BenefitsPayroll & Compensation

Money Talks

Workers in the UK are stressed about finances, but well-being programmes can help.

By Simon Kent

Emily Trant, head of impact and inclusion at pay app Wagestream, says that nearly half of UK workers are distracted by money worries whilst at work. Fortunately, research by the company has also found that HR is already on track to address this issue. “We recently surveyed over 500 HR directors and found that not only are almost all of them now putting a financial well-being policy in place, but they’re increasingly looking at areas like financial education and savings,” she says. “They now understand that employees’ financial health is an ongoing issue they have to manage and invest in.”

Trant says that over the past two years, the diverse interpretations of what financial well-being means -everything from a good pension plan, to a one-off workshop -have converged towards employers taking a more holistic view. However, getting financial well-being support right isn’t just about addressing the range of employee concerns and requirements, but also about communicating effectively on the issue.

“We encourage, in our financial well-being webinars, to talk to someone if people feel they’re reaching a tipping point when it comes to finances,” says Vicky Walker, director of HR at Westfield Health. “When providing support for financial worries, signposting employees to where they can get reliable and specialised help is one of the best ways businesses can support them. Covering a range of communication methods from a page on the intranet, posters in the workplace or a webinar Q&A with an expert can help target people whether they’re in the workplace or at home.”

“As an employer, you are the institution that has the single most positive financial relationship with your employees because you pay them,” notes Trant. “Employers are already having financial conversations with their employees across a range of topics including pay, hours, pensions, tax codes, salary advances and so much more. Turning these financial conversations into a financial well-being programme actually makes it easier for employees, who no longer need to muster the courage to ask about something tricky or sensitive.”

But whilst employers may be well placed to start a conversation, that doesn’t mean doing so is easy.

“We know that money is the number one cause of stress in the UK, and that nine out of 10 UK adults don’t find it easy to talk about money or don’t even discuss it at all,” says Octopus MoneyCoach CEO Adam Price. “There is clearly much more that needs to be done.”

Price says that having someone to talk to is the main thing that helps people feel better about their financial future. “But we also know that talking about money is hard. We’ve made it complicated with the sheer number of different products, policies, schemes, tax breaks out there. And since financial literacy isn’t taught in schools, it’s incredibly hard for otherwise smart, working people to work it all out on their own.”

Price also recommends having one-to-one conversations with financial experts. This way, any advice given can be unbiased, non-judgmental and individually tailored. Price also notes that this provision, by its very nature, offers something for everyone.

“Where an employer has the option to target the benefits differently to different ages or groups of employees, they should certainly take that opportunity,” says David Williams, head of group risk at Towergate Health and Protection. “It’s a key reason why flexible benefits programmes are so popular. Employees can choose the benefits or level of benefit that are appropriate for them and their stage of life. Financial support services should follow a similar pattern with different aspects made available for employees to choose where they feel they need support and guidance.”

Services must be delivered by qualified financial professionals but can also be made available through the employer’s intranet, benefits portal, or regular communications from the HR team. “Employers should be aware of other financial support services that are available and understand the difference between what is being offered,” Williams adds. “For example, an employee assistance programme has financial support services embedded within it, but these services are typically more relevant to those struggling with debt, or the financial impact of addiction or gambling problems.”

Whatever resources are offered, good communication is imperative, as they can be misunderstood and go unused.

At contact centre and software solutions outsourcer Kura, financial well-being is supported both through a professional counselling service and the company’s employee assistance programme. “Kura has partnered with PAM Assist to offer our people access to professional counselling support whenever they need it,” notes the business’ Chief Culture Officer Julie McIntosh. “Financial well-being is also important, and it’s something that doesn’t always get a lot of attention. The services offered by our employee assistance programme include debt advice and legal guidance.”

She adds, “Many surveys have shown that concern about personal finances is one of the biggest sources of stress for people, but it can be hard to know where to turn. Having this support in place gives our people the freedom to explore their situation privately with a professional, and this can have a huge positive impact on their well-being.”

Certainly, the impact on well-being is a solid measure of ROI for financial support. Ultimately, HR can look at data such as absence levels, engagement, and even productivity, to assess the impact of a service. But as Westfield’s Walker notes, research has shown that addressing money issues is often a way to help other issues. According to The Money and Mental Health Policy Institute’s Knowledge is Power report, she says, 64% of those with mental health problems felt they would have recovered quicker if they’d been helped to manage money better. A positive outcome whatever the cost.

Tags: Benefits, EMEA January February 2022, Payroll & Compensation

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