How financial professionals can help reduce financial stress

Our annual financial stress survey shows that retirement plan participants who work with a financial professional are less burdened by financial worries and more likely to have a plan for retirement. The survey also shows that financial stress can affect employers through lost productivity. So, when you take steps to alleviate your employees’ financial stress, you’re not only helping them make progress toward better financial health, you’re also boosting your business’s bottom line.

For seven years, we’ve surveyed 401(k) participants about their financial situations and the causes of their financial stress.1 We use the findings to drive our development of new products and services and to gauge the effectiveness of current practices. Once again, we’ve found that guidance from a financial professional can help make a real and measurable difference in participants’ lives. 

Saving continues to cause financial stress

We asked participants to rank the financial matters they worry about most. Of their four biggest concerns, two—having enough retirement and emergency resources—are savings related.  

What's causing people financial stress?

Although financial stress didn’t start with COVID-19, the pandemic has made it much worse. The percentage of participants reporting heavy financial stress tripled after the pandemic encroached on our lives. And unfortunately, when people are stressed, they often bring it to work, which can cost employers $2,169 per employee through absenteeism and lower productivity.

Financial stress increased during the pandemic

A financial professional can help lower stress and improve retirement readiness

Both before and during the pandemic, participants who work with a financial professional were less likely to experience acute stress. And they’re less likely to worry about their finances while at work—61% of people who don’t have a financial professional often worry about their finances at work, compared to 49% who have a financial professional. 

Compared to people without access to professional advice, participants who’ve received one-on-one advice are more likely to be super savers—they’re twice as likely to contribute 16% or more of their income for retirement. As a result, participants who’ve worked with a financial professional seem to be less worried about having enough retirement and emergency savings and about their current financial situation.

Participants who can’t afford the cost of professional advice are less likely to have a plan for retirement. And this inequity contributes directly to financial worry, since participants without a professionally prepared plan are less likely to:

  • Know if they’re on track for retirement 
  • Know what their retirement income will be 

Financial professionals have helped participants during the pandemic

During the pandemic, people with access to personal financial advice have fared better financially than those without. Most of the people who took the following actions don’t work with a financial professional: 

And participants who don’t use a financial professional were also more likely to feel unprepared for a $2,000 unforeseen expense, have credit card debt, and have debt other than a mortgage, student loan, auto loan, or credit card. Among participants who worry about having general financial difficulties, about 69% don’t work with a financial professional.  

Guidance from a financial professional can help

Participants working with a financial professional can be better off financially in every sense we measured. They worry relatively less about their personal financial situation, they’re better prepared for emergencies and less reliant on debt, and they have a plan for retirement. Especially during a pandemic, the guidance of a financial professional can help your employees get a handle on their finances and manage their financial stress. 


This piece is intended for a plan sponsor audience.


In July 2020, John Hancock commissioned our seventh annual financial stress survey with the respected research firm Greenwald & Associates. An online survey of 589 workers was conducted between 7/28/20 and 8/14/20 to learn more about individual stress levels, their causes and effects, and strategies for relief. John Hancock and Greenwald & Associates are not affiliated, and neither is responsible for the liabilities of the other. This report presents the results of research conducted by Greenwald & Associates on behalf of John Hancock. The objectives of this study were to i) quantify the financial situation and level of financial stress of John Hancock plan participants, ii) determine the key triggers of financial stress, iii) understand the extent to which actions, including actual financial behavior and planning activity, ameliorate stress, and iv) assess retirement preparation and readiness. This online survey was an average length of approximately 19 minutes per respondent. Respondents were located from a list of eligible plan participants provided by John Hancock. All statistical testing is done at .95 and .99 significance levels. The maximum margin of sampling error at the 95% confidence level is ± 4.1%.

The content on this page is for general information only and is believed to be accurate and reliable as of the posting date, but may be subject to change. It is not intended to provide investment, tax, plan design, or legal advice (unless otherwise indicated). Please consult your own independent advisor as to any investment, tax, or legal statements made herein.