It’s been a tough year for all of us. COVID-19 has grounded us, forced us into our bunkers.
Education has been among the hardest-hit sectors. Nightly debates flood our television networks on in-person, remote, and hybrid learning. Through it all, our dedicated educators and school personnel push through their own fears and concerns to selflessly do their best for our kids and their students.
Beneath it all, however, are the same concerns: am I going to get the virus? If I get it, will I survive it? And, if I do, how long will I be out of work, and what’s the impact on my finances? Or, maybe the concern isn’t so much about them, but their loved ones. Perhaps they are a two-income household, but their spouse has lost their job. Or Mom got sick and the emergency fund is drained from taking care of her.
Employees working in K-12 education carry more total debt than the national average (totaling $105 billion) and, due to a large percentage of non-salaried employees and those with high levels of student loan debt, they're more likely to be financially stressed. Eighty percent of the U.S. workforce is living paycheck to paycheck and four out of 10 could not handle a $400 emergency expense. Addressing financial stress is highly critical because the impact goes beyond staff and impacts students. Studies have shown that when teachers are stressed, students show “lower levels of both social adjustment and academic performance.” Teacher turnover also has a negative impact, especially on lower-performing students.
Financial stress also manifests itself in physical and mental illness: nearly three-quarters of American workers who experience financial stress experience have physical symptoms and they are seven times more likely to be suffering from depression.
School officials balance many needs, including financial ones. This means making sure paychecks are received and on time, benefits have reasonable premiums and retirement plan options are properly administered. But, as a profession built on the assertion that education is the great equalizer, how does financial wellbeing fit in?
It's in the best interest of both school districts and their employees to put in place solutions that can improve employees' financial wellbeing in a measurable, truly impactful way.
And school district officials can help. Here’s how:
1. Have meaningful conversations with teachers and school personnel. For so long, talking personal finances has been verboten. This isn’t okay for workers in any industry, but particularly in education when educators and staff are selflessly giving of themselves to our children, who are also impacted. It’s time to get past it and talk openly with your employees about the stress they are bringing to their day-to-day work.
2. Find a financial services provider who can help educate and provide for educators and staff. A good provider will help improve financial literacy and offer programs for workers to invest in. Trusted Capital Group, a Salary Finance partner, has built financial education programs geared toward educators and other school personnel that includes investment and retirement services. According to Trusted Capital Group’s Chief Marketing Officer Chris Jamail, “Whether Administrators choose to manage their financial education programs in-house or through a financial services provider, the end goal should be to implement a program emphasizing three core areas: education, advice, and equitable access”.
3. Explore new benefits to reduce financial stress. You offer 403(b) and/or 457(b) plans, but have you explored other financial support benefits? Salary-linked benefits - whether it be those that provide access to affordable credit or help employees save money in a more automated way - are wanted by your workforce. Thirty-one percent of employers surveyed by EBRI plan to start offering emergency savings via payroll deduction in the next one to two years and, of those who offer salary-linked loans, nearly 60 percent saw increased engagement with the benefit since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. These benefits are powerful because they can help shortcut, or hack, an individual’s natural behavior to help them achieve greater financial wellness, all by leveraging the power of the already-in-place payroll deduction system. Employees recognize the value of accessing these types of benefits through the workplace and the helpfulness of the connection with their paycheck.
The world has changed - and your educators, cafeteria workers, custodians, and administrative assistants need your help. Now is the time to begin the dialogue and develop programs that help them address financial stress.