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At least 15 percent of Americans are so stressed out about money that it affects their work, and about half say they spend more than 20 hours a week dealing with financial matters, says a Virginia Tech study. And those worries aren't just confined to low-income workers.

One solution: Ease employees' financial pains-and bolster your organization's retirement-plan participation rates-by teaching employees how to better manage their money.

Example: Children's Health System in Birmingham, Ala., added a financial education program to its menu of employee benefits. In just one year, participation in its retirement savings plan grew from 62 percent to 72 percent.

More than 500 Children's Health employees enrolled in at-work money management seminars or one-on-one consultations with financial planners. They also used a phone helpline or visited an employer-sponsored Web site full of financial planning information.

The organization's cost: about $25,000 a year.

What it gained: employees who spend far less work time taking calls from bill collectors and worrying about making ends meet.

More employers are seeing the value in such education.

A Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) survey says 41 percent of employers now provide general financial education to employees, up sharply from 29 percent in 2005.

Still, experts say it's best to hire an outside vendor to teach employees how to manage their money and save for the future.

That's because HR professionals and benefits managers can land in legal trouble for giving personalized financial advice that goes bad.

Another good reason to outsource financial education: Some workers are reluctant to participate in financial education at work because they're uneasy about sharing personal information with their employers. So, make your program confidential.

Finally, when choosing a vendor, look for one that:

  • Includes a variety of formats: classroom instruction, in-person consultations, a telephone helpline and Internet resources.
  • Offers basic financial education as well as retirement planning.
  • Improves employees' financial wellbeing, rather than simply teaching financial terms.
  • Teaches without jargon so employees truly understand the lessons.

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