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What Is "Financial Wellness," and What Does a Lack of It Mean?

Every year, professional-services giant PricewaterhouseCoopers conducts its Employee Financial Wellness survey to gauge how U.S. workers are doing with money. And in segment from Motley Fool Answers, Alison Southwick and Robert Brokamp talk to guest Kent Allison, National Leader of PwC's Employee Financial Wellness Practice, about what the latest survey revealed. But before they dig into the results, it's important to define some terms -- or let other people define them. Regardless of how you describe it, it's not just a problem for employees. Employers are paying for it, too.

A full transcript follows the video.

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This video was recorded on June 6, 2017.

Robert Brokamp: So when you talk about financial wellness, what do you mean by that?

Kent Allison: Well, it's interesting. There's all these different definitions around financial well-being and financial wellness. We actually left it up to the employees to tell us, so in this year's survey we actually asked them what they thought financial wellness was. And it was interesting to find out, because retirement really wasn't even mentioned. It was more about a state of being. It was more like relief from financial stress. Debt-free. Financial freedom. So the terms they were using were not kind of coinciding with what 30 or 40 years of history of financial education were tied to, which was kind of retirement funding and investments.

So we look at it as kind of getting somebody to a peaceful state around their finances, where they are comfortable that they're living within their means, they're meeting their goals, and they're thinking about the future comfortably.

Brokamp: One of the things that you found in the survey is that the people who aren't particularly financially well, if we can express it that way, are actually experiencing a good deal of stress.

Allison: Oh, yes.

Brokamp: And it affects how they perform in the workplace.

Allison: Absolutely. One of the things we looked at in this year's survey was really the impact of financial stress on some of the key factors that employers would be concerned about. So we looked at those who said they were under financial stress against those that weren't, and the differences were dramatic in terms of distractions at work. I think it was 5-to-1 in terms of the ratio of people who were distracted at work that were financially stressed to those that weren't. Productivity. Absenteeism. Loyalty. All significantly impacted by financial stress.

So there was a real kind of call-to-arms there with regard to employers recognizing the value in terms of really helping employees relieve financial stress.

Brokamp: I read an article, maybe a year ago, that talked about the impact of financial stress on your health. It was the first time I came across a term called presenteeism, as opposed to absenteeism. So presenteeism is you're actually at work, but mentally you're not really at work.

Allison: Correct. And we looked at that as well, and it impacts that as well. So it's interesting, because the health side, one of the reasons that drove us to this whole financial well-being, was the correlation of financial stress to the health side, because of financial stress being the No. 1 cause of stress and obviously stress having a direct impact on health and well-being on the physical well-being side, and having a direct impact on costs.

So when you talk about, kind of, the benefits to an organization, they like to deal with the numbers, and those productivity and healthcare costs are clear benefits to the organization if they can solve the problem.

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