Employee FinHealth Toolkit

Diagnose Needs

Employee needs are diverse. One-size-fits-all financial health solutions can result in low uptake and limited impact, because they don’t address the needs of the employees who could benefit most. Before designing solutions, take the time to understand your employees’ needs and prioritize the most acute challenges.

Diagnose Needs

Why Start With Diagnosing Needs?

Workers in America are struggling financially, yet not all workers have the same needs. Low-wage employees, particularly workers of color, are more likely to experience financial challenges than other workers. Women are also more likely to struggle financially than men, and workers with a disability face more financial challenges than others. Workers who fit into more than one of these demographic categories – such as women of color in low-wage jobs – are among the most likely to struggle financially.

Because employees’ needs are diverse, effective financial health programs must begin with a strategic approach to diagnosing needs. Without this important step, you risk investing in programs and benefits that don’t resonate with employees most likely to need and use them. Low uptake, in turn, can erode management support for financial health investments. This important step will help ensure you invest in programs and benefits that work for your employees.

3 Steps for Diagnosing Needs

Combine surveys with data from your company’s HR, benefits, and payroll systems to shed light on your employees’ financial health.

By identifying financial health gaps, you can make decisions about where to invest to promote greater equity within your workforce.

No one program or solution will address all of your employees’ needs, so where should you start?

The Financial Health of Frontline Workers

For most companies, the most financially vulnerable segment of your workforce is likely to be your frontline employees. While there is no standard definition for frontline workers, the term often refers to those who:

  • work directly with customers, in product manufacturing, or in service delivery.
  • are nonsalaried.
  • are in positions that do not require advanced technical expertise.2

Depending on your industry, these could be cashiers, call center employees, factory workers, delivery personnel, or caregivers. For some companies, this includes workers employed by contractors, franchisees, or temporary help agencies in addition to workers directly employed by the company.

In this Toolkit, we primarily use income as a proxy for frontline status. Because the types of frontline jobs vary so significantly by industry, it is hard to talk consistently about the experiences of frontline workers. Instead, we use the terms “frontline” and “low-wage” to refer generally to workers who earn less than $16 an hour.3

However, this is a guidepost, not a firm threshold. The definition of a “low” wage depends significantly on where someone lives, their family size, and whether there are other working adults in the household.

How Often Should I Assess My Employees’ Needs?

There’s no one right answer, except that it’s important to do it regularly. The results of your initial assessment can set a baseline and help you identify the highest-priority needs for your employees. But repeating the process can help you track progress over time, especially as you roll out new initiatives. It can also help you keep your finger on the pulse of your workforce as their financial lives change, as you hire new employees, or as people leave the company.

Many companies find that conducting an employee survey annually can provide useful information without creating survey fatigue. A dashboard of key data points such as 401(k) participation and deferral rates, 401(k) loans, or HSA savings balances can be refreshed more frequently to help you spot trends. We’ll walk through examples of the kinds of data points you can consider building into your dashboard in Step 1: Gather Relevant Data.

  1. Fay Hanley Brown, et al. “Advancing Frontline Employees of Color Innovating for Competitive Advantage in America’s Frontline Workforce.” FSG and PolicyLink, January 2020.
  2. Martha Ross and Nicole Bateman, “Meet the Low-wage Workforce,” Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings, November 2019.

Step 1: Gather Relevant Data