Today, it seems as though “wellness” is the word on everybody’s lips. Every day articles, blogs and videos are published about the most effective routes to health and wellbeing. And if you don’t see enough about it on the TV, then you only have to look around a workplace to see how prevalent it is.
With all of this discussion taking place around wellness, it’s no surprise that employers have paid attention. It’s difficult to get away from the issue and many organisations are taking numerous different steps to try and address the wellbeing of their staff.
There are of course different types of wellness, but the importance of mental wellbeing seems to be recognised the most at the moment. Mental health issues, such as stress and anxiety, are a common topic of discussion within the media today. Every day, new stories are released about the rise of different illnesses and their potential causes. More and more sufferers, including those in the public eye such as Clarke Carlisle, a co-commentator for ITV Football, former footballer and former chairman of the Professional Footballers Association (Mind’s ambassador team), are coming forward to shed light and talk about their experiences. There is also a lot of public support for sufferers too from prestigious figures like the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge who are leading their own mental health campaign called ‘Heads Together’.
Clearly, these stories are becoming more prevalent in the press for a very real reason. A recent NHS study indicates that around 15% of the UK population suffers from depression or anxiety related disorders. Certainly, the number of people applying for support has also increased. In 2007, it was identified that one in four adults (24%) aged 16-74, with conditions such as depression or anxiety in England, were accessing mental health treatment. In contrast in 2014, the figure was one in three adults (37%) aged 16-74.
So clearly mental health is something we are all well aware of, but a type of wellness that is not as well known, or as well discussed, is the issue of financial wellness.
At Balmoral Financial, we really believe in the link between financial wealth and health. According to research carried out by AXA PPP healthcare, a sizeable proportion of employees who’ve had financial difficulties say that their mental health (76%) and physical health (50%) have also been adversely affected. Financial worries can be extremely distracting in the workplace and, as a result, severely impact productivity. Therefore, businesses have every reason to be as concerned about their employee’s financial wellbeing as they are about their mental or physical health. When it comes down to it, they are both interlinked. So why aren’t people and businesses discussing financial wellness as much as mental wellness?
According to research by Barclays, only two in ten employees are satisfied with the efforts of their employer in helping to manage their finances and one in five said they would value broader financial guidance, debt management and counselling if they were in financial hardship. However, our own research has found that only 18% of HR professionals offer a formal product that is designed to help manage their employees’ financial wellbeing.
There also seems to be a lack of understanding about who is responsible for talking to employees about their financial situation, in order to see what can be done to improve it. 45% of HR professionals questioned in our survey believe that it is the line manager’s role to discuss the issue of financial wellbeing with an employee. It is a difficult, and sometimes awkward, conversation to have. But until more discussion takes place, the impact of poor financial wellbeing will never be recognised as having an impact on mental wellbeing overall.
Luckily there is some light at the end of the tunnel, as our research also identified that when asked which of their current employee benefits was not up to scratch, 37% of HR professionals stated that their money management benefit was most in need of enhancement. Many businesses may worry about what providing employees with a path to financial security means, believing they will have to increase salaries or bonuses to deliver on such a promise. But this just isn’t the case. Caring about your employee’s financial wellness could also mean providing them with access to services like in-depth financial tracking, external advice and guidance around their finances or providing them with access to a loan scheme. For example, employees can take out a loan and then make the repayments via their monthly pay packet. Such a scheme can help employees to consolidate all their existing debts into one place. Debt is clearly a huge problem in this country, as according to The Money Charity people in the UK owed £1.499trillion at the end of August 2016. A loan scheme allows employees to make regular payments through payroll, freeing up their cash flow, so that they can take back control of their financial situation and move towards becoming debt free. In this case, the employer has provided support to the staff member without increasing wages, but holds no responsibility should a member of staff be unable to make a repayment.
In conclusion, today’s focus on wellness, especially mental wellness, shows what a key topic it is for employers. But until the same attention is paid to the importance financial wellness, businesses across the UK will not be able to solve all their issues around their employees’ wellbeing and we will still continue to suffer with our productivity levels.