Employee financial wellbeing and mental health in the new normal
As we head into a summer hopeful that we’ll see more freedoms than the last, the topic on everyone’s mind is how we’re going to navigate the transition back to ‘normal’ life.
Rightfully so, many workers are feeling apprehensive about returning to the new normal; resuming the commute if they go back to the office; working away from their family; even the thought of socialising with colleagues and friends again can feel overwhelming. And it’s not just their mental wellbeing that employers need to worry about. The financial cost of returning to normal could also be weighing on employees’ minds.
Question is, how can employers help their workers with their financial resilience during this period of transition, so their mental health is kept in check?
Research from the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute shows that millions of people with mental health concerns are dreading the return to their usual working arrangements after lockdown.
Many individuals who suffer with their mental health have needed to ask their employer for reasonable adjustments before or during the course of the pandemic – and many are now concerned that employers will not continue to offer the same flexibility as things return to a new normal. And a lot of these individuals are suffering financially as well – a typical income for people with common mental health conditions is £8,400 lower than for the rest of the population, leaving this group much more exposed to financial hardship during the pandemic.
So, what can employers do to accommodate the needs of employees who may be struggling with these issues?
It’s critically important to initiate conversations with your workforce. Many companies are now running pulse surveys to keep up to date with their workforce’s opinions on the return to the workplace and what it will look like. However, many employers are not asking employees about how they will feel about their return, and what it might cost them financially.
To gauge how your employees are feeling about the possible return to office working, even part time, try implementing regular pulse surveys that ask key questions about their levels of mental and financial resilience. In order to receive the best responses, ensure confidentiality by making their answers anonymous. This way, you can decide the best course of action across your workforce, while making sure you’re aware of specific needs certain employees might have.
In contrast to the above, some of your workers might be financially riding high after the pandemic. According to the House of Commons Library, UK household saving during the pandemic was at an all-time high, largely due to a fall in spending on non-essential items over lockdown.
However, as the pandemic gradually subsides in the UK at least, many individuals are predicting a much brighter future, and understandably, after over a year at home, they are increasing their spending in line with their newfound freedoms.
However, while many individuals seem to be hoping for the best and finding places to spend their hard-saved cash, employers can also help their staff plan for if the worst happens.
To help them with their financial resilience as we enter the new normal, employers could introduce a financial wellbeing programme. According to REBA’s 2021 Employee Wellbeing Research, just over half (51%) of employers now provide employees with access to general financial guidance, but the same percentage (51%) do not currently have any plans to include a personalised financial education programme as part of their wellbeing strategy.
As mentioned above, personalised surveys can help you understand your workforce’s specific financial (and mental) needs. Taking this understanding and providing bespoke, tailored financial education sessions can go a long way to ensuring that your employees are prepared for their return to a new normal.
Moreover, maintaining financial resilience through regular education sessions can go hand in hand with safeguarding mental health for your employees, meaning a more productive and efficient workforce for you as their employer.
Employee benefits help
For those that haven’t been able to save as much money over the last year, whether due to being on furlough or simply because the pandemic has adversely affected their finances, returning to work could trigger both financial and mental concerns.
Business in the Community’s 2019 Mental Health at Work report found that nearly a quarter (24%) of employees who experience poor mental health symptoms, that are unrelated to work, cite financial difficulties as a cause. And more than one-third (34%) reported that their financial situation negatively affects their mental health.
As well as mental health struggles causing distress to your employee, they could also be impacting your organisation’s bottom line. Worries about money are a major cause of stress and anxiety, this can lead to increased presenteeism, absenteeism and a drop in productivity at work.
By offering benefits that allow your employees to take control of their finances through debt management tools, savings schemes or financial education, you can help mitigate the negative impacts that these factors could have on your workforce. But addressing mental health directly can have a big impact too.
Ensure that your employees are aware of the benefits they receive through their employee assistance programme, as many offer easy-access therapy tools, step-by-step online programmes and many resources to help your employees feel supported. Alternatively, look into whether the Health Cash Plan you provide to your workforce offers a limited amount of counselling sessions. All these factors can help individuals to know who to turn to if they’re feeling vulnerable.
Getting under the hood of your employees’ needs and circumstances can go some way to ensuring that you have a happy, healthy and financially resilient workforce whether they continue working from home or return to the office. We’ve all gone through a period of transition over the last year, and any support that an employer can give to support the transition to the ‘new normal’ can only help in the long term.
This article is provided by Hargreaves Lansdown.
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