Workplace Wellbeing

Money talks: How you can support your people during the cost-of-living crisis

Sam Musguin-Rowe


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Ahead of Unmind’s global financial webinar series, Money talks: How to protect your mental and financial wellbeing at work, learn how leaders can nurture employee wellbeing in hard financial times.

Watch on demand:

🌍 EMEA recording

🌏 APAC recording

Sign-up for Dec 1:

🌎 Americas event

The Covid pandemic forced every employer to reckon with the importance of workplace wellbeing. No longer a ‘nice to have’ or perk, what many right-minded companies already knew became a mainstream fact: supporting employee mental health is an organisational must.

Today, the current cost-of-living crisis demands we go further still. Why? Because financial wellbeing is wellbeing, and it impacts every single one of us.

Granted, this is a classic situation where we’re all in the same metaphorical sea, yet some are in yachts, and other rubber dinghies. That is to say, though an exec on a six-figure salary will notice the spike in their energy bills, they won’t be forced to choose between a warm home and a hot meal.

It’s vital to remember that – just like the pandemic that came before it – cost-of-living stresses don’t only unfold outside the office. Your people bring their financial problems to work with them, and this makes for some very scary stats.

According to the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute, people in problem debt are three times more likely to consider suicide as those without a debt problem. Meanwhile, the combination of lost productivity and higher absences from financial worries costs UK businesses an estimated £15 billion a year. In the US? $4.7bn a week. As for ANZ, the annual bill is a whopping $66.8bn – more than double the amount estimated in 2020. 

So, while it’s no one employer’s duty to solve rocketing costs or eye-watering debt, there are heaps of things you can do to support your people. 

For example, you can register for Unmind’s upcoming webinar – Money talks: How to protect your mental and financial wellbeing at work (on 23 November in EMEA and APAC regions; 1 December in Americas). 

With a panel discussion led by top psychologists and financial experts, you’ll learn how mental and financial wellbeing interlink, and the power creating a workplace culture where people feel safe to talk about financial fears.

Before then, here are three key things to be aware of – courtesy of Unmind’s in-house Science team.

Be prepared for more mental ill-health 

Poor mental health isn’t inevitable when exposed to financial difficulty – in fact, many people show extraordinary resilience in times of crisis. Yet we know from past recessions that a population-wide spike in mental health challenges is likely, and this includes suicide.

Of course, progressive leaders already know that normalising wellbeing conversations at work – alongside a range of expert tools and services – can help. Now, armed with the insight that mental ill-health may well increase, it’s time to take stock of what resources exist for every employee.

Ideally, your wellbeing offering should include preventative tools – to support better wellbeing, as well as more specialist services – for staff experiencing a crisis. Yet a human touch remains crucial. 

Plan frequent check-ins with employees. Make information accessible across your organisation. And bolster internal comms for your existing wellbeing services. Paired with a well-stocked wellbeing package, this can start to tackle the link between employee wellbeing and these hard financial times.

Upskill managers to talk about finances

Put very simply, the most effective way to reduce someone’s financial stress is to improve their financial situation. And, while many bosses no doubt wish they could do that for staff (whether through inflation-beating pay bumps, or bonuses to fight financial tides), in reality, that’s fantasy. 

That said, there’s evidence that signposting, training and awareness raising measures can have an impact. And this starts with empowering managers.

First though, never mistake your managers for financial advisors. Listening – good listening, active listening – is what’s needed. Seeing as three-quarters of employees say they’ve never talked to their line manager about financial wellbeing, this implies what they need is permission, not a financial plan.

When leaders create a working environment that’s equal parts empathy and understanding, employees experiencing a challenge may feel more safe to open up. How to deliver this? Often, leaders going first – that is, talking about their own mental health challenges – is a reliable way to boost psychological safety among teams. 

(Yet, do be aware that, as outlined up top, the financial stresses of a high-earner could appear trivial to someone behind on their bills.)

To ensure your managers approach these conversations with confidence and know-how, we’d strongly encourage investing in training.

From there, it’s time to unleash the experts.

Managers play their role here, too – by signposting to the likes of StepChange, Citizens Advice and The Debt Advice Foundation (UK), the National Foundation for Credit Counseling and National Debt Relief (Americas), Money Minded, Better Place Australia and Wisr (APAC), or even just their doctor.

Understand finances as an inclusion issue

How people are affected by the coming recession will be influenced by a wide range of factors, including their social group. In 2022, there’s lots of data to show that, compared to their colleagues, minority groups are likely to be paid less and have fewer opportunities for professional progression.

Alongside gender, ethnicity and disability pay gaps, research during the pandemic found working parents (particularly mothers) experienced greater economic stress across income brackets, versus their colleagues.

What does this mean for the workplace? That it’s important to be sensitive to how and why finances affect people differently. Including financial messaging in your diversity and inclusion strategy, and recognising that not all employees will be affected equally (again – same sea, different boats) will go a long way to making your financial health discussions more inclusive.

Want to learn more about financial wellbeing, and how to better support your staff?

Download our free handbook, 'The Psychological Cost of Living'.

An employers guide to supporting people though the financial crisis: The psychological cost of living handbook