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What Squid Game tells about the scourge of debt

Blair McPherson - former Director, Author and Blogger

In a country where getting a personal loan is as easy as buying a coffee personal debt is a serious social problem. Such is the level of debt amongst sections of young adults that they have no prospect of ever getting free of it . This hopelessness is the premise for Squid Game . Desperate individuals drowning in debt  are offered the chance to win millions playing some well know children’s games. One of which is call squid. Of course there is a catch, each round players are eliminated and elimination means killed. The games are deadly.

Debt whether as a result of an out of control gambling habit, attempting to live a life style beyond your income or more likely simply as the result of unexpected expense such as when the car needed for work  breaks down , is a major problem not peculiar to South Korea the setting for Squid Game . The idea that people with a debt problems are those living on benefits is not true. People who are struggling with debts they see no way of ever repaying are most likely in work , after all  it was their employment history that made them initially  attractive to lenders. So your organisation has employees who are struggling with a debt problem.

The pressure of which will inevitable impact on their work. They may be getting harassing phone calls at work from debt collectors, they may be worried sick that the building society will repossess their house and make the family homeless, they may have utility bills they can’t pay and fear the heating and lighting is about to be cut off. The difficult atmosphere in the team may be because an individual has borrowed money from colleagues they cannot repay. Debt effects performance so debt is a work place problem.

Managers who think an employee has a problem will normally  turn to HR for help and advice but what can HR do? No doubt they will suggest the individual be put in touch with a debt counselling service and that the manager takes account of the employee difficult circumstances in assessing their performance. Unfortunately the reason for poor performance often doesn’t emerge until the individual is in a disciplinary process because people are very reluctant to admit to debt problems.
Progressive organisation need to move away from viewing debt as an isolated problem and recognise how widespread the problem is in some organisations. Research in 2019 by Getasub revelled that 40% of employees were worried about personal finances. Rather than see debt as an individuals failing organisations should view it as a broader issue requiring a strategic response which will provide support and help  before a crisis is reached.
The first part of a strategy to help employees manage their money is to help remove the stigma surrounding debt. Creat an environment were the matter can be easily discussed. Ensure HR recognise this as part of their role and welcome approaches from employees without going through their managers. Run financial advice and management courses for employees.
Those in debt often have poor credit ratings that mean they can only borrow at exorbitant interest rates bring in an organisation that takes over employee debt, reduces the interest rate to about 10% and takes payments directly via the employer. This could reduce the monthly debt costs for an employee by potentially 50% which would be truly life changing. Consider offering small loans or advances on wages for unexpected expenses.
An awareness of the number of staff in debt might give the organisation the evidence to justify looking at what it’s paying  and whether there is an economic argument for paying more and so lifting employees out of the risk of debt, making for a more effective workforce.

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