Forgotten financial health: why money matters when it comes to workplace wellbeing
March 1 2022 - It’s impossible to overestimate the impact our financial health has on our wellbeing - and yet for too long, it’s felt like the ‘forgotten’ aspect of health, especially when it comes to the support being offered by employers to their workforce.
With bleak news about the rising cost of living taking its toll on many in the UK, companies need to make sure they’re as focused on finances as they are on the physical and mental health of their teams - that’s the view of Anthony Burns, Director at not-for-profit Health Cash Plan provider Paycare.
It’s been difficult to ignore the high proportion of news stories recently about the multiple ways in which our personal finances are set to be stretched even further in the coming months.
We’re seeing rents rising at their fastest rate in many years - up 5% in just one year; the sharp uplift in gas and electricity bills which could see households paying an extra 50% by spring; petrol prices reached record levels at the end of last year; and there have been numerous other announcements impacting our finances - too many to mention.
Why is it an employer’s responsibility?
Only 11% of employee health and wellbeing activity is designed to support financial wellbeing - yet the links between money stress and poor physical and mental health are becoming ever more apparent.
Almost half of people with a debt problem also have a mental health problem (and the total unsecured debt in the UK amounts to £3,724 per adult). Physically, muscle tension and lower back pain, ulcers and digestive tract problems, and headaches and migraines have all been linked to money anxieties.
It may seem obvious to state that the stress caused by money worries has an impact on individuals when they’re at home and when they’re at work - but the extent to which that holds true is surprising. An overwhelming 77% of people say financial stress has a negative impact on them at work.
In addition to reduced productivity, employers are commonly experiencing problems retaining talent, reduced employee engagement, higher absences and demands for wage rises (identified as the top five business challenges in the Financial Wellbeing Index).
So, in addition to the moral responsibility we’d all hope employers feel towards their staff, there are clear business reasons why reducing financial stresses is imperative - a less-stressed workforce is going to work smarter, stay longer and be more present (both physically and emotionally).
How can employers help?
In an economic utopia, employers would be able to increase wages to more than meet the additional living costs of their workforce (although we’d imagine a utopia would lack any of the debt, cost of living and retirement worries we’re currently seeing).
Clearly, this isn’t a feasible solution - especially when many businesses are also feeling the effects of increased costs and the long-term challenges of the Coronavirus pandemic.
But there are alternative options which send a clear message of support to staff, and can make a real and lasting difference to the way in which they approach their financial health.
- Access to experts: Having an expert on mortgages, debt, or pensions lead a session for staff can have a hugely positive impact. Alternatively, being able to access one-to-one support from an independent body can help employees feel more confident about their money situation going forward.
- Employee Assistance Programmes: Confidential telephone support and counselling is designed to give staff a safe space in which to share any of their worries -including any financial stresses.
- Effective signposting: Making information available in a way which it can be discretely accessed helps staff members unsure about where to seek advice - there are plenty of debt advice charities and organisations such as CAB which employees can reach out to if needed.
- Health Cash Plans: Having a corporate policy in place means staff can claim back the cost of everyday healthcare expenses such as dental appointments and eye examinations - leaving them with more money in the bank to help budget for other importance expenses.
- A supportive atmosphere: Money can be a taboo topic in some environments -but being unable to speak out about why they’re stressed is unlikely to help anyone’s wellbeing, so a culture where it’s okay to speak about financial health can be hugely beneficial.
- Flexible working: Sadly, research suggests some employees are being forced to call in sick towards the end of the month because they can’t even afford to travel to work. Ways to limit this could include enabling staff to work from home (if that’s possible in their role) or offering car sharing, travel expenses, or the option to work longer hours across fewer days.
- Financial perks that work for them: If you’re offering perks then do check they’re helpful for the staff - discounts on gym memberships and holidays might not be useful for those under real financial strain, but s, chemes which include money off utilities and the weekly food shop, for example, may be much more beneficial.
- No pressure: Again, it’s all about working environment - it can be hugely detrimental for those with financial worries to be part of a company where it’s compulsory to contribute a large sum to birthday and leaving presents, where staff trips and parties are extravagant, or where there are regular times when they feel pressured to contribute financially.
The increase in awareness around health and wellbeing is to be truly embraced by the working population - but this must be inclusive of financial health, because it matters just as much as (and is intrinsically linked to) our physical and emotional states of being.
The term ‘financial health’ might worry accounts managers concerned about budgets, but there are so many low- and no-cost ways to support employees - practices which can actually see them thrive within the workplace and contribute even more to the company. A win for the individual, a win for the business, and a win for society as a whole.
Anthony Burns is a Director at Paycare, a not-for-profit Health Cash Plan provider set up in 1874 to support the factory workers of the Midlands with the cost of everyday healthcare. Their mission remains to make the UK happier and healthier, and they’ve donated in excess of £2.5million so far to good causes and charities in support of local, national and international causes. Visit www.paycare.org/workplace-wellbeing for more information about Paycare’s passion for improving employee health and wellbeing.