Industry briefing: how an employee assistance programme can help your financial wellbeing strategy

It’s long been acknowledged that debt and other financial issues can be a major contributor to mental health issues. Levels of household debt are causing concern among economists and 8.3million Brits are thought to be hiding debts from their partners according to research from Direct Line Life Insurance.

EAPS financial wellbeing

It’s easy to see why more employees are looking to their employer for support. Countless studies have revealed the impact financial concerns can have in the workplace in terms of lowered productivity and stress-related absence. Research by PricewaterhouseCoopers revealed that 1 in 3 employees have been ‘distracted’ by personal finance issues while at work with half of those spending more than three hours a week attempting to deal with their financial circumstances.

Responding to demand

This is why EAPs can play such a vital role in supporting employee financial wellbeing. Indeed, the increase in demand from employees themselves has not gone unnoticed. EAPA member Health Assured say they have seen a huge increase in the number of calls they’ve received this year from individuals suffering from stress and anxiety and other mental health difficulties because of financial issues. In 2017, they received 22,501 such calls yet halfway through 2018, the total number of calls relating to anxiety and financial issues has already reached 26,567.

This increased demand is why many providers now include a financial component within their core offering and financial education in particular, through the provision of money management training and workshops is a growing element of an EAP’s work.

Signposting employees

In essence, EAPs operate as a guiding hand to a financially distressed employee. They provide prompt, tailored support in a myriad of ways from telephone consultations available 24-7, accredited financial advisors to guide and support and provision of self-help tools such as budget planners. They can also provide support on the emotional issues associated with financial worries by offering counselling sessions.  Their remit then is to support, guide and signpost employees to the right platform, rather than provide expert advice and expertise themselves. They are the first port of call to help an employee make informed decisions on what steps to take next for a resolution.

Support services

It’s important for employers to talk to their EAPs about what’s already available to support financial wellbeing. Some EAPs offer a comprehensive debt support service, at no extra cost. This provides employees with access to specialist FCA-registered debt advisors who can provide support on a range of financial issues including pensions and investments and general advice on managing money. Health Assured, for example, works in partnership with national debt charity StepChange who provide additional long-term support for those struggling with debt.

Not everyone in the workforce will be experiencing the same financial problems. There’s a generation of employees who have little experience of money management, the struggles of the so-called ‘sandwich generation’ who are caring for elderly relatives as well as their own children, and a wide variety of employees who will be struggling with personal and student loans. Providers such as LifeWorks, recognise that and with employees to encourage small life changes that can bring about long-term sustainable change. This is supported through relevant, personalised content delivered to employees’ mobile devices in bitesize chunks. The content could be tips and advice as well as coaching tailored the individual and their current life stage.

Raising awareness 

Yet for all the support an EAP can offer, employees can only benefit if they know about it in the first place. This is why it’s important for line managers to be made aware of their company’s EAP and what it offers so they can signpost their team members accordingly. It’s also why employers should consider using national financial wellbeing campaigns such as November’s Talk Money Week as opportunities to raise awareness around financial wellbeing provision within their own organisations.

As demand from financially struggling employees grows, the onus is on the employer to step up to the mark. By working closely with their EAP, employers can ensure their company supports staff wellbeing the holistic way. Financial wellbeing absolutely should not be underestimated.

The author is Neil Mountford, chair of UK EAPA.

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