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HR needs to improve financial awareness
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Why do employers underestimate employee money worries?

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As belts tighten amidst rising living costs, research shows that employers are underestimating just how tough their employees have it financially. Now presents the perfect time for organisations to examine their financial rewards policies.

13th Apr 2022
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New research suggests close to a quarter of the UK workforce (24%) worries about money every day – up 8% in a year. Employers think it’s 2%. Stigma, organisational structures, and mismatched expectations may explain this underestimate.

While more employees are worrying, they’re not passing these concerns onto their employer. Over two-thirds (68%) of employees said they would not tell their employer about their money worries, according to new research from financial wellbeing platform Wagestream. They’re suffering in silence – most say it’s due to feelings of shame and embarrassment – and employers subsequently find it hard to spot the signs of worry.

Worry is personal and cycles can be mediated by things like personality, objective financial wellbeing, personal expectations, and the external environment

Worry linked to pay cycles?

The State of Financial Wellbeing 2022 report found that employers thought most people worried every few weeks to every month, which coincides with common pay cycles. Employees have told us they do worry around these times, especially in the week before pay day, but it’s by no means the most common ‘worry cycle.’

Worry is personal and cycles can be mediated by things like personality, objective financial wellbeing, personal expectations, and the external environment. Certainly the external pressures of the pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis have generally increased worry across the board, as we see from the 24% statistic mentioned above.

Employers overestimating effectiveness of wellbeing policies?

It may also be that a spike in employer focus on financial wellbeing has led employers to overestimate how effective their efforts are: 93% now say they have a financial wellbeing policy in place, up from 51% in a year, while 91% say they provide an environment supportive of their employees’ financial wellbeing.

But just 52% of employees agree that their workplace supports their financial wellbeing. And when we get specific, this is borne out: 50% of employees want help with saving in 2022, but just 18% of employers are thinking of stepping up. So it may be that employers believe their increased focus on financial wellbeing – 87% said they’re more focused on it since the start of the pandemic – has and is dampening employee worries.

The link between money and mental health

Finally, it may be that organisations think employees are more preoccupied with concerns other than money. In our research we found money is the biggest worry for UK employees in 2022 (40%), ahead of mental health at 34%. But employers may underestimate the extent of money worries because they think mental health worries are most common among employees: certainly, during the pandemic and particularly with regard lockdowns, there was a focus on mental wellbeing across society and organisations.

It’s a good bet that financial stress and worries are likely to increase rather than decrease

But poor financial wellbeing has a strong link to mental wellbeing and for many people they go hand in hand. Efforts to improve mental wellbeing are incomplete if they don’t look to tackle the root causes, such as financial stress and poor financial wellbeing. The other thing to remember is that they tend to move in lockstep – the fact that 24% of UK workers are concerned about their financial health means the number of people worried about their mental wellbeing is likely to have risen too.

Cost-of-living – the time to plug the gap

Likely all these reasons play some part in explaining why employers underestimate the number of people worrying about money every day. But with the cost of living now topping the list of household concerns and the worst of it arguably still to come, it’s a good bet that financial stress and worries are likely to increase rather than decrease – and that means employers need to ensure their financial wellbeing strategies are as effective as possible.

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