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Naunidh Hunjan has been getting up at the crack of dawn to meditate his worries away for the past 20 years.

For the past five years, Mr. Hunjan, president of Hunjan Financial Group Inc. in Mississauga, has been inviting clients to join him, remotely over a videoconference call. After several sessions, he says, they report being able to manage stressful situations better and less likely to worry about their finances during the workday.

Every day, the average Canadian employee spends 33 minutes thinking about their finances while at work. A recent survey by the National Payroll Institute (NPI) equates this to $45-billion in lost productivity a year.

To mitigate these losses, Mr. Hunjan often counsels clients who are employers to offer yoga and meditation in workplaces and to beef up their mental health benefits.

According to the NPI survey, one in five workers needs to use a sick day to cope with rising levels of money-related stress. But with more than a third of financially stressed survey participants earning more than $100,000 annually, the survey also found higher income isn’t necessarily a determining factor in improving working Canadians’ financial wellness.

“Most employers understand the value of investing in preventive maintenance to keep equipment running well and reduce the risk of breakdowns, which can be very expensive,” he says. “Workplace mental health is no different, but here the goal is to not just prevent emotional breakdowns, but also support employees and promote healthy habits so they flourish.”

He points out that making sound financial decisions is more challenging when mental health is tested.

“You might be more prone to impulse purchases, not paying bills on time or not putting aside enough money to build up your savings or emergency fund,” he says. “These actions only worsen the financial stresses we are all experiencing.”

Approaches to working with employees

In keeping with these findings, advisors who work with employers and their employees are increasingly broadening their focus beyond meeting immediate financial needs to a more holistic, long-term approach.

“While in the past our staff seminars were more of a practical nature, delving into [registered retirement savings plans, tax-free savings accounts], taxes and insurance. Today’s discussions are about something much more basic and important,” says Naoshad Pochkhanawala, chartered life underwriter and financial planner at Amiko Benefits Inc. in Markham, Ont. “Nowadays, we’re having each employee determine and write down their personal financial philosophy.”

This one- to two-page framework is intended to outline how and why they make financial decisions, identify sources of assistance and establish a realistic starting point.

“If people don’t have the tools to answer these questions, especially in these times, it results in anxiety,” he says.

Current economic challenges coupled with rising inflation and food prices have led to a significant increase in financial anxiety in the workplace, says Jeremi Lapierre, certified financial planner (CFP) and founder of Fit Financial in Ottawa.

To help mitigate that, he advocates for employers to provide direct support for employees’ daily expenses where possible.

“For example, I’ve worked with an employer in the electrical industry who alleviated financial stress by distributing $250 grocery gift cards to each employee,” Mr. Lapierre says.

“I’ve seen other employers actively prioritize their employees’ financial well-being by offering flexible work hours, which can significantly reduce child care expenses for working parents.”

These initiatives represent a growing trend among employers who not only recognize financial stress but also take proactive steps to alleviate it within the framework of comprehensive financial planning, he says.

“This proactive stance is crucial in helping businesses effectively manage economic downturns and stay ahead of financial challenges, preventing employees from feeling the financial squeeze,” Mr. Lapierre says.

Women face more financial stress

Lin Sok, financial advisor and founder of Lin Sok Services Financiers Inc. in Montreal, says she’s seeing disproportionately more women who are worried about their finances at work.

“Women’s salaries tend to be lower. We also occupy some of the lowest-paying essential fields such as nursing, administration, and education,” Ms. Sok says.

“While we have traditionally made career choices for many reasons other than money, the rising cost of absolutely everything is leading women to question their salaries and current work conditions increasingly.”

Ms. Sok will often refer clients to recruitment specialists to search for better-paying career opportunities, thereby lessening their financial stress.

“Earning more doesn’t solve everything but in many cases, it helps,” she says. “The jobs are there, we just need the confidence to go after them.”

Educating employees and seeking assistance

With more mortgage foreclosures attributed to disability, one of the greatest risks to employees remains an accident or sickness that interrupts their cash flow.

“We ask all our employers to provide 24-hour income protection or disability insurance, either paid for as part of a group benefits package or as a voluntary benefit where it doesn’t cost the employer anything and premiums are simply deducted from employee’s pay cheques,” Mr. Pochkhanawala says.

“But along with this, education on the basics is key. One of the ways employers express their concern for employees is simply by informing them that we are available to come in and answer basic financial planning questions.”

Statistics consistently show Canadians who seek assistance from a financial planner are less prone to money-related stress, according to the 2023 Financial Stress Index, published by FP Canada. It’s one of the facts Kelly Ho will cite whenever clients ask her to deliver a seminar to their employees.

Ms. Ho, partner and CFP at DLD Financial Group Ltd. in Vancouver, says she steers away from talking about products and focuses on goal-setting instead.

“The pitfall of our industry is that we use a lot of jargon, so people feel it is unapproachable,” she says.

“We keep our talks on financial literacy light-hearted, and stress the importance of having a plan and finding someone they trust to share it with, so at least they know where they stand.”

Ms. Ho has noted an increase in employees claiming mental health services as part of their group benefits packages.

“Employers have significant incentives to do what they can to help, but it’s hard to find good people, and counsellors cost a lot of money,” she says.

“When I sit down with employers to go over how they’re doing, I’ll often point out, ‘The reason your business is thriving is because your employees are getting help when they realize they need it.’”

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