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Employers Find Worker Financial Status Alarming, Study Finds

Practice Management

New research finds that a large majority of employers believe their employees are struggling financially as they wrestle with saving for retirement, paying down debt and dealing with medical costs. 

MassMutual’s 2019 Workplace Financial Wellness study finds that nearly 8 in 10 employers (79%) say their workers are struggling financially. And the larger the employer, the more likely respondents are to express concern about employee financial wellness issues. 

Employer estimates vary about how many employees are plagued with financial problems. However, half of employers (51%) estimate that at least 25% or more of their workers struggle financially and 15% of employers say at least half of their workers are plagued by financial woes, the survey finds. 

“Our research finds that financial wellness issues are coming to roost at the workplace and that employers are acutely aware of their employees’ financial struggles,” says Ken Verzella, head of Financial Wellness for MassMutual. “As long as workers struggle to overcome shorter-term financial issues such as eliminating debt and building emergency funds, they will be unable to save in any meaningful way for retirement and other long-term financial needs.”

Help Wanted

Employees’ lack of participation in retirement plans, working second jobs, taking loans from retirement plans and asking for paycheck advances are among the proof points cited by employers. Among those who believe their employees are struggling, most believe so due to hearing them talk about it (53%), retirement plan participation (46%) or because they have taken on second jobs (46%).  

When asked how concerned they are about employee financial struggles, the most prevalent issues cited by employers include financial readiness for retirement, ability to pay future medical expenses and participation in their retirement plan. Lesser concerns included consumer and student loan debt, according to the study.


Employer concerns about employees Extremely concerned Somewhat concerned Total Concerned

Financial readiness for retirement
25% 42% 67%
Preparation for medical costs




36% 64%
Participation in retirement plan




39% 62%
Overall financial situation




37% 61%
Handling emergency expenses




34% 58%
Costs of childcare




31% 47%
Credit card and consumer debt




31% 43%
Student loan debt




23% 35%


The specific financial issues “plaguing employees” appear to differ with the size of the employer, according to the findings. Larger employers are more likely to point to employees failing to participate in their employer-sponsored retirement plan or, if they do participate, withdrawing funds from their plan, MassMutual notes. 

A majority of employers (57%) also report, however, that workers are seeking help with their personal financial problems from employers. Another 17% of employers say they are unsure if employees want help through work. Similarly, the larger the employer, the more likely the company is to report that employees are seeking help, the study notes. 

As such, the study emphasizes that this is an opportunity for financial advisors who support retirement plans such as 401(k)s to connect with more people and expand their practice. “MassMutual is hearing from employers that sponsor retirement plans that employees not only need help but want assistance from their employer,” Verzella notes. 

The findings are based on an online survey conducted by Greenwald & Associates on behalf of MassMutual, consisting of 863 plan sponsors with retirement plan assets between $1 million and $75 million. All respondents must have had some decision-making responsibility for either their retirement plan or financial wellness program to participate.