When it comes to personal finances, there’s a yawning gap between the Millennial and Baby Boomer generations, with younger Americans more confident that their senior years will be golden, but feeling a lot more stressed in the here and now.
Among 18- to 34-year-olds, 48% felt very positive about their financial future, according to a new report from Bank of America Merrill Lynch. That's compared to 22% of Baby Boomers who may be caring for aging parents — and paying their children's college tuition — while facing a limited timeline to earn enough to pay for it all.
“Younger people have a longer horizon ahead of them,’’ says Kevin Crain, Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s head of workplace solutions. “Obviously for a Baby Boomer, that time frame is much different on a whole lot of different fronts.''
But young adults are far from stress-free. They spend more time at work pondering bills and crunching numbers than their slightly older peers.
The online poll, conducted in the fall by Boston Research Technologies, surveyed 1,242 workers, all of whom had to be currently enrolled in a 401(k) plan.
Millennials said they spent four hours a week on average poring over personal financial matters at the office, as compared to the two hours spent by Gen X’ers, and the hour spent by Baby Boomers.
“There was longer-term optimism but I would say they had higher levels of shorter-term concern,’’ Crain said of Millennials, noting that a key cause of their anxiety is college debt. “They’re spending a good amount of time on how can they budget. How can they save.’’
Crain says that at some level, the large amount of time Millennials spend pondering their finances shows that they at least realize the importance of thinking about their financial goals. But all that fretting can impede an employee's work performance as well as their health. More than twice as many Millennials as Baby Boomers said that stress negatively impacts their work. And 68% of 20- and 30-somethings say stress takes a toll on their health, vs. 56% of Generation X and 51% of those in their fifties and sixties.
Still, 53% of workers overall said that stress impedes their ability to focus and get work done. "“There are tangible impacts for companies who have financially unwell people,'' Crain says. "They miss work. They are not as productive. They may have health issues that drive up health insurance costs.’’
To that end, Crain say businesses would benefit from treating their employees' financial health similar to the way many handle their staff's physical well-being, offering educational programs around such tasks as creating an emergency fund, along with incentives for workers who meet certain goals.
For instance, just as some employers lower insurance premiums for staffers who get regular physicals or quit smoking, employees who show progress with a personal financial plan might be able to get a higher company match for their 401(k) contribution.
And given how one impacts the other, Crain says, employers should consider putting education around physical health and personal finances under the single heading of wellness.
“Educate people holistically,’’ he says.
Employees across the age spectrum say they would be appreciative, with 92% of Millennials saying they would take advantage of a financial education program provided on the job, as compared to 89% of Generation X and 76% of their Boomer peers.