April is National Stress Awareness Month, an opportunity for employers to focus on causes of stress in the workplace and beyond, understand how it affects their employees, and identify how both businesses and employees can manage it effectively.
There is no shortage of evidence to show that financial worries can be a major source of stress in employees’ lives. According to Neyber’s DNA of Financial Wellbeing 2018 report 60 per cent of the 10,000 employees it surveyed say their behaviour changes when they are under pressure financially. That behaviour shift can affect everything from workplace performance to relationships at home.
While money concerns won’t be the only stress triggers that employees are facing, National Stress Awareness Month is a chance to focus on some of the drivers of financial worries for employees and what employers can do to help reduce them.
Managing day-to-day costs - Borrowing money has become the norm across the UK. Neyber’s research found that 50% of employees are going into debt to make ends meet each month. That has contributed to pushing up the average unsecured household debt in the UK to £15,400*, an all-time high. Neyber also found that 57% of employees said that their take-home pay changes each month making it difficult to meet regular financial commitments such as bills and loan repayments.
Employers can help reduce day*-to-day money worries in a variety of ways. Offering discount vouchers on everyday products such as groceries can make a real difference over time, as can providing help with other essentials, such as season ticket loans. Using financial education to encourage employees to shop around for the best deals from utility providers and online subscription services can also help keep costs to a minimum. Financial education can also support employees in building their budgeting skills over time.
One-off expenses - For employees who are struggling to meet day-to-day financial needs, even a relatively modest additional cost, such as replacing a washing machine or a car repair, can be a source of stress. According to Neyber’s research 32% of employees wouldn’t be able to cover basic living expenses for more than a month should they lose their main source of income. That leaves them very exposed to the risk of falling into debt and the stress that can accompany it.
Support for regular savings through the workplace can help employees build up a financial safety net. Even putting aside a relatively small amount of money each month will in time build into a pot of money that can be used to cover unexpected payments. There is also a role for financial education to help employees explore how to borrow at low cost should they need additional money at short notice. Understanding and monitoring credit scores is also a useful skill; the better an individual’s credit score, the wider the range of options they will have if they do need to borrow.
Ongoing debt – Neyber’s research found that 10% of people feel their finances are completely out of control, increasing to 16% of employees in the 18-24-year-old age group. A further 18% say that they are only just holding on. For those people, financial stress from ongoing debts is likely be a significant problem. It could be affecting their mental wellbeing and they may need to take time off work to deal with their finances. They may have multiple loans and could even be borrowing to pay off debt elsewhere. Helping employees in these situations to consolidate all their loans into a single low-cost monthly payment can enable them to get back control of their money and reduce their outgoings. Coupled with financial education it can also help employees reduce the risk of falling into further debt in the future.
There can also be a relationship between difficulties with money management and diagnosed mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. Creating a workplace culture where employees feel they are supported if they have money worries or are struggling with poor mental health can help them feel more able to ask for help. Employee Assistance Programmes can also provide an additional avenue for employees to get help through the workplace.
Financial stresses, whether day-to-day issues or chronic debt problems, don’t go away overnight. They need a combination of the right financial products, education, self-help and positive workplace culture to make long-lasting change. Start the conversation in National Stress Awareness Month – but be willing to carry it on far beyond the end of April.