Senior Advisor on Government Relations, SHRM
According to a 2018 study by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), U.S. organizations are increasingly offering comprehensive financial benefit plans as a means of recruiting and retaining top talent. That’s no surprise as the same study revealed personal anxiety and financial stress can have a significant effect on employees, leading to decreased productivity, inability to focus, poor health and low retention.
Chatrane Birbal, senior advisor on governmental relations at SHRM, believes there are emerging trends in employee financial wellness that correlate directly to the economy. “With the unemployment rate now less than 4 percent,” she says, “employers want to remain an employer of choice.” And that means expanding benefit options beyond basic healthcare to include comprehensive retirement offerings, financial advice, stock options, low- or no-interest loans and, perhaps most importantly, education assistance.
Overcoming student debt
For younger workers, student debt has become a major issue to consider. Birbal points to federal government estimates that indicate “there are 44 million Americans with student loan debt, bringing the total U.S. student debt burden to more than $1.5 trillion.” Given such daunting statistics, it’s no surprise to Birbal that retirement plans aren’t always top of mind for recent graduates. “Younger individuals entering the workforce may be fixated on getting rid of debt and not thinking about retirement because it seems so far away.” But new plans and innovative solutions may help turn the tide.
SHRM has been advocating for a bill in congress to address the issue of student debt. “One of the policy issues that we work on is the expansion of employer-provided education assistance to include student loan repayment as a benefit.” It’s an example of HR professionals and employers working together to develop innovative solutions that truly speak to the needs and wellbeing of their employees. In fact, says Birbal, “Tying retirement to repayment of student loans may become a new norm.”
Focusing on the long term
Still, Birbal stresses that everyone needs to take a step back in order to see the bigger picture and that retirement planning is still hugely important. “The latest research shows that Americans have a $4.3 trillion deficit in retirement savings. Employers know that many employees, particularly those that are new to the workforce, need to do a better job of planning for retirement.”
According to Birbal, that’s where your HR professional comes into play. “In today’s modern workplace, HR professionals really serve as strategic business partners in their respective companies.” They work with management to create the compensation packages that employees truly need and value, and they advise employees about all the different benefit options available to them and the best ways to plan for long-term financial fitness.
For those just entering the workplace and interviewing with prospective employers, Birbal has one simple piece of advice: “No one should ever be shy about asking about benefits.”