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Negative Effects: Unhealthy attitudes about money


By Denise Norberg-Johnson | Feb 15, 2016
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This is the Chinese Year of the Monkey, which represents playfulness, creativity, honor, luck, God and riches. Since attitudes and beliefs affect wealth building, my 2016 columns will include topics such as behavioral finance, spiritual finance and other areas of study that reveal how deeply our financial status is connected to factors other than spreadsheets and statements.


Last month, I discussed “normal” attitudes about money. Simply, people want more of it, regardless of how much has already been accumulated. Money represents happiness, security and success. As an electrical contractor, your personal attitudes about money affect your executive decisions, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg. The financial attitudes and beliefs of each electrician, project manager, executive and staffer you employ also affect your profitability and productivity.


Vocational training programs increasingly embrace subjects other than the technical training needed to perform on-site electrical work. High schools offer personal finance courses, especially in economically challenged districts. People need to know how to manage the money they earn, and most of us are doing a poor job of saving it. Employees and employers drive the entire economy.


It is your responsibility to educate your employees, because their degree of financial security influences their level of loyalty, ethical behavior and alignment with your profit goals. A small investment in workshops, online classes or coaching can pay big dividends in motivation and engagement.


Our unhealthy attitudes toward money often cause us to make poor financial decisions. Meanwhile, psychologists who specialize in financial therapy publish research about the connection between well-being and personal financial knowledge, attitudes and behaviors. 


A study published several years ago in The Journal of Financial Therapy identified four basic attitudes that can negatively affect personal financial choices. Professor Brad Klontz, a clinical psychologist in Hawaii specializing in financial therapy, said people need to identify the unconscious “money scripts” that develop during childhood. Family beliefs about money run through multiple generations, and they can limit potential and have catastrophic effects on finances and lives unless they are challenged. These are the four harmful money personality types:


• Money worship is the belief that more income or a financial windfall will solve all problems. It's the most common attitude among Americans. Klontz attributes this to the baby boomers’ reaction to the extreme frugality of their parents, who survived the Great Depression. Children either emulate extreme parental attitudes or do the opposite, and both approaches are dysfunctional. Money worshippers tend to carry more revolving debt. 


• Money status links self-worth to net worth. People who believe money is a status symbol are more likely to be young, single and less educated and have less wealth.


• Money vigilance is associated with the miserly person who is secretive about finances and extremely wary of spending. These individuals are often financially secure but do not allow themselves to enjoy their money. The most extreme will underspend and even hoard money. 


• Money avoidance is likely to bring on feelings of fear, anxiety or disgust, especially in younger, single or low-income people. They believe money is bad or that they do not deserve to have it. 


The “Stress in America” survey (www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2014/highlights.aspx)—conducted in August 2014 by the Harris Poll organization for the American Psychological Association—revealed that 72 percent of respondents are sometimes stressed about money, 22 percent experienced extreme stress during the previous month, and 26 percent feel stressed about money most or all of the time. Money is a taboo subject for 18 percent of the participants, and 36 percent are uncomfortable discussing it. More significant levels of stress were caused by money (64 percent) than work (60 percent), the economy (49 percent), family responsibilities (47 percent) or health issues (46 percent). Women report higher levels of stress than men and feel it more often. Parents and younger generations feel the least financially secure.


Your employees are losing sleep over money. The National Foundation of Credit Counseling Financial Literacy Opinion Index conducted a survey on its website (www.debtadvice.org) that 2,148 people completed through July 2014. Nearly 80 percent of the respondents reported that their personal finances interfered with sleep.


A March 2014 Harris Poll of 2,016 Americans found that 71 percent worried about finances, especially inadequate savings, job issues, debt and credit. 


These unhealthy attitudes about money, stress and sleep deprivation related to finances can affect employee work performance. 


More studies confirm the relationship between employee personal financial issues and their work performance. Next month, we’ll look at some ways to increase the financial literacy of your employees, reduce their stress levels, and increase their engagement, loyalty and productivity as well as your profitability.

About The Author

Denise Norberg-Johnson is a former subcontractor and past president of two national construction associations. She may be reached at [email protected].

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