It’s about time you learn what your employees don’t want you to know about their financial situations. Find out what “faking normal” is and how wellness benefits can reduce financial stress.

“Faking normal” is a term that Elizabeth White uses in her powerful TED talk on the personal finance crisis in America. The term describes what most Americans’ facing serious financial instability are prone to do –  pretend everything is fine. Some of your employees are probably “faking normal” right now.

“The truth is it really doesn’t take much. The median household in the US only has enough savings to replace 1 month of income. 47 percent of us cannot pull together $400 to deal with an emergency. A major car repair and we’re standing at the abyss,” White says. This is a reality for many Americans, regardless of education or employment history.

“Shame keeps us silent and siloed,” she adds, “We live in a world where success is defined by income. When you say that you have money problems you’re announcing, pretty much, that you’re a loser.” For many of those struggling with debt, the people closest to them would never know because they take great pains to hide what’s considered to be a failing.

White believes individuals need to hold themselves accountable financial failings, but it’s important employers recognize, “systemic factors that have caused a $7.7 trillion retirement income gap,” like, “flat and falling wages, disappearing pensions, through the roof costs on housing, pension, healthcare and education,” that have built over the last three decades.

Until there’s large-scale reform to address the financial crisis, White recommends “smalling up.” She describes it as, “figuring out what you really need to feel contented and grounded.” An example she uses is a friend that drives beat-up cars but loves music so much they would scrape to save and spend $15,000 on a flute. Employers offering financial wellness benefits can help employees recover from debt and build budgets so they can spend their money on what matters most to them.

White says it’s also time for skilled workers to embrace “bridge work,” which she describes as jobs that don’t utilize the education or work experience that someone may have built up. She’s not suggesting that people be content with it, she’s suggesting that “bridge work is what we do in the meantime while we’re figuring out what is next.” Supporting employees that might need to work a side hustle to pay down debt and build savings can reduce some of the stress associated with maintaining appearances that all is well.  

It’s clear that even if employees are well educated and appear financially sound, there’s a good chance that some of them are acting as if everything is normal while dealing with high levels of financial stress. Employers who acknowledge this and offer financial wellness benefits are likely to see an ROI with higher job satisfaction and thus, better retention.