Your Employees' Financial Problems Are Your Problems
Income taxes are due in one week, which means that many of us are thinking about money. In fact, a recent survey by McGraw-Hill Federal Credit Union says that 36 percent of Americans spend at least two hours a day worrying about their personal finances. And while many of us are experts at multitasking, if your employees are focused on their financial problems, they are less focused on your business.
The Society For Human Resource Management (SHRM) agrees. They said, in a 2012 survey of HR managers, that 83 percent believed that their employees' financial problems had an impact on their work. This includes employees who struggle to focus on work (47 percent) and contributes to overall stress (46 percent). Twenty-six percent of respondents said their employees' financial problems impact productivity.
Which means that that your employees' financial problems become your financial problems. There are ways to help lessen the probability that your employees have financial problems, but they are problematic. For instance, the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC) is cracking down on employers using credit checks because of the fact that some racial groups have lower average credit scores than others. The EEOC lost (rather spectacularly) in court against Kaplan, but the reason their case was dismissed wasn't due to any determination of whether Kaplan discriminated or not, but rather because the EEOC used really questionable scientific methods to prove disparate impact. Which means, undoubtedly, that the EEOC isn't done challenging businesses that use credit checks.
Another potential solution is to pay your employees tons of money. If all their financial needs are taken care of, no worries, right? It's a good theory, but it doesn't work that way. I've talked to hundreds (if not thousands) of people who have been laid off. Some of those who made $35,000 a year had savings accounts and paid off houses and, while distraught over losing a job, were not on the financial edge. On the other hand, I've talked to people making well into the six-figure range who lived paycheck to paycheck and were utterly devastated financially by the loss of a paycheck.
So, what are you to do to help ensure that your employees are thinking about your business and not their personal finances during the day? Here are five ways.
Consider an EAP. What's an EAP? That's code for an Employee Assistance Program. These are relatively inexpensive programs that help connect your employees with services they need. You can either pay for a simple referral system, or you put a bit more money into it and pay for initial consultation meetings with financial planners, attorneys, or mental health experts. Just knowing where to start can be a tremendous help.
Be predictable with paychecks. Some of you are saying, "duh, pay day is the 1st and 15th." On the other hand, some others of you are cringing and saying "pay day should be the 1st and the 15th but but I need to wait until this client pays before I can pay my employees." (I've gotten emails from your employees, by the way, wondering what their legal rights are.) Your employees' paychecks are a top priority and should always be done accurately and on schedule. Period. It's good business.
Change your reimbursement policy. If your employees are all paying off their credit cards in full every month and have substantial savings accounts, your reimbursement policies aren't that important, as long as it's eventually done. However, if your employees carry credit card balances, they have to pay interest on anything charged to the card, even if it's reimbursable by the business. If you require employees to use their own cards for travel you may be inadvertently adding to their debt. Consider charging as much as possible directly to the company and using petty cash when feasible. Having a company credit card that is only used for business can also be a solution.
Consider telecommuting options. How does this affect your employees' finances? We all know that time is money and the time spent in the car is time when they could otherwise be earning, but the reality is that driving is tremendously expensive. Just the saving in gas alone could be helpful, not to mention wear and tear on the car, tolls, and all the other things that come with commuting.
Cancel the party fund. Parties are awesome. I love parties, because I love food. But, as Miss Manners will tell you, the person who hosts, pays. You are the boss, so if you want the party, you (or the business) should pay. Stop asking people to contribute $20 here for a baby shower and $5 a month for birthday cake and another $20 here for a baby shower. $20 is no big deal for some people but it's a huge deal for others. And here's the thing, you may not know which category people fall into. People with big paychecks often have big obligations. And you may not know who is paying off student loans, supporting a unemployed sibling, or recovering from vast amounts of medical debt. If you ask people to chip in, ask for money to be placed, anonymously, in an envelope and do not, under any circumstances, ask why someone isn't chipping in.
All in all, you need to keep your eyes open and be compassionate towards financial stress. Do what you can to help people keep their finances under control and it will be less likely to have a negative impact on your business.
SUZANNE LUCAS | Columnist
Suzanne Lucas spent 10 years in corporate human resources, where she hired, fired, managed the numbers, and double-checked with the lawyers.