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Employers urged to tackle ‘invisible’ financial wellbeing crisis

Researchers and charities have urged employers teams to accelerate ‘financial wellbeing’ efforts, with new research linking money stress to workplace mental health issues.

Employers are being urged to accelerate ‘financial wellbeing’ efforts, following new research on International Stress Awareness Day which reveals money stress is an ‘invisible crisis’ among the workforce. The survey* of 2,000 workers, also identified a ‘savings ceiling’ phenomenon trapping millions of front-line workers and compounding a stress-support divide in the workplace.

The picture is stark: half of the workforce (49%) has been worried about financial health over the past year. About 40% say money worries have impacted their mental health, with stress and anxiety the two most common symptoms; 60% of those even say it affected their physical health. And as the UK’s furlough scheme ends, the research also reveals that half (49%) of workers who were furloughed still felt less financially stable, despite receiving furlough payments. More than a third say they have struggled to focus at work recently, because of money stress.

Chris Brook-Carter, chief executive of the Retail Trust, a charity supporting UK retail workers, said:

“Retail is one of the industries hit hardest by the pandemic, with thousands losing their jobs and many more facing financial, physical and emotional stess. Recent shortages of HGV drivers and other workers highlights how much we rely on the people who keep our shops and services running. We’re expecting demand for our services to increase even further in the run up to Christmas – with retailers forced to deal with ongoing uncertainty surrounding staffing and stock levels, alongside the end of the furlough scheme.

Because of the rise in requests for help, we’ve also recently launched a new fundraising appeal, so we can continue to meet the demand for financial aid and wellbeing services.”

Data from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) suggests companies began accelerating efforts to tackle in-work financial stress during the pandemic, with around half now putting a financial wellbeing policy in place (CIPD Reward Management Survey, 2021). Charles Cotton, CIPD’s senior performance and reward adviser, said of the findings:

“We’ve seen many employers really step up to the plate when it comes to supporting their employees’ mental wellbeing during this crisis, and we’d like to see the same attention given to their employees’ financial wellbeing. For too long it’s been considered the poor relation to wellbeing but we know the two are intrinsically linked and should have parity.”

The OnePoll research found financial education was a particularly big problem for working Brits: 60% say there is a support gap for financial guidance, and the vast majority (85%) feel there should be more financial education in place after leaving school. About half of working Brits feel their employer should be helping provide access to confidential money guidance

In the search for help, Brits are increasingly turning to unqualified or unregulated sources of financial guidance such as friends and social media accounts. But, the ‘Bank of Mum and Dad’ reigns supreme, as the go-to source of money advice among workers today.

The research found that more than a quarter of working Brits have under £1,000 in savings, and around one in ten – representing over 3 million working Brits – have under £100 in savings. Worse still, it unearthed a ‘savings ceiling’ phenomenon – with a stress and support divide between workers with low and high amounts of savings.

Carl Packman, from the Fair By Design charity campaign, explains:

“The evidence is clear: workers with lower savings are trapped in a state of higher financial stress. They are locked out of many of the financial services others take for granted, and feel under greater pressure to continue working ‘as normal’ despite this impacting their mental and physical health. There is also a financial cost in addition to the health costs. Having lower savings to fall back on, for unexpected bills or for large one-off expenses, means they also end up paying more for essential services like for credit, insurance, and energy. This is called the ‘poverty premium’ and employers and financial services providers can and should play a role in addressing this.

Payment flexibility and Earned Wage Access are examples of ways to help employees, to help them avoid the trappings of high cost credit and give them the opportunity to arrange their budget in a way that better suits them.”

One employer tackling the issue is Bupa, a leading healthcare provider. Bupa’s Head of Payroll Services, Katie Duxbury, explains:

“We’re a big advocate for positive mental health and know that financial stability is a key part of this. All of us will face moments of financial stress – like unexpected costs – now and again, which can be stressful, so we were keen to provide a safety net for colleagues. As well as offering competitive pay, we wanted to help people get a better understanding and control of their money.

Bupa now offers free financial education tools and advice for colleagues, including through financial wellbeing service Wagestream. The same platform also allows colleagues to build up savings and flexibly access earned pay throughout the month. Since the rollout, almost two thirds (57%) of Bupa staff who’ve used Wagestream feel less stressed; more than half feel their financial situation has improved (55%) and their ability to plan and budget has improved (53%).

Peter Briffett, CEO and co-founder of financial wellbeing provider Wagestream, added:

“This is an invisible crisis that can be solved. The financial system is stacked against the average worker – but employers have the power to solve it, and it’s brilliant to see some, like Bupa, are beginning to do so. By doing the right thing they’ll also reap the rewards – hiring and retaining talent more effectively than other employers.”

*Research from OnePoll and Wagestream,

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