How to understand if pay inequality is affecting staff wellbeing—and what to do about it


Inequality is a particularly hot topic, at the moment—and rightly so. Movements like #MeToo, the controversy around Gillette’s recent ‘We Believe’ advert and the strong reaction to the infamous ‘Echo Chamber’ memo that got a Google employee unceremoniously fired are all worth reading up on.

Women without money

The landscape is changing. People are realising that unfairness, well, isn’t fair. Change is coming. Maybe not quickly enough, for some…

Income inequality—across all workers, not just those affected by the gender pay gap—is rising, on average. On a purely macroeconomic scale, this is due to national (and international) policy. There’s not a huge amount you can do about it. 

But you should take steps to recognise when the wellbeing of your staff is affected, and make sure you’re prepared to help. 

Mental health
They say money doesn’t buy happiness, and that might be true. But what it does buy—or at least, rent for a while—is stability. When you’re secure financially, and confident that you have more coming in than going out, you’re going to be far less stressed than someone unsure whether they’ll be able to pay their bills on time this month. 

Research from the OECD shows that in times of economic downturn, certain health behaviours are affected. Those on lower pay—who will see their wages decrease, in real terms—feel frustration and a sense of unfair loss. When you feel that unfairness, and see real negative changes that confirm it, it’s not hard to see that your mental health may suffer. Look out for the classic warning signs of stress and depression in employees on lower pay bands. Frustration, anxiety, irritability, withdrawing and absenteeism may manifest themselves, when your people have money worries.

Physical health
When money gets tight, the first things to go are the luxuries. Healthy food, gym memberships and outdoor activities are all unimportant in the grand scheme of things, when you’re worried about rent.

And sometimes, stress can lead to drastic changes in behaviour. Alcohol and drug use are likely to increase on average when the economy suffers. It’s an unpleasant fact of life, but often people need that escape—and physical health is affected badly. Watch out for employees who are clearly struggling—skipping lunch, looking unkempt, showing out of character tiredness.

What can be done?
The most obvious thing you as an employer can do to address income inequality—and begin heading off the issues above—is pay more. Of course, this needs to be fair—have an external assessor review your pay bands, and make this process transparent to those it affects. If your people know they’re being paid fairly, this can at the very least let them know they’re valued. It’s not going to solve everything, but it can boost self-esteem, and therefore productivity. 

Second to this, the best way to address the wellbeing issues of staff—related to any subject—is provision and education. Make sure employees are aware of the help available. Display literature from charities—Stepchange, or Citizen’s Advice—prominently in the workplace. It can be a difficult subject to broach, but if even one employee calls for advice from these charities and finds their worries reduced, it’ll be worth it.

Try a workplace financial wellbeing workshop. Trained advisors will come to your workplace—or anywhere you like—and teach employees about money management. Provide a good benefits package—if your workplace lets people take advantage of a discounted or even free gym membership, that’s one less physical health worry. Private healthcare, cycle to work schemes and discounted holidays will do wonders for the physical and mental health of your employees—especially if they’re not worrying about the cost.

Put simply, if you see that inequality is affecting your people, spread the wealth a little. You’ll gain loyalty and trust when you treat staff right.

This article is provided by Health Assured. 


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