How to recognize employee financial stress

Most business owners find out quickly that outside forces have a big impact on their bottom line. Many of those forces are outside their control, but employee financial stress isn’t one of them. Employee debt can cause serious problems in the workplace, said Mike Sullivan, director of education for Take Charge America, a national non-profit credit counseling agency.

“Our personal finances affect our daily attitudes and stress levels,” he said. “This carries into the workplace, and when workers are experiencing major financial distress, it’s often expressed in their productivity and output.”

A report from the Personal Finance Employee Education Foundation finds that 30 million workers—or one in four—are seriously financially distressed. In addition, 30 to 80 percent of financially distressed workers, depending on their job, spend time at work dealing and worrying about personal financial issues, rather than working.

Sullivan said business owners can help their employees erase debt and increase productivity. He described six signs that an employee may need help:

Appears distracted—Many employees become distracted at work when money problems arise. They may put off daily duties and make multiple personal phone calls from their desk. However, distraction can also be the result of a health or relationship issue. If you think money problems are the culprit, look for additional signs.

Acquires second job—If an employee asks for permission or flexible scheduling to acquire a second a job, that’s another sign money problems may be on the horizon.

Continually asks for wage advances—A single wage advance request can help employees get back on their feet. Yet, repetitive requests for wage advances could signal serious debt problems. If this is the case, you may want to refer this employee to a credit counselor.

Creditors calling at the office—Some signs of financial distress aren’t so subtle. If creditors are repeatedly calling the office, that can not only distract the employee in question, but also interrupt your daily business operations. Business owners can put an end to such creditor calls by submitting a written request to desist from calling at the office to the creditor.

Cars repossessed while working—Another not-so-subtle sign: car repossession at work. A lender can repossess a car without advance notice if payments are skipped or a contract is violated. If this happens, allow your employee the time to call the lender and figure out how to settle the problem immediately. Repossessed cars can be sold at auction. If that happens to your employee, it could prevent him/her from getting to work on time, if at all. Again, encourage the employee to get counseling; undoubtedly, the car isn’t the only asset in jeopardy.

Wages garnished—If necessary, a creditor can seek a judgment to garnish wages from a worker—up to 25 percent of pay, depending on the job. Keep in mind that federal law bars an employer from firing an employee whose wages are garnished because of a single judgment. However, garnishment could force an employee to quit, which could cause a staff shortage on your end. If one of your employee’s wages are garnished, be sure to refer him/her to a qualified credit counselor.

Shannon McComas, a business development representative with Take Charge America, adds that resources are available to employers who need help dealing with workers who are financially distressed.

“Employers can form partnerships with credit counseling agencies,” she said. “Once employees have access to financial education, they can become better equipped at handling their personal finances. We find this reduces stress and increases productivity at work.”

McComas said employers can be proactive in their quest to help employees avoid credit problems and reduce the stress of existing problems by identifying a qualified credit counseling agency that will be readily available for employees. These credit counseling agencies, like Take Charge America, help companies distribute educational information, provide ready access to financial counselors and may even conduct on-site seminars. For more information, call 1-800-823-7396 or visit

Take Charge America

Founded in 1987, Take Charge America, Inc., is a nonprofit organization headquartered in Phoenix, Ariz. TCA offers a variety of services, including financial education, credit counseling, and debt management. To learn more about TCA or its programs, call 1-800-823-7396 or visit

From the Jan. 10-16, 2007, issue

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