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Financial stress in the workplace: Its effect on healthcare workers

Financial stress in the workplace is more prevalent than ever right now. We have all dealt with or are dealing with financial stress in one form or another. I know I've worried about money a lot, and it has definitely consumed my thoughts during work hours. In fact, most people would probably admit their finances have distracted them while they are supposed to be working. In fact, PWC's 2023 employee financial wellness survey states: 

  • 60% of employees stress about their finances 
  • Financially stressed employees are 5x as likely to admit personal finance issues have been a distraction at work
  • Financially stressed employees are less engaged at work
  • 74% of employees want help from work with their finances 

More specifically, financial stress affects our healthcare workers daily for many reasons, causing high hospital turnover rates and low retention rates. In 2022, healthcare workers experienced more burnout than ever before. Due to high turnover rates, hospitals are left with their employees working long hours and overall staff shortages. The impact of financial stress on employees, specifically in hospitals, is enormous. 

Here are a few quick statistics for you: 

  • The cost of turnover for nurses is, on average, $52,350, which means an average hospital is losing between $6.6m-$10.5m 
  • Hospital turnover has increased by 6.4% and stands at 25.9%
  • 2 in 5 healthcare workers said they have considered leaving their jobs within the past year 

There are many reasons for this, but one reason that might not come to the top of mind is financial stress. According to Forbes, two-thirds of healthcare workers are living paycheck-paycheck, half (52%) feel less confident about their personal finances than a year ago, and 40% said financial stress negatively impacts their productivity and relationships. 

Financial stress isn’t only impacting your employees at work, though, many financial stress symptoms affect all aspects of your employees’ wellbeing and life. Financial stress can manifest in various ways, impacting mental, emotional, and physical health. Here are some symptoms and signs that someone might be experiencing financial stress:

1. Mental and emotional symptoms:

  • Anxiety and worry: Constant thoughts about money, bills, debts, or the future.
  • Depression: Feelings of hopelessness or sadness about financial situations.
  • Denial:Avoidance in facing financial realities, not checking bank accounts, or ignoring bills.
  • Anger: Frustration or resentment towards oneself, others, or the situation.
  • Irritability and mood swings: Short temper or getting upset easily over minor issues.
  • Decreased self-worth: Feeling inadequate due to inability to manage or improve one's financial situation.
  •  Feelings of guilt: Especially if one's financial choices have affected loved ones.

2. Physical symptoms:

  • Sleep disturbances: Insomnia, nightmares, or waking up frequently due to worries.
  • Digestive problems: Stomachaches, nausea, or changes in appetite.
  • Headaches or migraines: Resulting from the constant tension.
  • Weight changes: Overeating or not eating enough as a way to cope.
  • Muscle tension: Especially in the neck, shoulders, and back.
  • Fatigue: Feeling drained or lacking energy.
  • High blood pressure: Prolonged stress can lead to or exacerbate hypertension.

3. Behavioral symptoms:

  • Avoidance: Evading discussions about money, not opening bills, or sidestepping financial responsibilities.
  • Impulse buying: Shopping as a way to feel better momentarily.
  • Neglecting self-care: Cutting back on essentials like medical care, nutritious food, or necessary medications.
  • Increased use of alcohol, tobacco, or drugs: Using substances to escape or numb feelings.
  • Withdrawal from social activities: Avoiding socializing due to inability to afford it or embarrassment.
  • Arguments with loved ones: Tensions regarding money leading to frequent disputes.
  • Neglecting long-term financial goals: Such as saving for retirement or investments due to immediate financial pressures.

4. Decision-making and cognitive symptoms:

  • Indecisiveness: Difficulty making decisions due to being overwhelmed.
  • Lack of concentration: Inability to focus on tasks or constant distraction due to financial concerns.
  • Forgetfulness: Missing due dates for bills or forgetting obligations.

How do we combat financial stress amongst healthcare workers and keep them in hospitals? 

Financial wellness programs for employees are becoming indispensable in combating the dual challenges of financial stress and high turnover rates among healthcare employees. These programs offer tailored financial advice, debt management solutions, and even retirement planning services, thereby addressing the specific financial concerns that healthcare workers often face. Such unattended stressors can significantly impact job performance and satisfaction, potentially affecting patient care.

Implementing a robust financial wellness program can immediately impact employee morale and long-term financial stability. By providing resources and tools to manage financial stress, healthcare organizations help their employees focus better on their job responsibilities, thereby enhancing productivity and reducing the likelihood of mistakes that can compromise patient safety. Moreover, these programs also reduce absenteeism, as employees with fewer financial worries are more likely to be present and engaged at work.

One of the most crucial impacts, however, is on employee retention. Employee financial stress leads to job dissatisfaction and, consequently, turnover. The cost of recruiting and training new healthcare staff is exorbitant, not to mention the loss of institutional knowledge and expertise when experienced workers leave. Financial wellness programs at work can address this issue at its core, providing support that can turn a stressful job into a more sustainable career. By investing in the financial well-being of their staff, healthcare organizations not only improve the quality of patient care but also save significantly on turnover-related costs.