Employee financial struggles affect every generation, the last taboo?

Private debt held by individuals totals £1.5 trillion, according to the Bank of England, making household sector indebtedness one of the biggest problems facing the economy and society. With the average household having around £15,000 in unsecured debt, debt is a significant issue, and when staff struggle with financial pressures it can have a significant impact on wellbeing, which also impacts the workplace through loss of productivity and absenteeism. According to Towergate Health & Protection, this can affect every generation, but employers are well placed to offer support to help staff build financial resilience:

Sandwich generation: please, no more toppings

With the average three-year university degree costing around £50,000, and care homes with nursing up to £55,000 per year, those in the sandwich generation with financial responsibilities for both children and parents can find themselves struggling to cope. As financial pressures can create strains on both work and home life, taking a holistic approach to management is important.

Employers can do a lot to support staff in helping them to understand what financial support is available to them and encourage them to utilise it. And support doesn’t have to be costly to employers, The Money Advice Service from the Government provides a lot of guidance online, including on debt, mortgages and pensions.

If employers want to do more, they could do well to look at employee assistance programmes (EAPs). While they may be familiar with the counselling support they can offer, EAPs can also be hugely beneficial for those struggling financially. Support can include debt management and access to legal counsel and benefits advice, helping individuals to understand their current financial situation and budget accordingly.

Gambling addicts

The stereotypical image of problem gamblers can be that of older men in high-street establishments, but the NHS is now opening gambling clinics for those aged 13-25 in response to a growing number of young people participating in the activity and typically online. Gambling, a behavioural addiction medically recognised since 2013, can have a direct impact in the workplace too – with 22% of online gamblers aged 18-24 gambling at work. Employees may use a company credit card to fund bets, take excessive work breaks to see a gamble through or be unproductive and distracted when regretting a recent financial loss. Having staff trained in mental health first aid can be useful in helping to identify a concern, signposting an employee to services available to them. For an employee that doesn’t know where to turn, or that help is even available, it could be just the nudge needed to help them address their addiction and regain financial control.

Fresh out of university, fresh into debt

Many workers in their first role after university will have a significant amount of debt hanging over their heads. They are also entering an economy that is being shaped by gig working and potentially experience an unstable work and personal financial situation. Employers can do a lot to help, and it doesn’t have to be expensive. For instance, providing cash plans to employees, especially during a financially constrained time, can make a little go a long way. Being able to claim back optical and dental healthcare costs, for example, can enable staff to maintain their health without significantly compromising other financial commitments. Financial education can take this further and help staff learn to manage their finances.

Brett Hill, distribution director at Towergate Health and Protection, comments: “Financial woes can vary in extremity, from being in severe debt to needing a gentle tightening of belts to better manage budgets. Financial strain can be caused through any number of issues, including addiction, the economic environment or personal circumstances. One thing that is consistent though, is that money management affects everyone at some stage of their lives, and when it doesn’t go to plan it can be a real detriment to wellbeing, and this can be a great disruptor in the workplace too.

“Employers can play an important role in supporting employees by helping build their financial resilience. From providing financial counselling and legal services when things get serious, to benefits that help employees manage the day-to-day, employers have many tools at their disposal to make money management more effective, and this can make a huge difference to staff.”