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Financial wellbeing: the essential third pillar for a happy, healthy workforce

It is great to see that employee wellbeing is finally becoming a business imperative. We’ve known for eons that happier, healthier people are far more likely to be engaged, motivated and productive. So striving to create a happy, healthy workforce makes perfect business sense. However, despite stress-related illness being one of the main causes of long-term absence in the UK, it’s only in recent years that mental health has started to have its place in the spotlight.

This revolution in attitude to emotional or mental fragility is a major step forward – not just for business, but for society as a whole. Campaigns such as Time to Change, along with support from the royals and celebrities, have helped drive this fundamental shift in attitude. I applaud those brave enough to have facilitated this change.

By bringing mental health into the open, we help remove the stigma surrounding it. This, in turn, helps those suffering to feel more comfortable seeking help. But what about those (many) workers who are struggling to cope financially?

The last taboo: nobody talks about money

Wellbeing is commonly discussed in terms of three pillars – physical, mental and financial – with good reason. If we don’t feel at least ‘OK’ in each of these crucial areas, then we are not likely to be at our best. All three are, of course, intrinsically linked. Money worries can (and often do) lead to stress and anxiety, which in turn can lead to physical problems.

Statistics tell us that:

  • one in four employees report that money worries affect their ability to do their job (CIPD)
  • 24% of UK adults have little or no confidence in managing their money (FCA)
  • 46% are paying for non-mortgage debt (FCA)
  • nearly a third of all workers have no savings or investments at all (The Social Market Foundation)

Financial issues are a huge concern for today’s workers – many of whom have no confidence, no savings and are weighed down by debt repayments – yet they are not openly discussed.

We talk about our bodies, we now talk about our minds. Religion, politics and even death get a look in, but money is still a taboo subject. Psychological theory tells us that the reluctance to openly discuss our finances revolves around the hidden meanings wrapped up in money. The size of your bank balance can be a proxy for success/failure, power/weakness, wisdom/ignorance. When money is short it can make us feel deficient in some way. Couple this with the general air of mystery and overuse of jargon typically associated with financial products and services, and it’s easy to see why money problems are so widespread.

Regular readers will know that I am a huge advocate of making financial education a mandatory subject in schools. Until then, employers can – and should – lead the way. Otherwise you are likely to be faced with a large number of your workforce feeling under pressure, losing sleep and unable to concentrate due to the weight of money worries.

Employers are uniquely placed to provide support in this area. You are (hopefully) trusted, provide a large percentage (if not all) of people’s income and ‘work’ typically accounts for a significant proportion of our waking hours. As well as helping your people gain a better understanding of financial matters, you can help encourage small changes in behaviour that can make a big difference to people’s financial health.

Workplace financial education tools and programmes can help employees learn how to effectively budget and manage their money. They can also highlight the various benefits you provide and ensure your employees are obtaining maximum value from them. Gaining even a basic understanding of good financial planning practice can quickly have a positive impact on people’s lives.

It is time for personal finance to become a linchpin of workplace wellbeing. Money doesn’t have to be the last taboo and business can cement this change. When people feel in control of their finances and have a healthy relationship with money, their overall wellbeing is greatly improved – and we all know the business benefits that follow!

This article was first published with REBA on 4 May 2018

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