No one is fully sheltered from the soaring cost-of-living. And, as stigma around financial conversations still lingers, not enough people talk about it. Especially at work. Across three regional webinars, we gathered an expert panel of wellbeing and financial pros, to explore how you can better support your teams and yourself. Here are our 9 top takeaways.
1. Financial wellbeing is the next taboo to break
Kicking off the EMEA webinar, Daisy Abbott, Head of Client Solutions at Unmind, pointed to the challenge that modern organisations face.
“Financial wellbeing is a new frontier,” she said. “At Unmind, we’re very used to dealing with stigmatised topics – as the conversation around mental health has been shrouded in stigma for years – but we recognise that financial health and wellbeing also carries its own stigma and shame. And we are incredibly passionate about opening up that conversation.”
In the APAC session, Dr. Lili Sussman, Chief Strategy Officer at Wisr, echoed this: “There really is a big stigma, and I think, in a way, the money conversation is just a couple of years behind the mental health conversation.
“Literally all of us struggle at one time or another, and it’s the same with money stress,” she added. “It doesn’t matter how much money you make … you might be feeling really stressed and there can be a lot of reasons for that.”
2. Mental and financial health often interlink
“Money has its tendrils into almost every area of our lives,” Clare Seal, author and financial wellbeing coach, said in the EMEA webinar. “It affects the decisions that we make, it can cause tensions in our relationships – whether that’s with family members, friends sometimes, partners, children – and it also affects the way that we interact in the workplace.
“It gets into every area of your life, and that’s when it can start affecting areas like your sleep and your behaviour. Lots of people experiencing financial anxiety find it very hard to concentrate on anything else because, quite often, your brain is trying to find a way to link things back to money.
“So every single decision that you’re making throughout the day – from whether to pack a lunch for yourself, to whether to pick up a coffee, to whether you can afford to take a taxi to avoid getting completely soaked, those all become massive decisions.”
“Money has its tendrils into almost every area of our lives. It affects the decisions that we make, it can cause tensions in our relationships, and it also affects the way that we interact in the workplace.”
3. Financial health is a workplace issue
Cost-of-living stresses don’t just unfold outside the office. Your people bring their financial problems to work with them, and this makes for some very scary stats.
In the EMEA session, Julia Biles, Group Head of Wellbeing at Saga, shared that, in England alone, over 100,000 people a year attempt suicide due to financial stress. Yet it’s wrong to assume financial worries only impact people in crisis (or vice versa).
“Why is this a workplace issue? Well, it’s a daily concern,” Julia confessed. “From, ‘Am I going to commute to work today – can I afford the petrol, the bus fare or the train fare? – or am I going to stay at home and pay for the energy bill?’ to, ‘Am I going to buy lunch and a coffee out, or am I going to pack my leftovers?’.”
Over in APAC, Rebecca Maher, Co-founder of MoneyHappy, revealed what this can mean for companies themselves:
“Recent research by AMP has sought to put some statistics around how much, and to what degree, people are bringing their money worries to work, and how that is impacting what they’re doing day to day in their jobs.
“The research suggests that over 12 hours a week, on average, is lost to presenteeism and absenteeism combined, around financial stress in the workplace. So it’s significant, from a productivity perspective.”
4. Every employee’s experience is unique
Sounds obvious, though it’s easy to forget: your workforce is not one mass of similar staffers. As Kimberly Brunett, Manager of Total Rewards at PROS, pointed out in the Americas session, individuals are, well, individual.
“We’ve identified there’s not a one-size-fits-all to everybody’s story when it comes to finances,” she said. “We had to take a look at our population, and then understand our demographics. Not only through generational differences – because we have a wide range of ages within our workforce – but even globally.
“Because what we were looking at from a financial perspective in the US might not resonate with our employees that reside in the UK, for example, or Germany and Bulgaria.”
Don’t forget, each employee will have a unique set of circumstances (both personal and financial), and reckon with the current cost-of-living crisis differently as a result. This means there’s no such thing as an off-the-shelf solution – what’s needed is nuance.
5. Leaders are key to psychological safety
Changing the culture around financial wellbeing – that is, making conversations commonplace at work, and binning stigma for good – starts with a psychologically-safe environment.
What’s that? Well, as Tamar Balkin, organisational psychologist and coach, put it during the APAC webinar: “To be really glib and simple, it’s a place where people feel comfortable to be themselves, and where everybody takes responsibility for those conversations.”
Making this happen, Tamar said, starts with managers.
“So when it comes to what support you provide to people, you need to have a relationship where, if you’re going to be talking to your direct reports, you’re always talking to them about these things. That you often have one-on-ones in a private environment where it’s a bit, yes, ‘What’s going on at work’, but also a bit state of the nation: ‘How are you going? How are you tracking?’.
“If you don’t normally do that, you cannot start talking about pay.”
“Please stop expecting your team members to pay out of pocket for company expenses and wait to be reimbursed. You cannot assume that your team members can afford to be out of pocket by all of that money for all of that time.”
6. Resources aren’t enough – people need a reason
“Nobody wakes up and says, ‘Wow, it’s a beautiful day, I think I’ll sit down and do a budget today’ – that’s never happened in all my years of coaching,” Martha Menard, behavioural scientist and financial coach, admitted during the Americas webinar.
“It’s often a life event that will trigger the realisation for somebody – that ‘Gosh I need to do something about my finances, I really need to get my act together here’.”
In fact, Martha says there’s evidence to suggest that it’s the life event aspect that proves pivotal. Education is great, yet it’s meaningless without motivation.
“There’s a lot of research that says financial education alone does very little to actually change behaviour,” she adds. “One meta-analysis found that less than a tenth of a percent in terms of just hearing information, you have to be both motivated to apply it and have a reason.”
“Financial education alone does very little to actually change behaviour. You have to be both motivated to apply it and have a reason.”
7. Want to ease financial stress fast? Stop asking staff to front expenses
Quizzed on how employers can support their people during the cost-of-living crisis, Clare Seal was clear: “Please stop expecting your team members to pay out of pocket for company expenses and wait to be reimbursed,” she said.
“That almost broke me and my husband several times when we were struggling financially. If it was like a 150 quid train fare, here and there, quite often the approval process for being paid back could take until the end of the following month.
“There are so many different softwares and platforms that you can use that don’t involve just someone giving carte blanche on a company credit card, where people don’t have to pay out pocket – especially at the moment.
“You cannot assume that your team members can afford to be out of pocket by all of that money for all of that time. So that’s my number one thing.”
8. Leaders need to listen and signpost (not seek to problem-solve)
In a sneak peek from Unmind’s ‘Made for Managers’ training course, EMEA webinar watchers got a free snippet from Unmind’s Director of Science, Heather Bolton:
“It’s never easy to hear that someone is upset or in trouble, and with an issue like finances, which can feel very practical, it can be tempting to jump straight into problem-solving mode. But sitting with someone’s distress can make them feel heard and more understood,” Dr Heather said.
“Remember – everyone’s journey is different, so make sure you defer judgement and use your supportive conversation skills.”
Meanwhile, managers should bear in mind that, while it’s not their job to fix an employee’s financial worries, they can point to expert help.
Dr Heather: “Encourage your employee to tackle financial difficulties proactively. It’s not in your remit to offer advice – you’re there to support, encourage and to signpost to helpful resources. These can include professional resources, such as the Money Advice Service (UK), which includes online budgeting tools and financial planning templates.
“And leverage your company employee assistance programme – that’s your EAP – as these often include services offering financial advice.”
"Encourage your employee to tackle financial difficulties proactively. It’s not in your remit to offer advice – you’re there to support, encourage and to signpost to helpful resources.”
9. Don’t be afraid to outsource to external pros
In Americas, Tom Smith, Reward and Pensions Manager at Estée Lauder, explained the quiet power of letting a professional from outside your organisation lay out financial literacy wisdom.
“What we did is we partnered with a financial coach who did a series of webinars,” he said. “I think it was really good to do it with someone external – rather than internal – because then it’s not the company telling you you should be saving and managing your budget.
“It’s someone who’s young and who people can relate to, in a similar position.”
Want to watch in full?
Keen to learn more about how to protect your mental and financial wellbeing at work? Watch the webinars on demand:
Then download our free handbook, 'The Psychological Cost of Living'.
To find out how Unmind can help drive cultural change at your organisation, schedule a call with an Unminder today.