How coronavirus has brought debt advice into the frame for employee wellbeing programmes
While financial wellbeing has been a component of some employer offerings for some time, this has typically comprised pensions guidance, plus generic signposting to services through EAP helplines, perhaps combined with a workplace savings scheme, or occasional use of salary advances, operated either internally or through a commercial partnership.
The coronavirus pandemic has given many employers pause for thought on whether this package truly fits the needs of their employees – what about the millions of people who are employed but whose finances are, nevertheless, finely balanced and vulnerable to shocks? How did they cope if they were furloughed? How will they cope in future if their hours or overtime are cut? What can employers meaningfully offer to support them? What are the operational and reputational risks if they don’t?
Last year, over half of StepChange’s new clients or their partners were employed. It’s hard talking about financial overcommitment or debt, and even harder for employees to talk about these problems to their employers – or vice versa.
But there’s plenty of research showing that debt is bad for your mental health. There’s also plenty of data showing how much time in the workplace is lost to poor mental health, some of which we can safely assume is caused by debt worries – and none of which is helped by them.
We measure the outcomes of debt advice with reference not only to the obvious question of whether it helps to resolve people’s debt, but also with reference to a whole range of standard recognised wellbeing metrics. On all measures, debt advice has a positive impact – and the more successfully debt problems are resolved, the better the impacts.
We’re currently working with some large employers to help them deliver bespoke support packages to their workforce, recognising that many good employers have had their appetite whetted to step up and deliver new services, given the cracks in many employed people’s financial armour that the virus revealed.
Much practical benefit can be achieved through really good, targeted online content – which can potentially be white-labelled - and some “nudge” messaging to encourage those who need more support or a packaged debt solution to get it.
Talking about debt isn’t easy. The good news is that, as an employer, you can give so much support on financial worries that is accessible but anonymous. There are so many creative ways of helping people solve their debt problems and improve their peace of mind. As an employer, although you may never know exactly how many people you’ve helped by putting them in place, the wellbeing metrics that you can measure are very likely to improve if you do.
To find out more about the debt advice offered by the UK’s leading debt advice charity, visit stepchange.org. To find out more about how employers can potentially help their employees, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
The author is Ammer Malik, senior relationship manager at debt support charity StepChange.
Further insight: Paul Johnson CBE, Director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies will speak at REBA’s Employee Wellbeing Congress on 9 September about how the Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted inequalities in the workplace, and the need to rethink financial offerings at work.
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