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24 Oct

Financial wellbeing week: Is it time to move past the notion of leaving your problems at home?

With the recent rise in publicity around the poor mental health wellbeing of sports personalities, too afraid of what people will think if they admit to struggling, we are forced to look towards the importance of wellbeing in the workplace.

While employees might claim to leave their problems at the door when coming to work, we all know it is not realistic.

Yet for many organisations, there often remains a stigma attached to the discussion of finance within the workplace, with topics such as pay, savings, pensions and debt often treated as a ‘no-go’ zone. And with the removal of defined-benefit pension plans and the spread of flexible benefits, many employers have left their employees to fend for themselves in terms of their financial security and wellbeing.

One reason for this may be a result of the move towards more flexible working practices, with a rise in employees working zero-hour contracts, and moving from job to job regularly, meaning employers no longer feel such a ‘paternalistic’ view towards their staff.

However,employees are human beings; when under financial pressure; behind on bills, mortgage payments or being contacted by creditors, they underperform at work and their mental welfare can be seriously affected.

 

So, what can employers do to help?

Out-with the standard opportunities of increasing pay according to the national living standard, and making reasonable contributions towards an employees pension, there are a number of actions employers can take to show they care and want to help ease the financial stress on staff.

This should begin with striking a balance between what a company should/shouldn’t know about their employees’ finances: the more it knows, the more it can help, but such knowledge and input can seem intrusive and raise ethical considerations.

It’s important to therefore realise that financial wellbeing should not be confused with how much money a person has: an employee can be financially well off but financially “unwell” (ie, money causes them anxiety); while another person with far fewer financial resources (and possibly in debt) could be quite content with their financial situation.

Also, it should not simply be assumed that just because an employee is earning a decent wage, they are automatically well-off. They may have multiple dependents or a large amount of debt to pay off.

As a result, employers should endeavour to create an open culture within the organisation that will help to ensure those employees that do feel comfortable discussing these personal matters are open to seeking support.

One way to do this may be through utilising a range of external services. Often provided as an added benefit with Group Income Protection, Employee Assistance Programmes for example offer employees the opportunity to discuss a range of important topics such as work, money, personal life and family issues with an independent organisation.

Having these services managed by an external company, for example, via independent advisors or helplines will help to remove the ‘big brother’ aspect and limit the chances of employees feeling too embarrassed to speak up and get help.

Our independent advice sessions, despite being offered via the workplace are completely confidential between the advisor and employee, and are regularly praised for making employees feel comfortable to speak up without feeling ashamed or embarrased.

However, this is not to say that employers should utilise these external companies as a way to simply ‘do their bit’. Employers have duty to go beyond and encourage active participation, with these services communicated clearly to the employee, perhaps through obligatory attendance at, at least one event per year?

But is this necessarily enough? Whilst this may help to increase the opportunities available to employees, this won’t necessarily guarantee that employees participate.  

Another interesting train of thought therefore lies within the role the Government has to play in increasing employee financial wellbeing in the workplace, as supported by the concept of nudge theory and the recent auto-enrolment changes.

The concept behind this theory is that a relatively subtle policy shift will encourage people to make decisions that are in their broad self-interest - It’s about making it easier for individuals to make a certain decision.

A good example can be found in UK pension policy, where new pension auto-enrolment legislation meant that workers were automatically placed into a firm’s pension scheme, unless they opt out. The theory is that many people actually want to put more money aside for retirement but are put off from doing so by the need to make what they feared would be complicated decisions.

Relating back to financial wellbeing, this theory may therefore suggest that legislation is required to encourage action with workplace schemes set up for employees to seek expert advice on financial matters on a regular basis, unless they formally choose to opt out – thus making it easier for them to do what they really want to do.

And whilst the correct approach may not necessarily be one that is clear cut, what does seem clear is that employers must take action and ensure they are doing all they can to look after their own superstars.

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