Stress, money and mental health at work

Stress is a completely natural part of being a human animal. Our stress response evolved to create a series of physiological changes that enable us to react quickly when threatened.

Although truly life-threatening situations are now rare for most of us, we do still encounter situations that trigger a stress response. Some can major, like the loss of a loved one or a car accident; some are less major, like a work deadline or a delayed commuter train.

The presence of stress is a generally accepted part of modern life and sometimes our stress response can help push through an intense situation. However, there can be points where the stress goes from being helpful to something that is hard to cope with. This can occur if the stress response is triggered repeatedly and can have a impact on an individual.

What is the impact of stress?
An individual’s overall experience of stress will be the sum of all of the stressors in their life. They are unlikely to compartmentalise the sources of stress to a degree that stress is only felt at work and all other life stresses are felt once they leave the workplace.

Recognising that the impact of stress will be a combination of all stressors can help us identify how we can help those that are over-stressed. As HR professionals we can identify the common sources of stress and provide benefits that can help employees manage those elements of their life.

In Salary Finance’s financial wellbeing research, we asked over 10,000 employees whether or not they were happy or had worries in the following areas of their life: relationships (outside of work), health, career and finances.

We found that finances are the largest causes of worry, with women worrying more than men. Both men and women worry equally about the other three areas.

Age was a key defining factor in the degree to which people are preoccupied with stress. Those who are younger are the most worried across all areas of life.

The only consistent factor is that financial and money matters are what people worry about the most, irrespective of age and gender.

Stress and mental health
The research also explored the relationship between mental health and other factors. We compared differences between ages, earnings and level of financial worries.

The greatest difference was between those that were stressed about their finances and those that do not. Those with financial stress were:

  • 8 times more likely to feel anxious and be prone to panic attacks
  • 9 times more likely to be depressed and find it difficult to carry on with life

These differences are startling and make a compelling case for the relationship between mental health and financial wellbeing.

How HR teams can help
The Mental Health Foundation offers the following definition of stress: it is “the degree to which you feel overwhelmed or unable to cope as a result of pressures that are unmanageable.” The important word there is “unmanageable”, and this is where HR teams can deliver initiatives that help take the stress out of employees’ financial lives.

By offering employee benefits that allow people to take control of something that currently feels unmanageable by making active changes (e.g. pay off debt, start saving, access earned pay), supported by financial education, you can begin to mitigate the negative impact financial stress can have on overall wellbeing.

In this way financial wellbeing can become a core pillar in any efforts you have in place to improve mental wellbeing in your organisation.