Need to know:
- Employers can create targeted financial wellbeing interventions specifically for senior leaders to enable them to experience the benefits first-hand.
- Data, such as absence rates and engagement scores, can offer tangible evidence to help present the business case.
- Linking mental health and financial wellbeing can help draw senior leaders’ attention to why employees’ financial stress should be addressed.
According to research by Barnett Waddingham published in November 2018, 49% of employees aged between 18 and 65 would make use of financial wellbeing benefits, such as employer loans or financial education, if these were offered in the workplace.
Despite this evident employee interest, generating senior buy-in can prove problematic, with cost and a lack of supporting data often cited as barriers. This is confirmed by Close Brothers Asset Management’s Financial wellbeing index 2019 report, published in January, which found that 26% of employers do not have the budget to implement a financial wellbeing strategy, and 37% do not view it as a priority.
Ian Hodson, head of reward at the University of Lincoln, says: “[Senior leaders] don’t always believe that there’s a problem if there’s not something that clearly identifies it in performance metrics. Senior management can be a little too far removed from the reality of what’s going on in the workplace.”
So, how can benefits and reward professionals convince senior leaders that financial wellbeing initiatives have value? One method might be to introduce financial education specifically tailored to senior staff, so that they can experience first-hand why this type of programme is worthwhile. Sessions could focus, for example, on executive share schemes, retirement, or the annual and lifetime allowances; issues that pertain more to senior leaders than the average employee.
Jonathan Watts-Lay, director at Wealth at Work, says: “Even though a lot of employees won’t necessarily be suffering from the same issue, it just gets [senior leaders] to buy into the logic of why it needs to be done.”
Running a pilot scheme can also demonstrate the business case to leaders, allowing them to track results against their objectives on a smaller scale before committing to a full strategy.
“One of the hardest things is sending [senior management] a proposal and expecting them to sign it off, which is why we’re keen on pilots,” adds Watts-Lay, who further recommends that senior leaders visit other organisations that already have a programme in place; this can help managers visualise how the initiative works in practice.
Facts and figures
Reward professionals should also focus on facts, says Michelle Hobson, commercial HR director at Moorepay: “It’s about being able to quantify and make tangible the impacts, both positive and negative, that financial wellbeing can have on a business.
“It’s really talking the language of the senior team in terms of return on investment. [HR professionals] can really add value when [they] are able to translate the work [they] do into a tangible business benefit, to catch the attention of the senior board.”
Hodson agrees: “[Reward professionals have] got to get on [senior leaders’] radar and paint the picture of why financial education and wellbeing is needed in the workplace, and that is about statistics.”
Useful sources of data might include absence rates, performance statistics, employee engagement scores, or retention figures. Internal research can also discover whether financial worries are affecting productivity and staff absences, as well as gauging what types of support employees would most appreciate. Aggregated information from relevant providers can also highlight the results that other organisations have experienced.
This data can also be used to demonstrate return on investment once a programme has been implemented, as can staff surveys; Watts-Lay suggests asking employees what action they plan on taking as a result of an intervention, while Hodson recommends getting staff to rate their knowledge before and after sessions.
Clarifying the link between financial and mental health is another way to garner senior level buy-in.
“If I really had to try and sell the case, I would be looking at these continuous links towards mental health; in the modern world, finance is a real stressor, [particularly] for the generation coming into the workforce,” Hodson explains. “Often, senior managers aren’t the best at engaging and being champions of what’s available in the reward package, but they are well aware of what’s happening in terms of mental health issues.”
The University of Lincoln, for example, has re-evaluated its reasons for absence to be more specific, listing financial stress as an individual option, rather than just a general stress category.
Make a start
If senior leaders are still on the fence, reward professionals could suggest starting small, for example, using free online tools or a low-cost employee assistance programme (EAP) that includes financial counselling.
Hobson concludes: “It can be difficult to get a board to understand how important financial wellbeing is to employees. Take it step by step, starting with some easy to set up, low or no-cost initiatives and then look at how that starts to impact people, before moving on to something more significant that could end up having a bigger impact.”