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Your Employees Are Highly Stressed Right Now. Here’s How to Help Them.
Long before COVID-19 burst into our lives, financial worries were a big cause of employee stress. Now, with the pandemic continuing to create uncertainty in the markets and the workplace alike, your employees have likely been experiencing a lot more anxiety than usual.

While some employees may have returned to the office, others likely still find themselves working from home, trying to concentrate in makeshift offices while children, displaced from canceled classes and summer programs, grow restless. Work/life separation has become muddied, and the idea of normalcy seems quaint. Not only that, many families are seeing savings accounts dwindle as spouses or partners lose jobs or are forced to take pay cuts.

During this time of anxiety and uncertainty, it’s more important than ever for employers to “wrap their arms tightly around” employees, says Tom Conlon, Head of Retirement Sales, Morgan Stanley at Work. “At Morgan Stanley at Work, we don’t just talk about money. We talk about how to take care of your people,” Conlon says. “Your employees are on a really complicated financial journey. As an employer, you need to be meeting them wherever they are and shepherding them toward their goals.”

One of the Things on Employees' Minds Right Now: Money

Workers have long had anxiety about their financial lives, whether it’s paying off student loan debt, dealing with emergency expenses or saving enough to fund a range of financial milestones, from buying a first home to retirement. These worries affect their productivity, with 3-in-4 employees reporting that their financial stress distracted them at work.1


of workers report losing at least an hour a day in productivity because of COVID-19 related stress


of workers say they are losing more than two hours per day

HRE's Number of the Day: coronavirus stress, Human Resource Executive, April 14, 2020.

The coronavirus pandemic has only compounded these challenges. Even if your organization is in a sector or industry that hasn’t been hit as hard by unemployment and recession, your employees still have spouses, partners and family members who may be feeling the strain.

In fact, employees’ collective ability to focus has been taxed in ways you never could have imagined. Human Resource Executive magazine reports that 62% of workers report losing at least an hour a day in productivity because of COVID-19-related stress; 32%2 say they are losing more than two hours per day.

Your employees may be having a hard time staying motivated, sharp and on task because of all the questions they’re worried about.


  • Should I be worried about my 401(k) plan account balance?
  • I’m strapped for cash. Should I make a withdrawal from my 401(k)?
  • My emergency savings are depleted. How would I pay for any unplanned expenses?
  • Should I tap my vested equity compensation for emergency cash?
  • How will I afford my children’s education?
  • Is now the right time to purchase a new home? Can I still afford it?
  • Is it time to downsize and sell my home?
  • How much debt is safe to incur?
  • Should I try to get a deferment on student loans or other debt?

Whether they’re working remotely or safely returning to the office, your employees are bringing this stress to work with them each day. Morgan Stanley at Work has some suggestions for how you can ameliorate some of this stress and help your people refocus their energies.

Five Ways You Can Foster Financial Health and Well-Being Right Now

of employees believe that it's important for the employer to offer financial wellness benefits

We know from our research that 74% of employees believe that it’s important for an employer to offer financial wellness benefits1. We also know that a good financial wellness program helps increase focus, work satisfaction and loyalty, which in turn improves employee retention and productivity. These things are true during the best of times. During a crisis, financial wellness programs can be even more important.


1. Ensure that your financial wellness program is holistic, attuned and responsive.

Each employee is having a slightly different experience with dislocation and/or the new reality of working only intermittently in the office amid a host of new protocols. Some employees may be thriving whereas others may be under intense pressure and dealing with any number of distractions. There is no longer one cohesive “workplace,” and the financial wellness tools you offer employees should be both highly personalized and flexible to accommodate the variety of situations and needs employees have right now.

2. Use all available technology to start or continue offering financial education programs.

Life has been interrupted with mass cancelations, but don’t let it affect your educational programming. “Don’t just take a red marker and cross out events,” Conlon says. “Find a different way to execute those lunch-and-learns, speakers, webinars and other opportunities for employees to learn and connect.” If you haven’t invested in upgrading and enhancing your virtual-technology platforms, now is the time.

3. Facilitate mentorships and one-on-one coaching.

Whether an employee is still defining their goals and building a foundation or creating a financial plan to achieve those goals, they need guidance. During times of crisis, it’s common for people to feel unmoored and off track. A mentor or financial coach can provide the safe space they need to recalibrate and adjust. “People don’t want to stop moving forward in their career. They want to be able to continue connecting one-on-one with those who can offer advice and mentorship,” says Kalena Griffin Costa, Head of Financial Wellness Business Development, Morgan Stanley at Work. Virtual sessions, coffee meetings, affinity groups: It’s more important than ever to continue not only offering these things, but helping your employees take advantage of them.

4. Help employees mine all types of health and wellness resources.

Employees have been dealing with a wide range of fears and worries. Some may have spouses or family members who are essential workers or are on the front lines of treating sick patients. Others may have lost loved ones or had a traumatic experience with sickness themselves. Those who haven’t been directly affected may still have bouts of extreme anxiety. As a popular Harvard Business Review article pointed out3, the discomfort we are all experiencing right now is collective and anticipatory grief. “Make sure your people understand the full scope of support the company offers to minimize their stress levels,” says Griffin Costa. This can include everything from reminding them of their mental health benefits, mediation resources and employee network groups, to an HSA account and a variety of benefits through employee assistance programs.

Make sure your people understand the full scope of support the company offers to minimize their stress.
5. If you have a financial wellness program, understand how employees are engaging with it.

“For companies offering financial wellness, make sure your program is well activated, that your employees know how to access the full offering, including digital libraries. In order to understand the program’s impact you should measure everything you can,” Conlon says. Your data, in the form of engagement and analytics reports, tells a powerful story about what your employees most need. Providing a financial wellness portal and knowing exactly how your people are engaging with your financial wellness portal will help you figure out which messaging is the most effective, which content they are reading or interacting with, and the impact it’s having on their financial health.

Taking Care of Your People

Beyond simply providing a paycheck, you have the chance to provide unique solutions and new ways for employees to continue setting and reaching financial and life goals. In other words, you have the chance to take care of the people who are working so hard for you right now.

And remember, during this unprecedented time in the history of work, you don’t have to go it alone. Morgan Stanley at Work is here for you and your team to answer any questions and share ideas for how you can help your employees lead better financial lives.

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