According to the American Heart Association, the No. 1 cause for heart attacks is stress, and the No. 1 cause of stress is money. When employees are financially stressed, it affects their job performance and productivity and can even erode workplace ethics and integrity.

This doesn't mean that financially strapped employees are "problems," but it does strongly suggest that when they're working but still have too much month at the end of their money, they will not be fully engaged or invested in their employer's vision. It also suggests that some basic employee financial stress is not being addressed. And that's bad news for everyone involved.

Some employers are starting to realize that financial wellness is an important component of employee wellness, and contributes to the financial well-being of the company itself.

According to John Hope Bryant--a member of President Obama's Advisory Council on Financial Capability for Young Americans and author of the book How the Poor Can Save Capitalism: Rebuilding the Path to the Middle Class--helping employees alleviate financial stress is innovative, low-cost, has measurable benefits, and is an efficient way employers can raise morale and create loyalty. Says Bryant, "Giving people financial literacy and an opportunity for self-determination means giving them hope. Financial literacy is nothing less than the new global language of money, and in today's world we all need to be bilingual."

Here are five steps you can take right now to create financially empowered employees:

1. Hold a financial literacy forum

In its latest report, the President's Advisory Council on Financial Capability said that "Employers tend to be trusted deliverers of key financial skills, and have an increasing incentive to ensure employees are free of financial stress at the workplace." The key to financial health and inclusion is financial literacy. Find creative ways to help employees become financially literate, capable, and confident. Offer financial literacy classes. Sponsor a financial literacy quiz bowl. Or hold an annual forum for sharing ideas and information.

2. Offer financial counseling

Give employees access to financial counseling. This can be done in-house or through a confidential, contracted national call center staffed with qualified financial case managers. This gives employees access to trusted information and advice on issues such as debt restructuring, HUD-approved mortgage counseling, mortgage restructuring, and home ownership certification and funding.

3. Offer retirement or 401(k) tools

Many businesses have pension plans or offer 401(k) plans--but employees aren't sure how to use them or maximize their value. Offer an annual workshop or webinar about retirement planning, and provide resources or a staff member who is available to answer questions.

4. Educate employees on the Earned Income Tax Credit

Many employees don't even realize they qualify for this federally funded credit for working people. Educate your lower-income employees on EITC certification and funding. This basically gives them up to a 10% annual pay increase, at no additional cost or expense to the employer.

5. Promote 700 credit scores

Almost nothing changes employees' lives and alleviates their financial stress more than moving their credit score up to the mid-600s or 700s. A low credit score puts employees at risk for exploitation, high banking and credit card fees, and a cycle of financial insecurity. Credit scores in the 500s and low 600s put borrowers in the worst risk category from a lender's perspective, making it nearly impossible for them to get financing to become homeowners. Most people with a "good" credit score of between 650 and 750 will qualify for a loan at the most preferred rates.

When employees do better--and are not stressing about a late car or mortgage payment or utility-bill turn-off notices--companies do better, too. At the end of the day, the company's core product is not its commercial products, but its people.