Work has historically been positioned as the route out of poverty; however, with increased job insecurity and the gig economy, employment no longer comes with the guarantee of financial security.
Mental health at work 2019: Time to take ownership, published in October 2019 by Business in the Community (BITC) in partnership with Mercer Marsh Benefits, shows that one in five employees (21%) are struggling to make ends meet financially. There is a clear role for employers to create a safe and inclusive culture where people feel that they can talk about financial concerns.
There is a long way to go; nearly two thirds (64%) of employees say that they would not feel comfortable talking about their financial situation at work. Alarmingly, only one in 20 (5%) feel that there is financial support available in their workplace.
Flexible pay benefits, such as the ability to draw down cash on any day of the month, can be helpful, particularly as a safety net for employees at crisis point. But, in fact, the need for flexible pay arrangements can sometimes be a sign that work is not providing the stability and security it should, and so a longer-term strategic approach is also needed.
Offering financial wellbeing benefits can be an effective tool for employers to support staff, but they need to be part of an overall approach to offering good work.
BITC defines good work as employment that offers security, rights and a fair income, opportunity for progression and a supportive and inclusive environment. This should be on offer to all employees, and there are four steps organisations can take when considering relevant changes to their benefits packages.
First, start with the fundamentals, by reviewing the core benefits integral to the employee package and common to every worker.
Second, help those in crisis. A third of UK workers have less than £500 in savings, putting many employees close to crisis point. Setting up support and safety nets for employees facing hardship will improve their wellbeing.
Third, bring down living costs. The benefits that are most likely to be valued by those on low incomes are ones that help to make money go further.
Fourth, offer long-term solutions. Helping employees to manage their finances is an effective way of preventing financial difficulty and promoting financial freedom in the long-term.
Alongside changes to the benefits package, it is important to invest in culture change. As with mental health, we need to foster environments where it is okay to not be okay financially, and to ensure benefits are easy to access for all employees.
There is more value to be unlocked in employee benefits, and the extent of financial concerns within the UK workforce suggests that a different approach could be needed.
Charlotte Gibb is employment campaign manager at Business in the Community (BITC)