Financial wellness in the workplace. Whose responsibility should that be?
First published by Bird Lovegod in the Yorkshire Post in January 2019
Employers have long recognised the benefits, and indeed legal requirements of physical wellbeing in the workplace. Gone are the days of being pulled into a loom and ground to mincemeat. Nowadays physical safety in the workplace is taken for granted, the assumption is daily work shouldn’t be damaging to physical health. It’s a basic right and rightly so. It’s also good business practice. Looms are hard to clean, and downtime is costly.
This progression of enlightened thinking continued with the realisation that mental and emotional wellbeing in the workplace was also a fundamental requirement. Gone are the days of being pulled into the manager’s office and ground to mincemeat. Nor is it acceptable to test the breaking strain of employees by piling on work until they snap. And again, it became apparent that treating people with humanity and dignity and common decency was also good business practice. People work better when they’re happy, they have higher attendance, they’re more creative and are nicer to be around, they provide higher levels of customer service, and they’re less likely to be ill, or go on strike, or smash the looms.
Progressive employers now take these wellness precepts as far as providing free counselling sessions for employees, onsite yoga, and walking meetings. Some of these slightly American ideas fit better into UK working culture than others, and much depends on the size and structure of the company, but as a concept in practice building wellness into the workplace has the effect of building wellness into the workforce, and that always benefits the company.
Prevention is better than cure, and the next level of employee wellness being implemented is Financial Wellness. This is a logical step. A recent article in HR magazine suggested a third of employees have financial concerns that are distracting them at work, with one in five also citing lost sleep as a subsequent result. According to fintech Neyber “over half of UK employees said that money worries affect their behaviour and ability to perform in the workplace”. Another impact of financial pressure on employees is the tendency for them to look around for a higher paid job, further reducing their attention and commitment to their existing role, prior to leaving it altogether. Companies addressing financial wellbeing of employees will get in front of many potential mental and emotional problems before they happen. It also increases the trust between both parties. Businesses already engage with their workforce on a financial level, they pay them, so extending this into a further level of care is not that much of a leap. Not all employees would want or need support, just as not all feel the need for additional physical or emotional support. But having it as an easily accessible provision demonstrates a willingness to assist, and provides staff with an additional level of security, which in return translates as commitment and engagement in their jobs.
What financial wellbeing looks like in the workplace is for the Directors to consider. It could include financial advice from the FD, confidential debt counselling, company saving schemes, pension provisions, investment advice, or other ways to financially engage the employees in a positive way.
One interesting opportunity in employee engagement is the Innovative ISA provided by Leeds based P2P lender rebuildingsociety.com. This ISA enables the employees to lend money to the company they work for. For example, a loan for expansion into bigger offices to cover work for a new contract would be an exciting opportunity for the employees to fund. Providing the company is confident in the ability to pay the loan back, with a generous interest rate, it could have a very cohesive effect on the workforce. Directors are also able to take advantage of this innovative ISA, indeed they would be well advised to do so. This way everyone has ‘skin in the game’ and are sharing in the risk and rewards of the enterprise. Whilst not applicable to every organisation, it’s innovative idea like this that can make a big difference financially, and emotionally, to employees.
The designed effect of financial wellbeing programs is an improvement in mental and emotional and physical wellbeing. This is turn leads to higher levels of performance and reduced levels of absence in the workforce. It’s an encouraging sign on the times that companies are starting to take the issue seriously as part of an integrated approach to employee welfare.