Whether or not we talk about money with our friends and family—and we probably don't—we rarely touch on the subject at work. It's embarrassing, even taboo, and it raises questions around self-worth and security. However, money and its attendant worry make their way into the office all the same—dominating our thoughts and affecting performance and focus.
New research underscores the importance of managing financial worry, and not a minute too soon. A recent study from benefits firm Willis Towers Watson sheds light on the prevalence of financial stress:
- Workers who reported that money worries kept them from doing their jobs lost nearly two weeks of productivity due to presenteeism in 2015, wherein they reported for work but couldn't focus or perform due to stress.
- As many as 59% of employees feel disengaged at work due to financial stress.
- 76% of employees believe that they're facing a less comfortable retirement than their parents' generation.
We've seen the mushrooming of self-powered financial planning tools, all of which are centered around helping people become more financially literate. But the overall situation isn't getting better, even if we've grown to better understand how to plan for retirement, how to invest, and the basics of saving money. In fact, things are getting worse. Today, money worries cause high levels of stress: 72% of Americans reported feeling stressed about money in a one-month span, and nearly a third of partnered adults reported that money is a major source of conflict in their relationships.
It doesn't have to be this way. No matter the size of your paycheck, there are some fundamental ways to address financial stress:
- Examine the role money plays in your life to get at the root cause of financial stress. This means looking at your financial icebergs—your deeply held beliefs, fears and relationship with money. We must challenge these beliefs when they aren't helping us. Pinpointing the role that money plays in our lives makes it a tool and not a master.
- Manage negative thought processes surrounding money to overcome setbacks, disrupt unhealthy thought patterns, and maintain a steady work-life balance with a healthy perspective around financial wellbeing.
- Challenge how our financial success impacts our sense of purpose, worth, and security. It's often how we measure our place in the world. But it's not the benchmark that will ultimately lead to contentment.
It's easy to see how this dark cloud of ongoing worry can derail even the most well-meaning and engaged people at work. The smartest leaders know that it's crucial to tend to the whole person to support employees and create a productive workforce. Our head and body are connected, and we bring our entire selves to work—stressors about home, life, and money right along with them.
So let's not neglect our internal barometer, especially when it comes to finances. In order to earn at top potential, people—leaders and employees—must be able to perform at their best, and worry needs to be managed to support this goal.