Jeff Brodsky, a Senior Advisor at Morgan Stanley, joins our host Rodney Bolden, Vice President, Financial Wellness, to talk about a topic that feels more relevant than ever before—employee wellbeing. From navigating cross-team communication, to your core workplace financial benefits, Jeff knows from his 35+ years of experience as a leader in Human Resources at Morgan Stanley that the things that matter most to your employees can change overnight. How do you provide stability and flexibility at the same time? How do you balance competing expectations of employees with the right workplace benefits plan for your company? This is Invested at Work. Listen in.
You have challenges and you're looking for solutions and that's especially true for workplace financial benefits. Your employees have their own set of life goals and trust you to help them along their path. What makes a difference? How you support them through inevitable economic changes. I'm Rodney Bolden, Vice-President, Morgan Stanley at Work Financial Wellness.
On this podcast we'll talk about what we've learned from the past, from our success stories to our stumbles and how we can provide your organization with clarity and financial empowerment. Today I'm joined by Jeff Brodsky, Senior Advisor at Morgan Stanley to talk about how to successfully pivot in a post pandemic landscape. This is Invested at Work.
If there's anything that I've learned doing this for 35 years, there's always a crisis. Now obviously some not as tragic as COVID was for society but you can name it. It could be 9/11, it could've been the financial crisis. You know, things are happening all over the world and so there's got to be a place in every company where an organization is thinking about systemically how is what's going on societally impacting my employees, that's landed squarely in the HR space. I think historically it was in a lot of spaces and I think COVID really brought to the forefront the need and the real understanding that HR is actually a skill and a talent and not something that just anybody or everybody could do and it's amazing to see the professional stepping up and delivering.
You talk about some of these crises’ and they've had a financial impact on many households. One of the things employers have been thinking about is how do you support your employees, especially with their workplace financial benefits like retirement and financial wellness in general, and even equity compensation. What are some of your thoughts on how that landscape has changed through all this? And has it increased the employers responsibility to come through, especially when we think about those types of benefits?
First of all this particular crisis which had led to record level inflation and supply chain issues, it's causing all kinds of wacky behavior from people, right? People are stopping saving for retirement, they're using retirement money for things that they should be saving for but they need them to just survive every day and provide for their families. And so I like to think about employers having greater responsibility in employees lives. If employers can play a role, a meaningful role, in educating their employees just about financial wellness, about how you plan for the future, it' going to benefit employees and when employees feel that they're employer is looking out for them, is giving them more than they are required to give them and that there's equal give in the relationship. So I think employers, this is an opportunity to jump in and really provide information, education to employees.
Now you talked about some specific things. Retirement benefits are always important and there's always a group of people that from day one are going to max out their 401(k) and then there's a group
of people that will never contribute to their 401(k). If I had max out on my retirement plans that many years ago I probably wouldn't be sitting here right now talking to you, Rodney. But it was a lack of understanding, a lack of appreciation, a lack of foresight for what's ahead.
So look, any benefit an employer can provide to an employee that's going to help them long term is fantastic for the individual. What you really have to measure is the employee appreciating it. Are they perceiving that as part of their overall compensation? If you're spending money on things that they don't value, that they'd rather see in their salary, they'd rather see in some above base compensation or they'd rather see an equity then it's not a valuable benefit. So it's not only about what the benefit is, right? We all want to do what's great for society and provide as much as we can for our employees but the real question is, do they value it, do they appreciate it and will it ultimately benefit them?
It sounds like you're saying utilizing the benefits that are in place and provide education and knowledge so that employees can use those benefits to advance towards their financial goals and use them for their financial needs. And we hear a lot of talk about employers, especially in this time of economic turmoil and inflation where they're thinking about making changes. What's your thoughts on that? Should you react to every crisis by changing up your benefits? Or should you, as you just talked about, maybe go in the direction of education? And when do you decide which direction to go?
Well, I'm going to back you up just a little bit because I feel like you were listening in to some of my secret meetings there because one of my personal pet peeves is I don't think employers do a good enough job communicating about benefits broadly. If there's a spectrum as a whole companies are moving further and further along that spectrum and providing all kinds of benefits for employees but are they showing the value? Are they showing employees how to access it? Are they making it easy to access? Easy to understand, right? So that's kind of like...
Number one is, whatever you're going to do make sure you can talk about it, make sure employees can understand the benefit. Secondly, we're in a very extreme time right now. I don't want to put that aside or not reflect on that, but you can't change benefit plans every time something happens in the world because we're living in some very crazy times, let's face it, and there are wonderful highlights and huge tragic moments happening simultaneously daily. And so I think it's the responsibility of the HR executive to say, "How do we get the best talent for our company? And in getting the best talent for our company we have to provide the best incentives and the best rewards and what do those look like and have they changed over time?" I just think that the awareness around mental health, financial wellness, physical health, it's up significantly. So sitting back and saying, "Are we doing the right things? Are we doing the best for our employees? Are they aware of it? Are we spending our money wisely?" Yeah, every time there's an opportunity to take a look at that you should.
Yeah. You brought up several things that I thought about. I thought about watching westerns with my dad as a kid, that old saying, "You don't change horses in the middle of the stream." It sounds like when it comes to benefits and reacting to those crises that old adage applies. Another thing you brought up is
the connection between physical health, mental health, and financial health and it's a different impact depending on the segment of the population. How do you make sure that you're reaching and addressing the differentiated needs of every different segment of the workforce? Because what we've seen in recent years when it comes to benefits, one size really does not fit all.
There is definitely not one size fits all. What people need to understand is people come from very different backgrounds and very different communities so everyone's starting point is just not the same place, and to the extent that those people given their backgrounds, given their communities would benefit tremendously from financial education or a certain type of health benefit provided because then those employees are going to grow and nourish with you. You got to meet people where they need to be met and bring them the skills or the benefit that they need. Don't be afraid to be different, don't be afraid to be bold, don't be afraid to educate senior management. They are not going to have the lens the HR professional has. They're not going to necessarily appreciate that this suite of benefits is going to benefit their workforce because they're just coming from a different place. And so it's a little bit of shout out to all of my colleagues to say pound the table, do what's right, understand the cost to benefit analysis but make sure we're giving people that extra something.
You said something that caught my attention there. You said, "educate senior management." And early you talked about educating the employees. What are some strategies for making those communications to both the senior level management when you're trying to make those changes as well as the employees to make them aware of those changes? What are some things you've used in the past and has it ever missed the mark? Has your message not hit?
We'll start with the, "How do you educate senior management?" And I would say definitively it’s missed the mark. One of the things I've learned over time is, stop taking it personal. You might be the HR provider but the end of the day our employees work for this group of senior managers. So yeah, there were definitely times when I presented information and it missed the mark and what I learned quickly was use data, data tells a story every single time. And so it's about talking people along the journey, don't expect them to be in the same place you are because you'll be disappointed every time.
In terms of once you make the decision don't implement a new benefit if you don't have a great communications plan put together. It's just a waste of money, right? I think in larger organizations having someone either in HR or in communications group whose job is just employee communications so they can strike the right tone. I go back to basics. Everything doesn't have to be technology because when you put all the information about benefits... and every company they probably has a great website but it's amongst things, but when you can isolate benefits, particularly new ones because the way benefits achieve usage and growth is word of mouth, you know. I went to this thing, I didn't think it was really going to help me and all of a sudden I've got a plan for what's going to happen over the next 20 years. How am I going to put my kids through college? How am I going to afford that? What am I going to do with a 529 plan? All those things that we take for granted we can really help our employees understand.
I couldn't agree more. It kind of makes me think of if you were to have a party and you invite all the top performers, Beyonce and Taylor Swift but you don't send out the invites or the invites aren't effective what's going to happen? No one shows up and just like with benefits they won't hit the mark.
Well let's talk your party a minute, right?
The thing that's also really important is to remember that some people, both end of the age spectrum, they're not going to know who Beyonce is and they're not going to know who Taylor Swift is.
There you go.
Right, so you need a good communication strategy but it also has to be relatable. How does it work for me? How does it help me? Because at the end of the day that's what employers are looking for.
Let's talk about data. What about a case where's there's an absence of that data, and I think about the pandemic and having to move remote and make a change so quickly. What do you do then when you don't have the data but you know you need to do something?
Well look, I think the data will come on how we all performed in the pandemic, it's just in front of us not behind us. But when something like the pandemic happens you have to hope that you've got a strong leadership team that trusts each other, that trusts you as the HR provider and the leader and the person they're counting on, and that cog in the wheel that's going to have instincts about the workforce and what they need. And I know at our firm I've seen it, but our ability to adjust and adapt... I mean let's face it, the information on COVID was coming out, at times it was coming out daily, right? If you think about testing at the beginning people were coming in hazmat suits to test you, right? And then to where we've progressed to tests being... It evolved and I think both employees and employers knew they couldn't be so set in their ways.
If COVID's done anything it certainly heightened the role of the HR provider in the corporate ecosystem and I think it's taught us that people can work differently and we can't forget that. And there are employers out there that want to do it today and they're going to miss the mark and so this has created that awareness and it'll be really interesting to look back five years from now and I think we'll see two very different things. We'll see that people are working very differently and we'll see that corporate benefits look completely different than they look today.
Something you said also jarred something from me. You talked about the data's ahead of us. What are some of the ways that you measure success or you suggest to our audience that they measure success?
One of the biggest, the simplest measurement anyways is usage. What percent of your population is using the benefit? Then to dive in and see if the people that you want to target you're targeting. I remember early in my career our numbers for some learning and development programs were through the roof. And what I quickly realized was some of our lowest performers were our biggest attendees. Think about it, if you don't like your job you don't want to sit at your desk, ah, I'll go to a class and snooze for a couple of hours. So clearly we were targeting the wrong group of people. So to the extent that data can help you understand not only how many or what percentage of your population is using the benefit but are you targeting employees who you want to retain. At the end of the day the reason you provide benefits is because it's competitive and because it creates retention and it creates satisfaction and high performing employees.
If you think about some of the newer type corporate benefits, and I'll just use two which would be specifically around mental health and specifically around financial wellness, companies didn't even think of those as benefits and as employees begin to understand that those are pillars of their life that they need watering they become more important.
Yeah, and in a survey with… did with SHRM we found that one out of five employees suffer from finance related depression and one out of three suffer from finance related anxiety, so financial wellness really has become a must have, not a nice to have and mental health is connected.
Let's just be clear, right?
It may be one in five but there is a clear correlation.
Yeah. A lot of folks are financially stressed in the workplace and that's what we find in our survey as that over 60% of employees are financially stressed and it's having an impact on their work. But that's something that you can't necessarily measure as far as when you implement a financial wellness program. Any thoughts on when it comes to financial wellness why it's an important benefit and what impact a financial wellness program could have on a workforce?
Yeah. I think a couple things. One, I think that it is hard to measure any particular benefit and say what does that do to performance. It's more a measurement of engagement. How engaged are my employees? And so if you start with that as a premise then the next question you're asking yourself is what are the pillars that my employees care about, need to care about, that will create a sense of self satisfaction and it's hard if you think about, right? Financially being sound or sound enough is at the essence of that. But let's not kid ourselves, right, the first thing that employees think about when they think about financial wellness is pay me more money and so if we're being straight here, as we make decisions about different benefits the first question you got to ask yourself is it's one pot of money.
I always tell people it's compensation and benefits, it's one line item on a PNL. And so the first thing you do is you got to make sure you're paying competitive in your industry otherwise you provide other benefits and people are like, "Why are they spending money on this? Just give me more money." And then I think the education part comes in and says, "Okay, we are a good payer for our industry," or, "We're at the top of the market," or, "We're at the 75th percentile," but now we want to help you plan, now we want to help you understand. It's not just that we don't want you to live paycheck to paycheck, we want you to actually over your lifetime have this feeling of kind of just like an ah, a deep breath around how you plan for yourself financially. The question is, how do we help people do the best they can with what they have. And that's where education in the financial space can make a huge difference for people.
Final question. What makes you invested at work?
Well look, I think when you think about your life in quadrants you kind of have family in one quadrant, you have health in one quadrant, you have your friends, maybe your pets, in another quadrant, and then you need your employer. Like who influences you, right? Your friends, your family, your employer. And if the employer is not invested in you you're not going to feel invested in them.
At Morgan Stanley for the last 35 years I've always felt like they've had my back, they've been interested in my growth, they've been interested in my development and most importantly they've been interested in what interests me. So I think if you're happy with your employer it just makes all the difference in the world.
Such important insights. Thank you so much for joining me today, Jeff.
Oh, it was great. Thank you for having me.
Invested at Work is brought to you by Morgan Stanley at Work, produced by Campfire Labs in partnership with Studio Pod Media. Our executive producers are TJ Bonaventura, Wendy Foster, Cindy Lindenbaum, and Mike Scholars. Our producer is Sterling Shore. Our show coordinator is Nichole Genova and our project manager is Morgan Smith.
Be sure to visit us at morganstanley.com/atwork for more insights on workplace financial benefits. And I'll see you next time on Invested at Work.
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