No longer considered just a ‘nice to have’, business leaders are embracing the concept of employee wellness in pursuit of higher levels of productivity, staff retention, and increased profits. However, while physical and mental wellbeing is starting to become a key business focus, financial wellness should also be a priority.
Money worries are costing the UK economy £121 billion in lost productivity every year and escalating existing mental health problems amongst employees.
So here’s some advice on how businesses can get ahead of the curve when it comes to tackling employee financial stress
1. Breaking down barriers
According to research by Barclays, almost half of employees are worried about their personal finances, and 80 percent are not satisfied with the level of support on offer. This suggests employees would like assistance to disclose their financial concerns, but experience barriers due to a lack of information from their workplaces.
A strong social network will encourage open lines of communication. Try promoting weekly coffee meetings between less familiar co-workers, assigning a ‘financial health champion’ to raise awareness across your organization, and holding regular group financial education sessions to discuss anonymous questions or concerns about personal finances.
2. Financially-focused employee benefits
Financial wellness is influenced by a variety of factors, including life stage, gender, marital status, and salary. Research shows 89 percent of those just starting out in their careers (aged 18-24) experience more ‘real-time’ financial difficulties, often caused by university debt and lower incomes. This contrasts with employees in their late 40s who are more likely to worry about their future financial position after retirement.
Many companies offer financially-focused employee benefits, like Income Protection, Critical Illness, and Life Insurance, which provide a financial safety net should a worker encounter the unexpected. These should be considered the foundations of economic benefits for employees.
Beyond this, some organizations meet the diverse needs of today’s workforce by providing an additional tailored suite of benefits, enabling staff to take advantage of those that make sense for them.
Subsidized memberships, annual leave buy-back schemes, and childcare vouchers can offer real-time financial assistance. Pairing these with benefits that provide long-term financial protection, like workplace savings schemes and life insurance, can offer an excellent balance and cater to different demographics equally, to help employees’ financial security.
3. Fintech to the rescue
The UK Fintech industry, now worth over £7 billion, is world-leading and more employers are taking advantage of the expertise on offer to address financial stress amongst their employees.
For example, Moola – an online investing and savings service – is helping businesses integrate their business platform into existing employee benefit portals and providing employees with access to expert mentors to help them achieve their financial goals.
There are a host of personal budgeting apps on offer, too, such as Mint, Level Money, and Pennies, which offer real-time visual spending data, timely reminders for bills, and instant notifications if you over-spend. They’re simple to use, and raising awareness of such options across your business can help make staff are aware of what’s available universally and establish the habit of tracking personal finances.
4. Workplace saving schemes
Business leaders need to encourage employees to invest in their financial security proactively. There are several tax-efficient employer-led workplace saving schemes available beyond just a pension scheme – from Workplace ISAs, Save As You Earn schemes to Share Incentive Plans. Smarterly is a workplace savings tool that offers a simple way for employees to start investing.
The Money Advice Service website offers detailed advice for employers and employees, including how to diversify investment portfolios to minimize risk and maximize savings. Whilst workplace savings schemes won’t be right for everyone, make sure to educate your employees in a group talk about what’s on offer and how they can find out more.
5. Bring in the experts
In 2016, only 15 percent of employers had a financial education program in place. Engaging employees in complex conversations about financial health can be difficult, so a careful approach is needed.
Inviting in a financial expert to deliver a group seminar or one-to-ones can give your employees a good understanding of the best ways forward. If a physical visit isn’t possible, most third-party providers can offer online education formats such as webinars, animations, and interactive games.
Businesses can also introduce Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) for those who may need more advanced support. EAPs offer direct, confidential contact with experts who can support individuals with areas causing emotional distress, including money troubles, and are often available through Group Income Protection plans.
To achieve total employee wellbeing, employers must help address the financial insecurity issue facing the UK working population. Whether an employee is already experiencing financial difficulties, it’s essential to cast your benefits net wide with a range of both proactive and reactive options, so support is available for all.
About the author: Liz Walker is the HR Director at Unum UK where she spearheads work to remove the stigma of mental health in the workplace and actively works to help raise awareness of mental health as an asset and an integral part of a holistic health and wellbeing strategy.