- Starting in 2020, Unum will offer a new student debt relief program for its employees that will allow them to trade up to five PTO days for a payment against student loans, the insurance company announced last week. Unum employees who opt in will receive the monetary value of the PTO days they trade in — their hourly rate, times eight hours — to put toward loan payments through a student debt relief program offered by Fidelity, Bloomberg reported. Parents sharing a child's student debt are also eligible for the benefit, according to the release.
- In its press release, Unum explained its PTO policy: Employees starting at Unum receive 28 days of paid time off — including holidays and personal days. At the end of the year, employees can carry over a maximum of five PTO days. When the student debt benefit launches, workers may trade in PTO days they've accrued that are considered carry-over PTO.
- "Many people face the challenge of balancing student debt with planning for their financial futures," said Carl Gagnon, assistant vice president of Global Financial Wellbeing and Retirement Programs at Unum, in the press release. "This first-of-its-kind Student Debt Relief Program, along with a range of other financial benefits and resources, provides Unum employees more tools to reduce financial stress and improve overall wellbeing."
In response to a tight job market, employers have courted the idea of investing in new benefits, like mental health and financial wellness programs, to appeal to workers. Employees want financial aid from their employers, particularly programs that offer long-term support rather than short-term financial education, but employers haven't quite nailed the design of these programs yet, according to research released late last year.
While employers acknowledge the strain that student debt places on workers, the financial programs they offer are not always enough to significantly relieve the burden for all workers. A study conducted last year by Bank of America also found that, at companies offering financial wellness benefits and 401(k) plans, 38% of employees said they're less than financially well — including 44% of those in the survey who were under age 40. These numbers aren't surprising considering that the national student debt in the U.S. was up by $37 billion in the third quarter of last year; it crept toward $1.5 trillion in total as of September 2018.
Before adopting a program like Unum's, employers may want to take stock of what their workers want and need most. Unlimited PTO policies have become trendy, and in an era of employee burnout, some workers consider PTO to be the second most important factor (after salary) when choosing a job. Work-life balance is important to employees, and it's not something employers should discount either if they want to engage and retain them.