Wellness as an employee benefit has expanded in the last year or two to include more than just the physical aspect–it now wraps in financial, emotional, and other types of wellness as well. That’s a good thing, because 68% of workers rely on their workplace coverage for their families’ financial security, according to the Guardian Workplace Benefits Study

One topic that we don’t often think about, yet impacts our employees heavily, is personal finance.

According to this article from the Washington Post, approximately one-third of your employees are living paycheck-to-paycheck. In other words, without this week’s paycheck coming in, the employee and their family would be in an immediate financial crisis.

The first response for many leaders is, “Yeah, so what?” However, this can be an opportunity to impact the productivity and engagement of your staff, so there’s value in learning more about this issue.

Cost of Living Impacts

In retirement, Americans fear the rising cost of living. In fact, nearly half of Americans (47%) report being either “very concerned” (36%) or “terrified” (11%) that the rising cost of living will affect their retirement plans. This is according to a new study on Americans’ perceptions about inflation from Allianz Life. Furthermore, respondents claim they are either “very worried” (36%) or even “panicked” (11%) that they won’t be able to afford the lifestyle they want in retirement due to rising costs. Continue reading

Today’s post is a personal one about my recent experience quitting caffeine and all of the associated side effects. Not so much about HR, but definitely an interesting look at the experience!

One month ago I quit caffeine. My main delivery method was diet cokes (that’s soda for those of you outside the Southeastern United States). I quit for multiple reasons, and the experience was what I expected in some ways and very much different in others. The thing that hit me since I quit (more on that experience below) was that those of us in the workforce don’t put much of a stigma on drinking caffeine. This experience has helped me to truly see the grip it had on me and the withdrawals were quite… um, intense. I don’t know that I’ll sway you to try quitting yourself, but stick around for the story!

The Background

Those people that know me know that my poison of choice is Diet Mountain Dew. Well, it was, anyway. I haven’t decided if I’ll ever go back to a more moderate intake, but for now I’m trying to live a decaffeinated life. I realized this summer that I was drinking about a two liter a day, and I knew it couldn’t go on forever. I am pretty healthy, eat well, and exercise regularly. But the mental slumps and anguish without caffeine combined with bouts of insomnia helped spur my decision to move away from the green juice.

Like many people, I started drinking caffeine heavily when I was in college. I worked all day, trained for 50-kilometer races in the afternoons, and attended classes at night. I needed something to keep me awake when my mind went fuzzy after a full day. Then I rationalized drinking even more when my kids came along. My joke was that I was short on sleep, and the best bridge for that gap was caffeine. :-)

Now that our third is nearing a year old, I was already going pretty heavy when he was born, so that wasn’t an excuse any more. In addition to that, I had a lingering foot injury from a previous race and poor sleep quality, so I knew I needed to make a decision.

Making the Call

My wife and I were at a funeral for a family member one afternoon and I overheard someone say, “Look at her sister! She’s 92 years old and still fit as can be. If the others had avoided smoking they would still be around too.” In addition, we attended yet another funeral the week prior for a friend of the family with three small children left behind. The death was a result of health complications and I realized how quickly something awful could happen to any of us. It’s amazing how often life events such as these cause us to stop and think about the bigger picture, right?

I decided on a Sunday that I was going to start my taper. I figured cold turkey would probably kill me, so I wanted to ease off and slowly get through the withdrawals with as little pain as possible. I did enough research to know that there were headaches and mental fog to be expected no matter the method used. I wanted to lessen the impact to my work and family, so I planned to taper by a few ounces a day over the course of two weeks.

Thus began my journey.

The first day felt so good that I restricted more than planned. Day two also felt pretty good, so I drank much less than planned (and about a third of my usual intake). I thought, “If this is as bad as it gets, I should have done this a long time ago.”

Then came day three. And boy did it ever. I’m not sure if I’ll always remember the day, because our brain has a setting deep inside that blocks out painful memories to protect our fragile sanity. Suffice to say it was rough.

And why break the cycle? Day four felt terrible. Day five I had back pains and insomnia—seriously. Back pain. That’s what clued me in to the thought that this is more than just something to keep me alert in the early morning hours. It’s affecting my system in ways I can’t even imagine.

One thing that helped was recording the experience. I kept a journal throughout the withdrawal process, noting each day and what I felt.

The most amazing thing is that I can now sit for thirty or forty five minutes at a time without fuzzing out or my thoughts getting hazy. I’ve always had a hard time sitting and focusing for long periods of time, and I attributed that to my naturally high energy. Apparently some of that was due to caffeine! In addition, I can actually recall what people say during those time periods. I’m still a high-energy person and always have been. I just realize now that the caffeine was masking my true energy in a hyper state of random thoughts with no ability to focus. I’m amazed that I have been able to work as a writer and researcher in the past year with this monkey on my back, and I’m glad to say that each day feels better and better in terms of focus.

My sleep is better than ever, and I am falling to sleep at more natural times and waking up feeling more refreshed than any time I can remember.

The Business Take

We freely offer this drug. Heck, we usually pay for employees to consume it. The rationale for many is that caffeinated employees are more productive. Some studies have shown the opposite to be true: when the caffeine “high” and the resulting “low” are balanced out, there isn’t much impact. (Note, I found some of that data while I was quitting as a way to encourage myself, but I can’t for the life of me find the study now that I’m writing this post!).

Anyway, whether it’s a call for wellness or an opportunity to reset your own caffeine clock, I encourage you to try living without it for a month and see how it affects you. It amazed me at the changes I felt weeks later.

Love to hear from some of you! Are you junkies like I was? Are you caffeine free? Why? How do you feel? 

If I told you that 76% of your employees were stressed about something, wouldn’t you want to know what was going on? I mean, after all, when I’m stressed about something, I am usually not very “together” when it comes to critical thinking and other complex tasks.

employee financial stressYou know where I’m going with this, right?

Research says that 76% of your employees are dealing with varying degrees of financial stress. That can be as simple as “we need to eat out less so we can save for our child’s college fund” to something serious like “I’m not sure how I’m going to pay the light bill this week.”

According to the Washington Post, approximately one-third of your employees are living paycheck-to-paycheck. The first response for many leaders is, “Yeah, so what?” However, this can be an opportunity to impact the productivity and engagement of your staff, so there’s value in learning more about this issue.

Whatever the case, the problem is real, and there’s something you can do about it. Click through to read my post on the Brandon Hall Group blog and learn what to do when your employees need financial help.

The other day my buddy Laurie posted about 401k plans being for “suckers.” After reading her comments and those of some of her audience, I felt led to respond. Here’s a snippet:

Some HR professionals are horrified by the way you manage your money, but I feel your pain. You can’t squeeze blood out of a turnip. So I have a challenge for HR: Want your employees to invest in retirement? Pay them more so they can take care of the basics and then invest. Until then, 401ks are for suckers…
Full article

Stating the obvious

This revolutionary idea is going to astound everyone.

You can’t invest and save for the future when you’re buried in debt. 

It’s not just the millenials walking out of college with massive debt. The baby boomers are pushing back retirement because they have too many obligations to stop working. And unless they are total losers, they’re probably making more money than they were as entry level peons. Yet they are still in debt. Weird, huh?

Paying people more money isn’t going to solve the problem by itself.

Personal finance is *personal*

Here’s a crazy idea: Spend less than you make.

Yeah, but [insert excuse here].

I’ve been there. It’s hard. But it’s necessary. I haven’t lived the perfect life, but I have learned a few things via my own experiences and those I’ve observed in others (friends, family, employees, etc.).

My imperfect story

I have a great job. It wasn’t always this way. The day after I got married, I sent in my offer letter to start my first “real” job. I signed up for a whopping $9/hr data entry gig. It was torture. I hated it. And I knew that there was no way we would be able to survive and pay our bills.

So I studied, worked my tail off, and made myself more valuable to my employer. Then my wife got a job. We scrimped and saved. Looking back now I have no idea how we made it. It was very tight, and we didn’t live extravagantly. We didn’t have cable. We went without internet access. We cooked almost all of our meals. We carpooled to work. We really tried to keep things as tight as possible, because at that point we were living the paycheck-to-paycheck nightmare.

And, yet, I made sure to put money into my 401k at work.

Why? Because I took five minutes to pull up a financial calculator and run the numbers. As a 21 year old if I just put in $100 per month (which is a LOT for someone making $9/hr) from age 21 to age 60, I’d have over a million dollars in my retirement retirement fund. And that’s assuming I’m such a loser that I never make any more money than the $9/hr and that my company matches 0% of the contributions (the majority match around 4%).

But then I found another job (and took a pay cut voluntarily so I could get into HR). They didn’t match anything, so I didn’t put any money in. That’s also around the time that my wife and I were saving money like crazy for an adoption. We were determined not to go into debt, because one little misstep could lead us into a financial death spiral. At least if we were cash flowing the expenses we could bail if things didn’t go as expected.

How our employees do it

Recently I was putting together some data for a benchmarking tool, and it all related to our 401k plan, how employees utilize it, etc. I quickly noticed something. We basically match 6% if an employee puts in 7%, so there’s a big incentive to use it.

However, some of our staff have never even touched the 401k, despite the offer. For a hypothetical person making $100k (enough to cover the “basics,” I would say), that is an additional $6k that we’re ready to give them if only they would commit their own dollars to the account.

People get performance-based pay increases on a fairly regular cycle. 99% of the staff don’t touch their 401k contribution percentage at that time, even though they could put half of the increase into the account and never even notice it was gone.

This isn’t a scientific study, but I’d be willing to bet that it’s a fair approximation of the overall workforce. Some people make 401k contributions a priority, and others don’t. It’s a personal choice we all have to make for ourselves.

The only time to touch your 401k

With regard to the article that Laurie mentioned, there are times that families need to dip into the 401k for extreme emergencies. But the only time that is a truly “extreme” emergency is when you’re going to face foreclosure/bankruptcy and lose everything. That’s a personal choice, and the only comment I have here is to caution you to discern what is a true emergency (a child needs a medical procedure) from what is merely an urgent non-emergency (your car breaks down and needs $2,000 in repairs).

The thing to remember is that when you take money from your 401k, you’re losing up to 40% of it (depending on your tax bracket). The IRS charges you your tax rate plus a 10% penalty to get your hands on that money.

Ever since my children were born we’ve had a small emergency fund to help us in case a true emergency arises. When I had a car accident in 2011 and totaled my vehicle, we were able to shop around and find a suitable replacement without having to rush out and pick up a car payment. Again, I’m not the expert and don’t have all of the answers, but this is how we live and it has been a relief for us. The more of a buffer you build between you and “life,” the less chance of an emergency derailing your financial future.

Still learning

I’m not a 401k or financial expert. I can’t speak to every person’s unique situation. But I have learned a good bit about behaviors and personal finance in my lifetime. People make their choices about priorities and then need to live with them. Decide to put 0% into your 401k so you can get a new car with a $450/month payment (the US average)? That’s your call, but don’t look at me when you decide it’s time to retire.

In case you’re wondering, for a 40 year old, that 450/month payment would be worth about $450k by age 60. Hope you enjoy the car!

The workplace application

When I’m throwing out these examples or telling my own story, you need to see these not as disconnected, random events. These are very real examples, and many of your employees are living out financial train wrecks. 40% of the employees in your organization (statistically) are living paycheck to paycheck. They can’t afford to take time off, relax, de-stress, etc.

Stop and think for a second. If you were getting calls from creditors, facing financial issues, etc. at home, how productive do you think you’d be at work?

I’d love to hear some thoughts in the comments below. Am I the only one who thinks that employees need to get their personal finance affairs in order? Any comment that doesn’t contribute to the discussion in some way will not be published. Attacks and foul language are not allowed here. 

 

innovations wellness conferenceRecently the organizers for the inaugural UAB Innovations in Wellness Conference reached out to me to see if I would be interested in attending. It sounds like a unique event with some great insights, and I am excited about the opportunity to check out this new conference.

Even better, I can take you with me.

Yes, you heard me correctly.

If you’re local to the Huntsville/Birmingham area (or within a reasonable drive and you want to get a hotel in Birmingham) and you are interested in attending, please send me an email by Thursday, November 8th. Continue reading

Okay, so I am dying to talk about the race I did last week, but I don’t have a good place for sharing running/race reports. So I’ll talk a little about the “why” and try to connect that back to wellness initiatives (or something). :-)

bourbon chase 2012

Me, Duke, and Tina looking very fresh before our first set of legs

What is the Bourbon Chase? 200 miles. 12 runners. The Kentucky Bourbon Trail.

When the gun went off last Friday afternoon for our team to start Leg 1 of the Bourbon Chase relay event, I honestly didn’t know what to expect. What I got: sleep deprivation, sore muscles, new friends, and loads of fun and memories as a member of team Modern Bourbon Warfare IV.

I was runner #5 in our van of 6 runners. The way the relay worked was one van is active on the course at a time, so runners 1-6 would run a leg, then that van would go “inactive” for 5-6 hours while van #2 and runners 7-12 ran their portions (approximately 33 miles were covered each time a van was active). Each runner ended up with three legs to run, averaging anywhere from 13 to 19 miles total per person. My own total was 18.3 miles, and even though I’ve run that far on plenty of previous occasions, it still hurts a good bit when you run each leg as hard as you can. Continue reading

Pinnacle PoundersA quick decision at work last fall has led to untold hours of friendship and fun, and it was entirely unplanned. This is the story of our accidental wellness program.

August 2011

One of our engineers decided to start training for a local marathon. She was already running some, and a few of us at work decided to start going out once a week for a run just to support each other and have some company. What started as one person’s athletic goal has blossomed in so many ways.

Fast forward to March 2012

For three of us, today will be our final training run before this Saturday’s Andrew Jackson Marathon in Jackson, TN. I always said that I wasn’t interested in running a marathon, but after working and running with these amazing people, I just couldn’t resist joining them for the 4 month long training period. It’s been a lot of fun, I’ve learned a lot about healthy eating choices, and we’ve definitely become better friends in that time as well.

The numbers

We’ve estimated that the group as a whole has covered over 2,000 miles just in the past 8 months! A sizable portion of that falls on us training for the upcoming marathon, but the rest is spread among half a dozen others who join us for a few miles whenever schedules allow. The average runner burns 100 calories per mile, so that pushes the group total calories burned to 200,000! In order for a person to drop a pound, they’d need to cut approximately 3,500 calories from their diet over time. Using those numbers, the group has burned enough calories to shed just over 57 pounds. Continue reading