Why financial wellbeing is an HR strategy that goes way beyond savings, pensions and loans

As the delivery man huffed and puffed his way up the stairs to my first floor flat pulling his trolley with four crates behind him, I did wonder if a man of his age and weight should be doing such a strenuous job.

Of course I would have never be so rude as to mention either of these physical attributes as I unpacked my monthly grocery shop. Never mind question why he is working beyond traditional retirement age.

But I couldn’t help thinking that Michael the delivery man summed up a vital correlation between health and financial wellbeing.

Your health impacts your financial wellbeing, and your financial wellbeing impacts your health (granted, I am making an assumption here that Michael is a long term low earner who can’t afford to retire).

The interplay between health and financial wellness

It got me thinking that not all of us in HR and benefits have truly dug down into the details of the interplay between how financial wellbeing and health is playing out in our organisations.

If you were to analyse your lower paid workers for absenteeism rates, chronic conditions, fitness and nutrition and so on what would you find? Which segments of your workforce smoke the most, have the highest blood pressure, and so on? It may not be what you expect and it could vary from division to division.

Back in 2010 the brilliant Marmot Review in 2010 (Fair society, healthy lives: the Marmot Review: strategic review of health inequalities in England post-2010) demonstrated the huge impact financial disadvantage has on health, and vice versa. While 2017 research from Britain’s Healthiest Workplace study backs this up, stating that low earners have higher levels of absenteeism and presenteeism.

A truly joined up wellbeing strategy

This is why I strongly believe to have a truly joined up, tactical wellbeing strategy that helps drive business productivity, employers need to be thinking differently about the financial wellbeing aspect.

It isn’t only about financial education, pre-retirement planning, and managing debt (although those are all important). It goes much deeper and broader.

It is about supporting employees with housing or transport costs (see Employers add ‘cheap place to live’ to staff perks), finding a way to ensure that those who can’t always afford it, do eat nutritious meals, and offering access to training or support to improve skills (and hopefully earnings too). As well as that, it’s about offering preventative health initiatives so that staff reduce their chances of developing long term chronic illnesses, which in turn can lead to time out of the workplace and therefore financial hardship.

Skills training is vital too

The government bodies are pushing the skills training angle too. In the State of the Nation 2016: social mobility in Great Britain, published in November 2016, the authors recommended that: “All large employers should develop strategies to provide their low skilled workforces with opportunities for career progression”; and “The Government should focus on moving people from low pay to living pay through a Second Chance Career Fund to help older workers retrain and by writing off advanced learner loans for part-time workers taking career-enhancing Level 3 qualifications”.

It is also about finding ways to adapt jobs – even on a temporary basis – to keep people who are suffering ill health in work whenever possible. Or getting those who have been out of work long term, back into work.

To me, pulling all these strands together would make a true financial wellbeing programme.

To learn, discuss and network about wellbeing strategies, attend the Employee Wellbeing Congress on 22 June 2017 in London.

Debi O'Donovan is a director at the Reward & Employee Benefits Association

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