I found myself looking over the ledge. From 130 stories up, the cars looked like toys. It was dark and windy and I could feel the danger of Mother Nature’s gusts paired with a 6 inch slab of concrete to which my feet were clinging. Stepping back to the safety of the rooftop bar, where all my college friends were hanging out, my heart began to beat madly when I noticed that a glass wall now divided me from safety. On cue, the wind picked up and I was pushed toward the ledge. Horrified, I called to my friends as the glass pane moved towards me, reducing my 6 inches of safety to 5. No one was responding so I began pounding on the glass as it pressed me closer and closer to the edge. Then suddenly I was falling; falling with me – around me – was all sorts of paper. I reached out and grabbed a piece and started to cry. All in bold were the words: Your current balance owed: $76,511.

I woke up in a cold sweat, shaking. Even though it was just a nightmare (#NotADream), the portion of it that was true was that I was fresh out of school and heavily in debt and it was weighing on me. At work that day, I relived the nightmare a few times and took an extra long lunch to ponder things. I called a friend just to chat and we spoke for an hour as I paced the hallway outside of my office. I left a few minutes early that day feeling exhausted and overwhelmed.

How many of you have experienced stress related to debt or know of friend or colleague who has? I conducted a random poll and 100% of the dozen people I asked answered affirmatively – 100%! Even if my nonscientific poll was off by half or more, it still shows that lots of people are having negative experiences associate with debt. As a business owner, I am sure that that stress costs us money and has a negative impact on our culture.

In this recent article, one of the quotes I found most interesting was that “a third (34%) of employers reported either currently offering student loan debt assistance (11%) or planning to offer (24%) such initiatives.” Those companies get it. They know that work is impacted by the complete person – the person with a life outside of the office; that kids get sick and cars break down and financial issues come into the office with the people.

I did some basic math. If an employee spends only 10 minutes a week absorbed in stressful thoughts related to financial insecurity, that’s around 8 hours each year. A full day. A day that could have been used to innovate work processes, improve relationships, learn something new, focus on his or her job. I know that I spent more than 10 minutes each week worrying about my debt, so it isn’t a stretch to assume that we are losing more than a day a year/person to the impact of financial stress. Again, referencing the NAPA article: when we take the time to ask, we find that implementing financial wellness initiatives has many positive effects, including increasing retention and reducing stress.

Back in dreamland. When I made my last payment on my student loan, I had an immediate feeling of lightness and ease. I know I was more focused at work, more joyful and relieved that falling off a high building was no longer a nightly activity.

At our company, our mission is to make it easy for organizations to offer and fund programs that help people improve their lives through education – we help turn nightmares into dreams – and our clients report that they are seeing the impact as retention and job satisfaction improve.

– Becky Sharpe, President & CEO