…and I don’t say people, because I think sometimes we’re too myopic about America without identifying that I’m talking about Americans here. I think people tend to confuse comfort and stability. People have comfort in their lifestyle, they say, “Oh, we always get to go on vacation. We can go out to eat whenever we want. I’ve got a nice car. Therefore, I have comfort in my lifestyle,” but JoDee and Susan, this is not stability. Stability is the ability to withstand trouble, and that’s what we’ve learned in the last six months. And look, I’ve been doing this for 20 years, but I can tell you, I’ve learned a lot in the last six months about stability and the importance of it.
Yeah, we are hearing from individuals who are doing well, savings tends to be up for them. They’re actually putting away more money and expenses are down. Can you give us some insights on that, what you’re seeing?
Absolutely. So Mrs. Planner and I actually also have been saving more money recently, and it’s not because we have to, it’s…it’s just plain and simple chemistry within our brain. It makes us feel good. It makes us feel good, and so that’s why we’re doing it. If you look at bank statements from January of 2020 and April of 2020, one of the primary things you’ll notice is the frequency of which we spent money has changed significantly. You know, we began to study this in 2008, 2009, during the Great Recession. We noticed that Americans were spending money about 22 times per week per household. Okay, I’m gonna say it again, because it starts to get a…22 times per week per household, and that is high because of debit card usage and credit card usage. In the 1990s, it wasn’t that high, because people primarily used cash and check. So while it doesn’t take twice as long to go to the grocery store, because everyone’s not writing checks, people do more convenience spending with the use of that debit card. So what we have seen in relation to that is a decrease in the frequency of which people spent money, plain and simple, because we couldn’t spend any money in March, April, and May. There was nowhere to go, nothing to do except to buy more bread making supplies for home.
And chipmunk traps, for that matter. So that’s the challenge. Our behaviors have changed significantly, and I believe it’s the Americans that lock in those behavior changes which were necessary, that will…they will begin to weather this storm better than the people that just view this as a temporary reprieve and then get back to their regular old spending.
Yeah. So I think it’s been confusing about what we’re hearing in the news. Like, I almost wonder, and you just alluded to it some, like, has COVID-19 been a positive time for many people financially? I’ve heard that savings rates are up and expenses are down, but yet, we’re also hearing about unemployment and all of these people that don’t have jobs. What is it? All of those?
Well, let me paint a picture for you. Let’s say you’ve got a family of four and you’ve got two young kids who are in daycare, and over the last five to six months, those children have not been in daycare, saving that family between – and I’m just using a big rough number here – between $1,000 to $2,000 a month. That same family received a stimulus payment of $3,400 on April 15. That same family will likely receive another stimulus payment within the next 30 days or so of another at least $3,400. They don’t have transportation costs. They’re scared out of their gourd like everyone else, so their frequency of spending’s changed. So JoDee, you tell me. That…that actually paints, possibly – and this is gross – the best financial time of that family’s life. So that is where you are seeing the difference of, frankly, white collar workers versus blue collar workers, and where the middle class, upper middle class may have a little more advantage than folks that aren’t in that position of financial stability.
Yeah. You’ve talked before, Pete, about expanding yourself grace. What do you mean when you say that, giving yourself grace?
I think there’s a lot of pressure right now on people to have this period of time define their character for years going forward. I mean, that’s the way after school specials work. I know that’s how…the way Lifetime movies work. But Susan, this is real stuff. This is really once in a century…a one…once in a century series of events, and so I think people need to understand that this potentially will be the worst time of your life and you don’t have to gloss through it and still post smiling pictures of yourself on Instagram. It’s okay to to hurt. It’s okay to emote financially and say, look, this…this is really hard. I’ll even say this, people who have stability that are being forced to – and for those listening, I just did air quotes, which is always good for just audio media – being forced to spend down their savings account, and that actually hurts some people. Some people are so hesitant to tap into that emergency reserve that they’re not even viewing this…this period of time as an emergency, and they’re making their problems worse, Susan, by just simply denying that this is a difficult time. So I’m always a fan of extending yourself some grace, especially when you’re putting forth your best effort. But I think in this period of time alone, not only should you extend yourself some grace and truly admit that we’re in…I’m not going to say the word unprecedented, but we’re in unusual times. But I also think for what it’s worth, that should really impact our attitudes and perspectives as we deal with others. I think as we deal with our employers, they have a tremendous amount of stress, as we deal with our coworkers, they have a tremendous number of stress, even as we deal with merchants in our communities and those workers are just doing the best they can both from a life standpoint and from a financial standpoint. I think if…if you…if you come at people with that level of grace, you know, you’re not going to get those nasty Yelp reviews that someone gave you one paper plate instead of two at a restaurant and now you’re giving them two stars. So I don’t know, I think I’ve grown up enough to the point that I value grace quite a bit these days.
Yeah. Thank you. Pete, what advice do you have…and again, sort of a generic question, but what advice do you have for employers right now on how they might help their employees through this? I mean, and some employers are struggling also, right? But what are some things they can do? Extending grace, you just mentioned, is one of them.
A couple things, really. And we’ve been spending a lot of time as an executive team within our organization to do that. But I was talking to my daughter after a soccer game last evening. A socially distant soccer game, y’all.
Thank you very much.
You’re welcome. Doing it for you, Susan. I’m doing it for JoDee, doing it for everybody.
And we were talking about you know, ultimately, if you just treat others as you wish to be treated, it pretty much solves a lot of problems. It really does. And that’s the way I tend to try to approach being an employer, but I think in this period of time, I don’t think you should start with a default that you’ve always done things the right way. Because that’s where employers, I think, can get in trouble here is they say, “Okay, well, we’ve always been right. Now we’ve got this adversity. How do we look at this through the lens of we were always right?” And I know for my team, what we’ve done is we’ve said, okay, let’s not start with that default. Let’s not start with the idea that work life balance is the starting point. And I know this is a little bit cheesy, but it’s worked for me, is that we’ve said let’s…let’s rephrase it to it’s life work balance. It’s not work life balance anymore. So, I mean, we’ve cut to four days a week, we have completely changed the expectations, not because the time calls for it, JoDee, but because the truth calls for it. I think this will ultimately…and again, this also sounds gross. This will ultimately be a wonderful thing for the right organizations that can frame the work people do for them in a better mindset. We’re a problem solving organization, we…we help people with their financial challenges no matter what they are, and our goal is to lead with empathy. Because when…when you’re struggling, you don’t want to feel judged. And when we’re dealing with the clients, the employers of those employees, those people don’t feel judged for having done it a different way. So we’ve simply said, okay, well, let’s just extend that as an executive team and understand that we’ve got some people going through some stuff right now, and it needs to reset how we’ve thought about this. Now, me putting those fun words out there…understand that we’re still trying to get better too, so I’m not saying I’ve got it all figured out, or we’ve got it all figured out. But we do believe it’s a journey in that sense, that that’s our aim. Our aim is to is to stop assuming that the way we’ve always done it is right. And I think that extends culturally to society at large right now as well.
Yeah, great advice. Is there any other advice or anything you think our listeners need to know, Pete?
You know, it’s…I’ve been struggling with something here recently, Susan, to that point, that I’m proud of, but it’s also weird and hard to talk about. I’m at a point where I’ve decided the last couple months I’m just going to work on myself a lot, right? I’m going to work on my health, I’m going to work on nutrition, I’m going to work on communication and relationships. And to be in the stability group, group three as we identified earlier, allows me to do that. You know, recently some…some government leaders or people within the government said now’s a good time to go recreate yourself and get another job in a different field and…and that definitely came off not…not so great, based on the tone it was delivered in, and so I don’t want my message to be the same, but I will say it is okay to press reset on who you are and how you live. I mean, because, look, if you do it when times are bad, it’s gonna stick. If you do it when times are good, it just feels like a self-indulgence. So I think, you know, give people the courage, encourage people to have the courage to make a big change, and not necessarily career-wise, but just within your life. I’ll say, dealing with people’s finances for so long, it’s the people…people that sold the house that they never could afford anyway, that’s what solves the problem. It’s not fighting a battle you can’t win. That’s not courage. Courage is seeking help. So if you have an area of your life that you’re struggling with right now, whether it’s financial or fitness or relationships or faith, for that matter, I think now is the perfect time to dig into it, because you’re so used to pain and uncertainty. What’s a little bit more as you try to develop that self-control that’s on the other side of the sacrifice that you’re going to have to put into making that change?
You’ve inspired me.
Well, good. Well, I…look, here’s the thing. We’re all in this together. And I know that’s a…that’s just the throwaway line of the year of 2020. That will be the Time phrase of the year…hopefully it’s not medically related, it’ll be “we’re all in this together.” But that’s…that’s the thing, I think. You know, my father-in-law and I were having this discussion the other night, people tend to show that they care less about each other than ever before. It just feels that way. And so if you feel that way and that makes you uncomfortable, then I think you’re obligated to just view us all as one community. And it’s…it’s that nimbyism that we’ve gotten used to, that “not in my backyard,” sort of thing that has gotten us in trouble. So I tend to be a lot more spiritual in that sense than I used to be, that we’re all in this together, and whatever I can do to help, I’m in.
Yeah, me too. Great advice. And Pete, how can our listeners reach out to you or follow you or get advice from you or all the other many ways we can learn from you?
They can just fax me. No, I’m just kidding. I did have a guy ask for my fax number the other day, and I was like, “Well it’s 1984. The number is 1984.” Petetheplanner.com, you know, we work with employers as a financial wellness offering where our team of financial problem solvers help their people going through some some tough times, and that company is called Your Money Line, which you can learn more at petetheplanner.com, and then we’ve got a straight to consumer, straight to people solution to it for people whose employers don’t have that offering, and that’s called Hey Money, but you can learn all that at petetheplanner.com. So yeah, that’s the best way to find me.
Yeah. And can people get…find your books on petetheplanner.com, as well?
They can. They absolutely can. So they can…I think there’s 10 of them or so on there, so find one that works best for you. And we don’t have any shipping delays, so we can get those out, we can get those out to you. So, like you, JoDee, I, too, am an author. So, yes. And I loved your book, JoDee, so thank you for writing it.
Thank you very much. So. Well, thank you so much for joining us today, Pete. I know I’ve learned a lot, as I always do when talking to you, and I’m sure our listeners love it as well.
Thank you so much.
Always a pleasure.
JoDee, our listener question today is, “Do you think it’s necessary to have reference checks for entry level talent or graduating seniors?”
So, Susan, I’m going to expand this question a little bit and not only talk about reference checks, but also background checks, because I’ve heard that question many times before, too. I personally am a fan of both, of both the reference checks and background checks. Let me take the reference checks first, because that was our official question. A lot of people think, oh, why bother with reference checks, they’re only going to give us names and contact information for people who love us. But I tell you, I’ve been surprised over the years how many times I’ve done a reference check and it has not been all glowing and and rah-rah about the candidates, so I’m still a fan of doing that. And I think what a new college graduate or entry level talent still has experience about things, like did they come to class on time? Or did they come to work at the Dairy Queen on time? You know, it doesn’t…maybe they’ve had different types of roles that are not the same as their new career they’re launching, but I think it can still tell a lot about a person.
I agree with you. There was a USA Today snapshot, you know how they have those little surveys sometimes on USA Today, and in that, they said that 46% of working Americans know someone who has either lied or embellished on their resume or during the interviewing process. Oh my gosh! So I think you owe it to yourself as an employer to check out what you can check out. It’s just, I think, good…good discipline, good due diligence. If someone says they graduated from somewhere, if the job needs a degree or other type of credential, you need to go back and make sure that it really did happen. And where you can get employers to talk about, or even if it’s the head of the volunteer organization the person was involved in, to talk about how they did show up and how they behaved in the workplace or the volunteer place, I think it will serve you well. So we’re two fans of it.
Yeah. And so then to expand on the background check, you know, you can also use a background check company to double check things like did they graduate from college, did they get a degree, did they earn this particular certification, and I’m a really big fan of background checks, too. I will admit, most of the time I have not ran one on graduating seniors and entry level talent, simply sometimes because of an age and that most everything they’ve done under the age of 18 would likely be sealed anyway. But I don’t know. I also like consistency in the hiring process. And if that’s a part of your process to do that, certainly if it’s in your employee manual that that’s what you do, then I would encourage you to keep that up as well. What about you, Susan? Do you run them on entry level talent?
If I’m working with a client, I follow whatever their practice is, or if I’m just helping them with, like, a niche position, I strongly recommend it. I think it’s really important to do background checks and…to the extent you can do it. You’re never gonna know everything about someone, but I do think it’s important to figure out what you can validate.
Yeah. You know, even in just preparing for this podcast, when I was thinking I was going to answer this question, I thought, you know, I’m kind of embarrassed to say, no, I haven’t. So, my recommendation to others hereforth is…
Don’t do what I do, do as I say.
That’s what my mother used to say, for sure.
In our in the news section today, there was an article posted by ATD, The Association of Talent Development, on July 14, 2020, titled “Bringing the Lessons Learned from Remote Work Back to the Office,” by Mandy Gilbert. And the article says, “As we begin to transition back into traditional office spaces – even if it’s only some of the time – remember to integrate the positive habits you developed during the quarantine.” So let’s take each of these, Susan. Positive habit number one is to take actual breaks. I know, for me, I’m much better at this when I’m at home, because I have two dogs that I take out on a walk. So she says, “Every few hours go out and get a breath of fresh air, grab a cup of tea, or take a walk.”
I love that habit. And I sometimes have to remind myself, especially if I’m working on something that is really complex and it’s taking me hours, that I’m going to be better if I just get up and walk around for a few minutes and come back to it. So it’s something I have to consciously think about to do.
So number two, consider how you’re using your time in the office versus how you use your time working from home. “While this isn’t a novel idea, it’s true that many in-person meetings can usually be emails or quick conference calls.”
Yeah, great. And number three, remember to prioritize wellness. “Working from home allowed many of us to integrate wellness habits into our day to day lives. Whether that was going for a jog in the morning or meditating in the afternoon. Everyone’s wellness routine looks different, but as things start to transition back to ‘normal,’ make sure those habits carry over.” Now, Susan, in the article she only had three, but I’ve added a number four. I’m not sure about you, but somewhat unintentionally, one of my habits was around our topic today of financial wellness. I’ve spent a lot less money on clothes and jewelry and shoes and makeup and going out to eat and spending money on entertainment. Although I do like to support local businesses, I’ve realized how unnecessarily I was spending, as well. So hoping that’s a habit I can continue on.
That’s a great one. You know, we started having our groceries delivered and our dairy delivered and our wine delivered. And, I mean, I don’t know if my money has gone down or our spending has gone down or not, but I do think I’m going to continue with it. I just love having deliveries as opposed to going out and shopping, so that’s probably something I’ll carry forward.
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