From telemedicine and mental health days to coverage for domestic partners and family building services, HR leaders have been making great strides to design inclusive wellness programs that meet the needs of diverse employee populations. 

That is, at least when it comes to benefits that support physical and mental wellbeing. Financial wellness benefits, on the other hand, are still out of touch with the modern workforce. 

So what can employers do to break through — to everyone? Here’s why student debt benefits are key to building an inclusive workplace financial wellness strategy:

Student debt impacts every employee population — especially those who face the most financial inequities. 

With 45 million Americans in the red, student loan benefits are a clear opportunity for impact at scale. But while student debt is a reality for the majority of the college-educated workforce, certain employee populations carry a heavier burden than others. 

Women and people of color owe more student debt, take longer to repay it, and struggle with it more than their male and white peers. This imbalance, compounded by unequal pay and other economic discrimination, contributes to a lifetime of unfair impacts: 

  • Women are 20 percent more likely than males to report a negative net worth
  • Black degree-earning households’ net worth is an average of $332,000 lower than that of white degree-earning households
  • One in three Latinx borrowers delay getting married and starting a family due to their student debt, more than any other racial group

Student debt blocks participation in other financial wellness benefits.

To be sure, traditional financial wellness perks like 401(k) plans and savings programs are well-intentioned. But in practice, they often go under-utilized — or unutilized altogether — by employees who can’t afford to plan ahead. 

Case in point: 83 percent of borrowers say their student loans hold them back from adequately contributing to a retirement fund, and eight in ten millennial professionals say their student debt has hindered their financial goals. 

In order for a financial wellness program to be inclusive, participants must be empowered to actually benefit from it — and without student debt support, far too many employees get left behind. 

Student debt hinders mental and professional wellbeing, too. 

Student debt doesn’t just hold employees back from improving their financial health. Employees’ mental wellbeing suffers under the stress of student loans, which then leads to a lack of focus at work and poor job performance:

  • One in three professionals say their finances are a major source of distraction at work
  • Seven in ten employees say student loan support would improve their job performance
  • Student loans are more likely to cause high levels of stress than other types of debt
  • Eight in ten professionals say student debt is a source of “significant” or “very significant” stress
  • One in eight borrowers who are unemployed or earn less than $50,000 have experienced suicidal ideation because of their student debt

Addressing student debt in the workplace helps bring every aspect of wellbeing within reach  — not just financial health — for employees who would otherwise be left behind. 

Student debt benefits trigger a chain reaction of positive impacts. 

By making financial wellness more accessible to more employees via student debt benefits, HR leaders also unlock opportunities for workers to build wealth, improve their mental and emotional wellbeing, and achieve their full professional potential. In turn, these positive impacts are ultimately reflected in the workplace through higher employee engagement, productivity, and retention.

With Candidly, making an immediate impact with student debt benefits is simple. Our platform uses AI to offer personalized guidance to help every employee optimize their student debt paydown journey, and makes it easy for employers to pitch in with direct contributions to participants’ debt repayment or by matching employees’ monthly student loan payments with retirement contributions. 

Schedule a demo to learn more about how we can help your financial wellness program reach more employees today.