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May 9, 2024 - LIMITLESS Magazine

Off the beaten path

Powersports vehicle company Polaris charts new territory in employee benefits.

Magazine

Powersports vehicle company Polaris had long offered employees competitive salaries, a 401(k)-match program and a stake in the company. However, two years ago, the company took a holistic look at its programs and found that it could do even more to provide employees with tools and resources to support their financial well-being. Polaris then made a profound commitment to its employees and harnessed the drive, ingenuity, and pioneering spirit it's renowned for to implement a comprehensive financial wellness program that acknowledges that economic well-being is an integral part of overall health. 

Just as Polaris founders Edgar Hetteen, his brother Allen, and close friend, David Johnson, developed their first vehicle in 1954 as a solution to get through the deep Minnesota snow, company leaders 70 years later innovated a way to give the same energy and value their employees provide right back to them. Polaris provided valuable opportunities for the employees to expand their knowledge about the retirement planning process while leveraging the benefits of the 401(k) plan, ESOP, and HSA. Through the lens of its “think outside the box” philosophy, the company empowered employees to make informed financial decisions that align with their individual circumstances and the well-being of their loved ones.

Polaris enlisted the help of Compass Financial Partners, a Marsh & McLennan Agency LLC (MMA) company to develop its new financial wellness program. To kick off this transformation, Nikky Reilly, senior manager of healthcare, retirement, and stock plans at Polaris, and her team rolled out a series of financial information sessions for employees on relevant topics such as inflation, retirement, and social security. They also offered one-on-one sessions with MMA financial experts to discuss employees’ unique goals and challenges. In turn, Polaris garnered valuable insight into employees’ concerns and areas where they could use additional resources, and was able to adjust its offerings accordingly.

“With COVID-19, we found that employees were facing a lot of financial stress, so we wanted to create a program that was unique to their own financial concerns and goals,” Reilly says. “We put together a completely new set of financial wellness offerings and launched presentations each quarter that focused on pre-tax savings, what to do as you get closer to retirement—a lot of different topics that were individualized for our employees.”

Kathleen Kelly, Retirement & Wealth Management Services managing partner at MMA who worked with Reilly to implement Polaris’ financial wellness program, says that from a corporate perspective, companies are smart to invest in robust financial wellness programs. “There is a financial interest in ensuring your workforce is financially fit,” she says. “If you don’t have a financially prepared workforce, it leads to employees who have higher financial stress, higher workers’ compensation rates and higher medical claims.”

Communicating financial wellness 

Before Polaris could equip its employees with the financial information it needed to succeed, it had to ensure that information would reach them. With roughly 18,000 employees in the U.S.— from the engineers working to develop vehicles to front line workers turning that vision into a reality, plus those that help Polaris continue to grow and operate, like sales, IT, marketing, HR, finance and more—this was a tall order. The company not only had to implement a financial wellness program, it also had to come up with a new internal communications strategy. This was the first big hurdle MMA and Polaris tackled.

The effort began with the launch of a newsletter, North Star News, that contained information about the new financial wellness program, along with other news and events happening within the company. The newsletter also allowed Reilly and her team to monitor which stories employees were clicking on to understand what they were most interested in reading.

They also found ways to reach employees who do not have access to email, such as ensuring information was being shared at team meetings or posted on bulletin boards. Finally, they snail-mailed a hefty 26-page financial guide to each of the company’s employees that explained complex money issues in an easy-to-understand way.

“In the benefits world, we tend to use a lot of terminology that someone who doesn’t specialize in finances may not understand,” Reilly says. “We explained financial subjects in a way that was comfortable to the average person. We mailed it to everyone’s homes knowing that financial decisions go beyond the employee and to their spouses or families.”

The guide also directed employees to more resources and tools, such as retirement calculators, to take some guesswork out of employees’ financial decisions.

“The new communications strategy made it possible to reach and engage more employees more than just a simple email did,” Reilly says. “We are leaving employees behind when we only invest in emails. We had to think creatively about how to communicate with all of our employees.”

The impact of informed decisions 

Since Polaris implemented its financial wellness program, it has received rave reviews from employees. And those who have benefited from the program recommend it to their colleagues.

“This isn’t a cookie-cutter program—it’s focusing on what our employees have said they need and what they have asked for,” Reilly says. “We’re seeing a big uptick in participation from employees as we roll out more sessions.”

Polaris is also seeing a return on its investment in employees.

“Sometimes employers see the price tag of a program and they steer away from it. That’s the wrong mentality,” she says. “We are investing in our employees, and it comes back threefold. When we invest in employees, they feel more confident in their personal lives, and they bring their best selves to work because they recognize our commitment to them. Everybody wins.” 

Implementing a corporate financial wellness program doesn’t have to be a colossal endeavor. Companies can start with the basics and expand. They can also use the assets already available to them. For example, Reilly repurposes resources provided by the company’s 401(k) vendor, MMA, and its internal communications team.

And even the smallest gestures showed big dividends, Reilly says. “The employees really appreciated the opportunities we provided to them to learn about financial health,” she says. “Once you start seeing the results of your work, you will learn that you are making a difference, and it will drive you forward to do more for your employees.”  

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