When Financial Distress Shows Up at Work

Working for another organization many years ago, I shared a cubicle wall with a colleague who frequently got phone calls from creditors about late payments. I couldn’t help overhearing him negotiating payments. Given talk about money in the workplace was pretty much a taboo subject at the time, I never talked to him about his financial problems. I didn’t realize how bad things were until the day he was fired for stealing from our employer.


I later learned there were many signs besides the phone calls that he was experiencing financial difficulties. He was notorious for borrowing from co-workers. Colleagues had expressed frustration that he was distracted and making mistakes in the reports he produced. There had been complaints to management that he wasn’t carrying his fair share of the work. I now suspect his supervisor had seen other signs as well.

[Related: Financial Wellness in the Workplace—A Prescription for Prosperity]

Would you know financial distress when you saw it? Here are eight common signs:

  1. Frequent volunteering to work overtime
  2. Requests for an advance in pay or loan from an employer or fellow employee
  3. Borrowing from a retirement account and/or discontinuing contributions
  4. Calls from lenders to verify employment and wages
  5. Garnishment of wages
  6. Frequent phone calls to the worker that are not work-related
  7. Changes in work performance, attitude or behavior
  8. Overly emotional behavior.

And just as important, what would you do about it? Increasingly, employers, labor organizations and benefit plan providers are recognizing that the financial distress of workers is having a negative impact on worker behavior, productivity, benefit plan costs and profit. These organizations are seeing financial well-being as an important component of workplace health and wellness programs.

[Related: Creating Brand Advocates by Improving Your Employees’ Financial Literacy, Wellness and Health]

The International Foundation has just released Financial Wellness and Education in the Workplace: Strategies and Best Practices, which:

  • Summarizes the ways financial distress negatively impacts people’s personal and work lives
  • Explores the factors contributing to financial well-being that might be targeted as part of a holistic workplace wellness program
  • Identifies workplace strategies that can improve financial well-being and help mitigate the organizational costs of financial distress
  • Provides an overview of steps involved in initiating a financial education program—one element of a financial wellness program—and best practices that can contribute to the success of financial education.

It may seem easier at the time to turn a blind eye to signs of financial distress of a co-worker, but addressing the problem can help the individual and your organization.