Why now is the time to begin financial wellbeing conversations



Great strides have been made in opening up conversations about mental health, but what about financial health – one of the biggest stressors among employees in the UK? Ashleigh Webber speaks to Capita’s chief people officer and the CEO of Level Financial Technology about a new campaign to address taboos around money management. 

The difficulties posed by the Covid-19 pandemic have finally alerted HR teams to the importance of opening up conversations about mental health. But financial wellbeing – one of the major causes of stress among the workforce – has not received the same level of attention.

This should be a concern for employers. According to the Money and Pensions Service more than 20 million people in the UK cannot manage their money, 11.5 million have less than £100 in savings and nine million are in serious debt – all issues presenting a serious disctraction for employees.

A campaign launching today (2 March) aims to encourage firms to take some of the learnings from their mental health awareness strategies and apply them to opening up conversations around financial worries.

The National Wellness Conversation, a campaign launched by fintech firm Level Financial Technology, encourages employers to acknowledge that they are uniquely positioned to promote good money management among their workforce, through education and the provision of budgeting and saving tools.

Among the first companies to take the pledge is professional outsourcing firm Capita. Its support for the campaign underpins its commitment to being a “purpose-led, values-driven company”, chief people officer Will Serle tells Personnel Today.

Suffering in silence

He says many organisations aren’t talking about financial wellbeing, yet many workers are suffering with problems such as debt and the rising cost of living. Over the past 12 months, many staff would have seen their family’s financial position change due to furlough, redundancy, pay cuts or a reduction in working hours.

“I think a lot of the time people think that it’s only an issue for people on lower pay, but that’s not necessarily the case. You can see it across a much wider spectrum,” he says.

Many staff are not thinking about their long-term savings, or lack the financial capacity to do so. Others simply need more education about how to make the most of the money they earn and the importance of building a “safety net”.

“There’s some really tragic data around the use of payday loan companies, and about some of the situations people find themselves in because they have no other choice,” says Serle.

“From a business perspective, all of this this is a massive challenge. People won’t be focused on their work and won’t be feeling engaged because they’ve got these huge challenges hanging over them… We have an obligation as employers, I think, to help people who need some assistance.”

Benefits for business

Level Financial Technology CEO Stephen Holliday says that his organisation, through the National Wellness Conversation campaign, wants to inform HRDs about the tangible benefits that supporting financial wellbeing can bring in terms of recruitment, retention and forming positive relationships with employees.

“At the heart of it, we are interested in how we can bring advances that we’ve seen in the financial technology world into the workplace, with core aim of helping people make their wages go further by empowering and enabling them to be better custodians of the money they paid,” he says.

This can be done in two ways, explains Holliday: by providing tools designed to improve budgeting skills, through education and behavioural science; and by offering access to financial products such as payroll-linked savings tools and early wage access offerings.

Capita has begun offering employees access to some of these tools, as well as signposting towards education resources.

“Financial health, like physical health and mental health, is a multifaceted challenge,” says Holliday. “Because of taboos, stigma or just the history of not talking about it, it’s easy for an HRD just to deny that this impacts their workplace. It’s easy for them to say ‘we pay this much, so it doesn’t exist [in our organisation]’.”

Because of taboos, stigma or just the history of not talking about it, it’s easy for an HRD just to deny that this impacts their workplace” – Stephen Holliday, Level Financial Technology

Making progress

He agrees that strides have been made in breaking down the “stigma” attached to conversations around mental health, but this progress could be reversed if financial worries are ignored – particularly as this is one of the biggest causes of stress in the UK.

“An employer, you can do everything you want to do on mental wellbeing, but if you don’t think about financial health alongside it, you’re weakening all your progress.

“Financial health is a complicated problem, but it’s certainly solvable. If you can get people to talk about it, it’s a lot easier to signpost people to [support and education] than to attempt to address than much deeper complexities around mental health or physical health.”

Serle adds that employers can begin to address the issue simply by having more open conversations about financial habits – in much of the same way they’ve been doing around mental wellbeing.

There’s some really tragic data around the use of payday loan companies, and about some of the situations people find themselves in because they have no other choice” – Will Serle, Capita

He says: “For years people suffered from poor mental health and felt alone. And because it was not discussed, or it was seen as a weakness, it was something that you would never share with the employer. Finally, attitudes are starting to change on that front – and that’s because people are starting to talk about it and have realised that so many others are affected by it.

“So many people over the last 12 months have been forced to reflect on their financial circumstances, whether that’s because they’ve had to survive on significantly reduced salaries, or because they’ve lost their job altogether… the timing is good to be launching this sort of campaign.”

By signing up to the National Wellness Conversation, employers can signal their intention to adopt financial health strategies to benefit their workforce. It may only be a small step, but it is progress towards helping employees feel more confident about their finances.

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