Article provided by Harriet Shepherd, Workplace Financial Wellbeing Manager at St. James’s Place Wealth Management
Inevitably, employers can expect that at any given time, at least some of their employees will be affected by stress and/or mental-health issues that hinder their ability to do their job well. After all, in a 2018 survey, three-quarters of respondents said they had felt so stressed in the past year that they had been overwhelmed or unable to cope.
Of course, this issue was magnified by the COVID-19 pandemic, which saw an increase in the number of adults experiencing some form of depression double from ten per cent to 21 per cent. Financial worries are a large part of this. Money is a daily concern for 16 per cent of adults in the UK, according to a Money and Pensions Service survey, with nearly half the adult population saying they had worried about money once a week or more in the previous month.
When employees are worried about money and struggling with stress, their performance at work suffers too. In some cases, it means employees aren’t able to do their job at all. It’s estimated that some 4.2 million worker days are lost each year due to a lack of financial wellbeing, equating to £626 million in lost output.
This means offering employees practical and emotional support for their financial wellbeing and their general mental health.
This includes aspects of education, such as explaining financial terminology, and facilitating conversations that can help employees to understand the nature of financial stress and how it might be affecting them.
For instance, someone entering a financial-wellbeing workshop might not realise that finance is the main cause of their stress. It might just be from conversations that people begin to understand the roots of their financial worries.
Each year, there are various opportunities for employers to take part in wider discussions about financial wellbeing and mental health, such as Mental Health Awareness Week (typically held in mid-May), Stress Awareness Month (each April) and Debt Awareness Week, which, in 2021, took place in late March.
The National Wellness Conversation (supported by St. James’s Place) works with organisations to encourage their people to talk more openly about their finances and enable them to tackle concerns, thereby reducing stress levels.
Commit to giving employees access to a range of resources during work hours – this is when they are most likely to access them.
Provide things like workshops and content to help employees get a better sense of how to deal with their financial worries, even if it’s just information that helps get them started.
The periods in which employees can decide whether or not they want to renew certain workplace benefits, such as salary sacrifice, can be a good time to do this. In the run-up to that window, you can put in place a communications plan and/or run workshops to help people understand those benefits and what they cost. Articulating it at the right time is important.
Explaining the various financial rewards and schemes you offer in a clear, accessible way can make employees more likely to engage with them.
Offer specific sessions about those rewards and help employees understand the packages that are financially linked, such as health insurance, protection insurance and discounts with local firms. These things are often overlooked, but they can make a real difference to people.
Any information should be communicated on a timely basis. Research suggests that support is more impactful when it is related to circumstance or there are follow-up actions.
Employers can engage wellbeing providers to conduct one-to-one guidance sessions with employees to make sure that they support people in different circumstances.
If an employee wants to talk to someone but they’re not ready to speak to an adviser, you can still provide them with useful one-to-one support. Many financial partners will carry out guidance sessions with employees – this can be an initial chat rather than advice.
Harriet is a strong believer that everyone should have the financial confidence and information to be able to make informed financial choices. She has developed a passion for strategic thinking and change management from her role leading the Workplace Financial Education programme at St. James’s Place which she has held for the past two years. She now focusses on financial wellbeing as a broader topic, also applying the learnings from her ongoing part-time Masters in Management and Leadership to this role.
Stemming from her volunteering for children with disabilities, and a semester living and studying in Singapore, she also has a personal passion for inclusion and cultural understanding.
Her passion on the topic of financial wellbeing has given her the opportunity to speak at webinars hosted by the Diversity Project as well as being part of a TISA Working Group aiming to create a savings culture for the digital generation.