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04 Nov 2022
by Tim Brook

5 ways to fight cost of living stress using workplace benefits

The financial crisis has led to high levels of workplace stress. But employers can help

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It’s stressful when your finances are under pressure, as anyone who has ever worried about how they are going to pay a big bill knows.

So, with the nation in the clutches of a punishing cost-of-living crisis, it should come as no surprise that research indicates UK adults are struggling with high levels of stress – both in and out of the workplace.

Recent figures from YouGov, for example, show that more than half (52%) of workers feel fairly or very stressed at work.

“Economic turmoil can increase stress levels in a number of ways,” says Steven Randle, wellbeing lead at occupational health and wellbeing service provider Innovate Healthcare.  

“Increased pressure on household budgets is an obvious immediate impact, but as businesses also respond to a changing economy, employees may be exposed to increased workloads due to recruitment freezes, as well as concerns over job security.”

For employers, the upshot of stressed-out employees is a productivity slide – both due to more people taking time off and to those coming in being unable to reach their full potential.

Here are five ways organisations can help people cope with the stress of big increases in day-to-day living costs.

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1. Offer support via your employee assistance programme (EAP)

The challenges related to the cost-of-living crisis are likely to leave many people feeling overwhelmed and in need of financial guidance.

As a one-stop hub employees can access 24/7, an EAP is the ideal place to provide this guidance, as well as mental health support for those in need.

“An EAP service can provide practical advice in the form of signposting to financial education and support such as debt counselling,” Randle says.

“It can also provide important psychological support through talking therapy to help manage the effects of anxiety.”

2. Consider an early wage access scheme

Early wage access schemes allow workers to request a salary (or overtime) advance in return for a nominal fee. The money deducted from the employee’s next pay.

It’s a service that can help employees to manage their finances and avoid seeking other, more expensive sources of credit such as payday loans.

It works best for employees who can earn overtime to push their pay packet back up again. Without the opportunity to earn more, there is a chance that a deficit created by an advance is simply pushed into the following month.

3. Provide stress management training

Line managers are well placed to spot individuals who are struggling to cope. So, it makes sense to train them to identify and manage sources of stress.

“Training managers to recognise the signs of stress and have the right conversations to help team members deal with it can have a significant impact,” Randle adds. 

“When employees see their manager as a source of support, they are likely to feel better able to cope with stress whether from inside or outside the workplace.”

Increasingly, however, businesses are also recognising the value of stress management training for the whole workforce.

4. Encourage a good work/life balance 

When times are hard, companies are more likely to ask employees to “go the extra mile” – particularly if head counts are down due to cost-cutting measures.

Perhaps that’s why the term ‘Quiet Quitting’, or sticking rigidly to defined working hours, has been trending on social media in recent weeks.

Promoting a more sustainable work-life balance, for example by offering flexible working and designated wellbeing days, is one of the best ways to improve loyalty and engagement levels, which in turn will encourage people to pull together when needed.

5. Ensure employee benefits are fit for purpose

The rising cost of living is likely to affect the type of benefits people find most attractive. And for direct financial impact, employee discounts are hard to beat.

The aim is to allow colleagues to save money on things they’re already buying, which may require a switch away from inspirational rewards such as air miles to discounts on essentials like groceries and utilities.

To maximise take-up, offer a range of ways for people to benefit, from in-store vouchers to cashback accounts.

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