Are there ‘invisible workers’ in your business? They might be hiding behind poor sickness records, not taking part in social activities or regularly underperforming.
Behind the scenes, those workplace issues might be hiding heavy caring responsibilities, mental and physical ill-health, severe debt issues or addiction problems. But on the surface, it simply looks like ‘sick’ days and an extreme lack of engagement.
It is very easy to overlook vulnerable workers when building a wellbeing programme, and in particular a financial wellbeing strategy. There is a temptation to focus on support for better retirement savings or helping workers to get on the housing ladder. However, there could be a whole different set of problems facing your employees that aren’t even being explored, let alone addressed.
These could include financial exclusion, with poor credit ratings or other circumstances meaning employees can’t access mainstream financial products and services. That leaves them more exposed to payday lenders and other high cost credit. Or, they might have variable work patterns that exclude them from benefits roadshows or office-hours presentations, meaning that they don’t know about or take advantage of benefits that could help them. There’s also a risk that senior management don’t share or understand the issues they are facing and simply overlook them.
Supporting vulnerable workers is also about behaviour and culture. Their concerns can be personal, sensitive and difficult to talk about. But there are some clear ways that employers can help vulnerable sections of their workforce:
Carers – According to the charity Carers UK, more than 600 people leave the workforce every day to look after relatives, and one in seven workers are caring for someone who is elderly, seriously ill or disabled. That can put pressure on their time, finances and ability to cope both at work and at home. Carers UK is lobbying the government to improve rights for workers who care, but employers can already offer support with flexibility around working hours, better paid leave, sensitivity from line managers and financial support to help employees balance work and caring responsibilities.
Existing health conditions – Both physical and mental ill-health can seriously affect employees’ financial wellbeing. Money and mental health are linked together, with finances often being the root cause of worries that undermine good mental wellbeing. However, for employees with diagnosable condition such as depression and anxiety, the relationship between their illness and money can run even deeper. According to the charity Money and Mental Health, people with mental health problems are three times more likely to be in problem debt.
Chronic or serious physical health conditions can also take a heavy toll on employees’ finances, especially if they don’t have insurance or a financial safety net in place to support them. According to Neyber’s DNA of Financial Wellbeing 2018 report, 32% of workers would be able to survive for a month or less on their savings, leaving them permanently vulnerable to financial shocks. Being able to take money worries out of the equation for ill workers can help them to focus on getting well again, returning to work and being able to manage their condition. Making sure that financial wellbeing is part of a joined-up approach with physical and mental health is vitally important.
Low paid or irregular hours workers – According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, in-work poverty has increased in recent years at a faster rate than employment. There can be points in the year where low-paid workers feel particularly vulnerable. Christmas is the obvious example, but research from The Children’s Foundation last year showed that around a million households could even be pushed into debt by the cost of buying new school uniform. That can cause worries about finances, but also heighten sensitivities around being able to support a family. It can be at these vulnerable times that workers are most tempted by high-cost loans, to keep up with the expectations of others or to be seen to be providing for their family. Employers can help with access to affordable debt products, as well as offering benefits such as discount vouchers that can make a real difference to day-to-day expenditure.
There are many other times when employees need more support – a sudden bereavement, for example, could leave an employee both emotionally and financially vulnerable. Addiction issues with alcohol, drugs or gambling can drive both mental and financial health problems. And there may even be ‘hidden homeless’ within your working population – employees who are relying on relatives and friends to offer them temporary accommodation because they are struggling with housing costs.
Many of these worries and vulnerabilities might not be apparent on the surface, but they are affecting both individuals’ lives and their ability to work well. The more you can really understand about the individuals that make up your workforce, the better you can support them all financially.