Workplace Financial Education Program: Does It Have an Impact on Employees' Personal Finances?

Article excerpt

This study examines the impact of a Cooperative Extension workplace financial education program on a selected group of university employees. The influences of the program on university employees' self-assessed financial knowledge, financial behaviors, and perceived financial well-being were studied. A pre- and post-assessment found that participants made significant improvements in financial knowledge, financial behaviors, and perceived financial well-being as a result of an 8-hour workplace financial education program.

Many Americans experience financial strains at some point in their lives. A recent national survey found that 60% of working Americans were experiencing moderate to high levels of financial stress (American Express Retirement Services, 2004). Individuals' financial stress has been associated with workplace productivity (Carman, Leech, & Grable, 1996; Hira & Loibl, 2005; Kim, 2000). In recent years, employers have provided workplace financial education programs to help employees better manage their personal finances and improve their financial well-being (Helman & Paladino, 2004).

A critical question is whether workplace financial education programs are effective in improving participants' personal financial situations. A few studies have found that workplace financial education programs increased financial literacy, increased retirement savings, and improved some financial management practices (Bernheim & Garrett, 2003; Clark & d'Ambrosio, 2003). Many studies report on programs focused on retirement investments or savings. Further, few studies employ pre-and post-assessment designs of comprehensive financial education interventions to assess the impact of workplace education on personal finances. It has been suggested that more comprehensive workplace financial education programs are needed to determine their effectiveness on personal finances (Hira & Loibl, 2005; Kirn, 2000).

This study used the Human Behavior model of Ajzen and Fishbein (1980) in which knowledge and attitudes are related to individual's beliefs, and changes in beliefs are reflected in behaviors. Based on this same model, Kirn (2000) developed a framework conceptualizing that workplace financial education could change financial knowledge and financial behaviors positively, which in turn could improve financial well-being. Workplace financial education also could have an impact on employees' absenteeism and job satisfaction.

Cooperative Extension provides a variety of financial literacy education programs for the public (Vitt et al., 2000). In addition, FCS Extension programs are provided for employees at the workplace and often are requested or paid for by employers. Although a majority of current workplace financial education programs focus on retirement, Extension programs often include comprehensive financial management with budgeting and credit management in addition to retirement planning.

To date, limited research has been published on the impact of Extension workplace financial education programs on employees' personal finances. The purpose of this study is to examine the impact of a Cooperative Extension financial education program on university employees' financial knowledge, financial behaviors, and perceived financial well-being using pre- and post-surveys.

METHODOLOGY

The University of Maryland Cooperative Extension offered four 2-hour workshops for 97 University employees from 2002 to 2003. The workshops were advertised to all employees on campus, with the number of participants limited to 20-25 per class. Participants included administrative/clerical staff, facilities management workers, healthcare professionals, and faculty.

Before the workshops started, participants completed pre-surveys. Post-surveys were mailed to the participants about 3 months after the workshops. The post data collection followed Dillman's (1978) strategy using an initial mailing, a first follow-up (a postcard 1 week after the initial mailing), and a second follow-up (survey packet 2 weeks later). …