The silent privilege of wellbeing amid the cost of living crisis

Nuffield Health’s 2023 Healthier Nation Index revealed 59% of individuals think the cost of living or a change in personal finances had negatively affected their mental health over the past year.

Mental health can be significantly impacted by financial worries, and without effective support, mental health conditions can affect a person's confidence and identity at work.

The ability to concentrate and work productively can decline and businesses may report an increase in absenteeism and presenteeism among those struggling.

Side hustles on the rise as cost of living crisis continues

Cost of living Learning Hub

Alternative ways to deal with the cost of living crisis

Another issue employers might face is staff taking up second jobs to meet their increased outgoings.

Research shows 5.2 million workers have taken on an additional job to help pay for the increased cost of living and another 10 million plan to, in response to rising costs.

Employees working all hours to try and meet basic needs could easily result in fatigue and burnout. And as we all know, tired, anxious and exhausted employees do not equate to healthy, productive teams.


Encouraging self-care

More businesses are encouraging employees to prioritise self-care, during these challenging times.

While well-intentioned, financial instability, is making it difficult for employees to afford basic necessities, let alone invest in self-care activities or wellness-related expenses.

Those working irregular or unpredictable schedules, find it near impossible to plan and commit to self-care activities. The reality for many, especially those in lower-paid or high-pressure roles, is that they can’t simply take breaks, when they feel like it or need it from stressful jobs.

Lower-income employees may not have access to the same resources that higher-income employees do, like fitness facilities, healthy food options and mental health services. Nutrient-dense foods are also now too expensive for many households to afford.


Providing business support

Many businesses pride themselves on offering a suite of perks for employees, which they claim will help those during particularly difficult times, like the ongoing cost of living crisis.

However, our 2022 data actually suggests that one in three employees are offered no physical or mental wellbeing services by their employer.

We believe responsible businesses should offer these services to their staff.

Those who don’t already, should invest in the health of their employees by speaking to expert third-party health providers who can guide them on the best offerings to introduce.

Managers need to fundamentally rethink their benefits offerings to promote fairness, equal opportunity and prevent burnout.

For example, is offering a subsidised gym membership a benefit if employees are not located near a gym or able to afford the reduced membership?

Tailoring benefits to address their immediate concerns can have a significant positive impact on their wellbeing and loyalty to an organisation.

Providing employees with fair and competitive wages is one of the most direct ways to address financial challenges related to the cost of living.

A living wage can help employees cover their basic needs without having to struggle as much financially.

Making sure you provide access to relevant benefits is also key.

For example, offering flexible work options, like remote work, flexible hours, or compressed workweeks, can help employees better manage their schedules and save on commuting costs.

Offering childcare benefits or access to discounted childcare services can also help employees manage the high costs associated with childcare during a cost of living crisis.

Where signs of burnout, financial stress or anxiety are recognised, employers should signpost employees towards the emotional wellbeing support available to them.

This may include employee assistance programmes (EAPs) or cognitive behavioural therapy sessions (CBT), which give individuals direct access to a specialist who can help them explore and understand the factors which are impacting their health and wellbeing.

Communicate helpful resources like where to apply for monetary support, how to access debt management helplines or find financial literacy programmes.

During these challenging times, employees want to know their employer has their best interests at heart. Wellbeing is tied to feeling valued and appreciated and it’s essential our colleagues are met with understanding and assistance every step of the way.

By Marc Holl, head of primary care, Nuffield Health