Personal Finance

As 62% of workers cut back on savings amid concerns about the economy, employers emphasize financial wellness

Key Points
  • Concerns about high inflation and a possible recession have prompted 62% of workers to reduce their short- and long-term savings, a new study from Morgan Stanley at Work finds.
  • Almost one-third of respondents have cut back on 401(k) contributions.
  • That's as financial well-being has become an emphasis among both employers and employees.

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Employees' 401(k) accounts may have taken a hit during recent market volatility, but that's not the only reason balances may be down.

A new study from Morgan Stanley at Work finds 62% of employees have reduced their short- and long-term savings contributions amid high inflation and concerns about a possible recession.

Almost one-third — 31%— of respondents reduced contributions to their 401(k) plans. Meanwhile, 26% said they've cut back on paying down debts, 25% reduced their long-term savings, 24% scaled back emergency and short-term savings, 19% whittled down contributions to health savings accounts and 13% reduced contributions to a college savings fund.

Moreover, 71% of employees said money-related stress has negatively affected their work and personal lives, a 7% increase from 2021. At the same time, 84% of human resources leaders said they're worried personal financial issues are affecting employees' productivity.

The online survey was conducted between July 13 and 19 and included 1,000 employed adults and 600 human resources leaders.

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Aim to contribute 'the most you can do'

The reduced savings is concerning, as "more wealth is being created in the workplace than anywhere else," according to Brian McDonald, head of Morgan Stanley at Work.

That includes 401(k) and deferred compensation plans, employee stock ownership plans, emergency savings accounts and student loan assistance.

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"Employees still see the 401(k) plan as the central thing they think about when they think about benefits at work," McDonald said. "That certainly has not changed."

The fact that employees have reduced their 401(k) contributions year over year is concerning, McDonald said, because they'll miss out on taking full advantage of their work retirement plans and the compounding interest that can help them build wealth over time.

Start by maxing out the most that you can do — not the most that's allowed, but the most you can do — in your 401(k) plan.
Brian McDonald
head of Morgan Stanley at Work

Admittedly, putting money aside for long-term goals can be tough as costs like rents and school tuitions rise, McDonald said.

"Start by maxing out the most that you can do — not the most that's allowed, but the most you can do — in your 401(k) plan," McDonald said.

Financial wellness benefits are 'gaining momentum'

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Company executives are doing more to provide holistic financial benefits to employees and are spending more money on those benefits, according to McDonald.

"The conversation is more around financial well-being, and that trend is certainly gaining momentum," he said.

The survey found 60% of employees are paying more attention to reviewing their financial benefits compared to a year ago.

Moreover, 84% of human resources leaders say employees have requested financial benefits their companies do not offer, up from 78% in 2021.

That's even as the survey found more executives now say their companies are offering quality financial benefits.

Yet 96% of HR leaders said their companies need to do more to help employees better understand how to maximize the financial benefits available to them, up from 93% who said that last year.

Meanwhile, 89% of employees agree, up from 87% in 2021.

When it comes to financial benefits, the top choice cited by employees was access to a financial advisor, with 52%; followed by goals-based retirement investment planning, with 48%; and access to retirement tools and calculators, 46%.

However, HR leaders cited different priorities, with goals-based retirement investment planning coming in first, with 47%; followed by access to retirement planning tools and calculators, with 43%; retirement planning workshops, 40%; and access to a financial advisor, 40%.