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Employees reluctant to discuss financial worries

Employers must tackle the stigma around talking about money concerns at work and create employee benefits packages that improve the financial wellbeing of the workforce

Many employees are struggling to break the taboo of talking about their financial situation with their employers, according to the Time to Take Ownership: Mental Health at Work 2019 Report, published by Business in the Community (BITC) in partnership with Mercer Marsh Benefits.

Out of 4,236 employees surveyed, 21% struggle to make ends meet financially, rising even higher among 18- to 29-year-olds (26%) and women (23%) specifically.

More than a third (34%) of all employees said they spend more money when they are feeling down. This again affects younger employees the most, with 44% of 18- to 29-year-olds citing doing this compared to just 28% of those in their fifties.

Only 36% of those surveyed would feel comfortable talking about their financial situation at work, and just 5% report that there is financial support available in their workplace.

When employees are struggling financially it affects engagement and productivity, the researchers said. They pointed to separate research from Salary Finance, which found that the productivity lost because of financial concerns equates to between 9% and 13% of total salary costs, and that people who are worried about money are 50% more likely to be looking for another job.

The principle of 'good' work – employment that offers security, rights, a fair income, opportunities for progression, and a supportive and inclusive environment – is key for employers wanting to address these workplace challenges, BITC added.

Nicola Inge, employment and skills campaign director at BITC, said employers must work to break down the stigma around talking about financial concerns at work and focus on the benefits packages they offer the workforce.

“Employers need to create the kind of environment that breaks down the barriers around people talking about money to help all their employees," she said. “We need more employers to take a different approach to their employee benefits packages to make sure that they are meeting the needs of their whole workforce and getting the most value from the benefits they offer.”

Dhiren Master, chief marketing officer at Salary Finance, added that poor financial wellbeing can have a detrimental and far-reaching impact on employees’ mental health.

“Our research shows that in the UK people are more stressed about money than their health, career and relationships. This leads to low financial wellbeing, which directly correlates with poor mental health, that in turn significantly affects all areas of people’s lives."

He advised that although HR's task may seem difficult, practical support is all that's required.

"The enormous importance of providing a support system to help employees navigate their money journey can appear overwhelming,” he said. “But it doesn’t need to be. People who have low financial wellbeing don’t need to be told what they need to do. They need practical support that will enable them to get out of the situation they are in."

Employers must act quickly to support staff with their financial wellbeing, he added: “We believe there is a critical and unique role that every employer can play. Employers that put wellbeing at the heart of their business objectives and work collaboratively with their employees will see a happier, healthier and more productive workforce. This issue will not go away on its own and the time for employers to act is now.”

To coincide with the report's release BITC has published a toolkit to provide guidance for HR teams around creating an employee benefits package that improves the financial wellbeing of workers. Recommendations in the toolkit include engaging senior leaders, identifying the needs of low earners, and promoting a culture change that makes it OK to talk about money.