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Garman named COTA fellow

By Sandy Broughton

Spectrum Volume 19 Issue 29 - April 24, 1997

E. Thomas Garman has been designated a distinguished fellow by Virginia Tech's Center for Organizational and Technological Advancement (COTA).

Garman is a professor of consumer affairs and family financial management in the College of Human Resources and Education at Virginia Tech. As a COTA fellow, Garman will continue his important research and outreach activities in the area of personal finance employee education. He will work with several employers in Southwest Virginia to develop demonstration projects of personal finance employee education; conduct research to measure the effectiveness of such efforts; lead workshops on the topic for human resource managers from throughout Virginia; and host multidisciplinary conferences on personal finance employee education at the Hotel Roanoke and Conference Center.

Personal finance employee education is emerging as one of the most critical issues facing employers today, due in large part to Garman's groundbreaking research on the subject. Last fall, Garman and Irene E. Leech, associate professor and Extension specialist in consumer education, presented the results of their research on productivity losses caused by the poor personal financial behaviors of employees.

According to the study, approximately 15 percent of workers in the United States are experiencing stress from financial problems to the extent that their productivity on the job is negatively impacted. Approximately 25 to 30 percent of workers report high work stress, and among the five major risk stressors (relationships, work, health, crime/violence, and personal finance), personal finance is rated by workers as the number-one source of stress. More than one-third of America's workforce report that money worries sometimes hamper job performance.

"This is the most glossed-over and ignored worker issue today," Garman said. "By not acknowledging or recognizing how personal-financial problems affect workers, and not dealing with the financial situations of their stressed workers, employers have left out of their bottom-line calculations a vital cost component."

Garman advocates employers adding a comprehensive "financial-wellness" component to the services offered to employees--similar to programs many corporations now offer employees in substance-abuse counseling and health-and-fitness programming. Such programs should include information and education in credit management, consumer education, and personal finance to improve decision making; counseling and referral for difficult situations; and pre-retirement planning that increases worker participation and savings in pension plans.

Garman estimates the return on investment in such a program is probably a 5-to-1 dollar ratio, as is the case in other employee-assistance programming. "Offering financial-wellness services for employees is a win-win situation for both employers and employees," Garman said. "People who are well-informed and in control of their personal finances are more secure, more self-confident, and happier in family and job relationships. The availability of effective financial-wellness services increases job productivity and reduces employer costs."

Through COTA, Garman will disseminate the latest research findings and promote model programs of PFEE (personal finance employee education) in the private and non-profit sectors. Virginia Cooperative Extension, the Virginia Tech Office of Continuing Education, other Virginia Tech faculty members, and PFEE partner businesses will contribute to the goal of establishing and expanding personal financial employee education in Virginia's businesses, government agencies, and non-profit organizations, and making the procedures and outcomes of these efforts available world wide via advanced technology transfers including interactive computer-courseware learning and on-line PFEE modules.

Garman has already established the PFEE Network, an electronic network of people with interest and expertise in this area. The PFEE Network serves as a clearinghouse for useful information, connects resources with employers who need assistance, and promotes discussion of the topic. A PFEE web site is planned for August 1997 to further promote easy access and dissemination of information and to provide links to other national organizations relevant to the topic. Workshops for human-resources managers, site visits to demonstration-project worksites, and national conferences at the Hotel Roanoke and Conference Center will begin in November.

COTA was established at Virginia Tech in 1994 to foster economic-development and continuing-education initiatives with a special emphasis on connecting university research to the needs of Virginia's industrial, commercial, governmental, and professional organizations. In 1996 the first COTA fellowships were awarded to distinguished scholars who desire to extend their knowledge to various external audiences. COTA fellows are appointed to work from a multidisciplinary perspective to focus university resources on specific real-world problems and areas where university expertise can make a distinct contribution. COTA fellows are responsible for developing and implementing continuing-education programs at the Hotel Roanoke and Conference Center.

Garman has been a faculty member at Virginia Tech since 1975, where he teaches both graduate and undergraduate courses in consumer affairs and family financial management. He was instrumental in establishing the Association for Financial Counseling and Planning Education, a national professional organization which he served as president. Garman is the author of 18 books, including Ripoffs and Frauds: How to Avoid and How to Get Away, Consumer Economic Issues in America, Regulation and Consumer Protection, and The Mathematics of Personal Finance. His book Personal Finance, first published in 1983, remains a best-selling college textbook. Garman has served as a consultant to more than 40 corporations, trade associations, and government agencies, and is currently working with the U.S. Navy and the Department of Defense. His term as a COTA distinguished fellow begins July 1, 1997.

For more information about personal financial employee education (PFEE), contact Garman at 1-6677 or tgarman@vt.edu.