Skip to main contentA logo with &quat;the muse&quat; in dark blue text.
Advice / Succeeding at Work / Money

Money Worries Are Holding You Back at Work—Here’s How to Fix Them

person worrying about money
Maskot/Getty Images

Here’s a question: Does thinking about your finances stress you out?

Here’s another question: Does that stress permeate your work life, making it impossible to focus on day-to-day tasks, or more importantly, your longer term career aspirations?

If it does, you’re most certainly not alone. And if it doesn’t, you might surprised by how much your money worries can affect your productivity.

A recent survey conducted by Greenwald and Associates and John Hancock of more than 1,300 workers found that a third of respondents worry about finances at work several times a week (if not every day).

Nearly half (47%) of people surveyed spend an hour or more per month on their personal finances at work, and 43% percent feel less productive at work because they’re worried about their personal finances. Even more shocking is that 69% of participants also rated their financial situation as “good to excellent,” meaning that even people with stable finances feel the fiscal pressure.

And all of this stress triggers both physical and psychological symptoms—including anxiety, lack of sleep, and a feeling of being overwhelmed—for about 60% of those who responded to the survey. That’s not exactly a great recipe for bringing your “best self” to work.

This isn’t only detrimental to workers, but also to their employers. It’s estimated that the cost of all of this financial fretting is steep: approximately $2,000 per employee.

While doing research for my book, The Dumb Things Smart People Do With Their Money: Thirteen Ways to Right Your Financial Wrongs, I found that even the most seasoned and accomplished professionals can suffer through periods of financial worry. In my more than three decades in financial services (first as a commodities trader, then as an investment adviser and Certified Financial Planner, and now as a business analyst for CBS News), I’ve seen a surprising number of smart people make errors in how they manage their money and suffer the consequences in their work lives.

One woman I know was struggling to sell a home with a mortgage that was weighing her down. Every morning she would go to work and immediately get on the phone with her realtor for an update. Throughout the day, she was preoccupied with how she would make her next mortgage payment and stay afloat. As the weeks and months wore on, her lack of focus led to an uncomfortable conversation with her boss, who had noticed that she was making sloppy mistakes. While she managed to keep her job, she was passed over for a promotion.

When I was the owner of a company, I remember trying to understand why one of my best performers had suddenly started missing his sales goals. When I asked about it, he said that his son had recently been having behavioral issues, and after months of testing and observation they learned that he would be better served by attending a (very expensive) private school. “I just don’t know how we can afford it and it’s making me a little crazy,” he told me.

It’s tough not to spin out of control about personal financial issues and bring them with you into the office. Sometimes there’s a critical issue that arises—and when it does, you should immediately discuss it with your boss before it impacts your work. In the case of my former employee, we were able to provide him with resources to help him out. (A note to employers: When you offer empathy and real solutions, you earn a hard-working employee for life!)

But overall, learning to be proactive with your money can increase your chances of being a calmer, stronger, more level-headed employee. Here are some actions you can take today that should set you on a better course:

Know Your Facts

Be sure you know the answers to these 10 basic money questions—like what a credit score is or how much you should invest. Or take one of these easy online personal finance courses. Just having knowledge about the space will give you peace of mind that you know what you’re doing.

Understand How to Create a Basic Budget (and Actually Make One)

Before you start whining that budgets don’t work or are hard to follow, I’m not suggesting that you stop drinking lattes or treating yourself to a nice item or two every once in a while—but you should have a general outline of what you’re spending your money on. The more you know about your cash flow today, the better prepared you’ll be to save and invest for the future. This budgeting worksheet can help in getting organized.

Utilize Tools

Apps like Mint, Clarity Money, You Need a Budget (YNAB), or one of these other options can make it a lot easier to create a budget and track your spending. By doing so, you can understand where your money is currently going and then shift it from one category—like going out for lunch—to another priority, like paying down outstanding debt, beefing up your emergency reserve fund, or nudging up or even maximizing your retirement contributions.

Of course, some financial burdens are harder to relieve and sometimes impossible to get rid of in the short-term, whether you’re paying off heavy loans or dealing with a big mortgage. The key with these stresses is to become better at mitigating them—and managing how you react to them.

For example, you may not be able to pay your debt off tomorrow. But you can get better at planning out how you pay that debt off over time, and thus remove a bit of the anxiety of having it looming over your head. This alone can do wonders for your productivity and happiness on the job.

And please, don’t be too hard on yourself when you make a financial blunder. You aren’t terrible or stupid for messing up; you’re human. But it’s important to address the problem, come up with a game plan, and then execute that plan.

Taking control of your financial life isn’t just good practice. It’ll help propel you forward in all sorts of ways, whether you’re looking to move up in your career or focus on other more important things in life.