Polly Mackenzie, Director, Money and Mental Health

Leave your troubles at the door

“[I was] chased by debt collectors day and night. They would call my mobile when at work, or as soon as you get home they would be calling the home phone. That would distract me at work, on top of not getting enough sleep.”

Try as we may to brush them under the carpet, financial worries are a real issue in the workplace. It’s nice to imagine everyone can leave their problems at the door when they come to work – but we’re human beings, and that’s not how we work. When we’re under financial pressure, including, in the worst case scenario, going through a debt crisis, we often underperform at work, and our mental health can be seriously affected.

That’s what we found in our latest research – published this week with the support of Salary Finance. Over the last year, our research has demonstrated that mental health and financial wellbeing are intricately linked. Not only do financial problems put a real strain on our mental health, having a mental health condition can seriously affect our finances too. In many cases, the two create a vicious spiral that is hard to break out of.

Why employers should care

Now we’re making the case that it’s in employers’ interests to get involved and help stop that spiral. Here’s why:

1. Poor mental health hits workplace performance

It can be harder to do a good job at work in a period of poor mental health. Our research shows that a third of employees said they accomplished less than they would like in the last month due to emotional problems or worries, and 32% felt they worked less carefully than usual.

“Every month I had to hit targets to get bonuses as the basic pay was not quite enough to live on. When the brain fog started with my depression I found it increasingly difficult to hit those targets, which created more stress and pressure from managers which further pushed me down.”

2. Financial worries hit workplace performance

Our research found that half of employees who are ‘finding things difficult’ financially felt they achieved less than they would like or worked less carefully in the last month. By comparison, only one in three of those managing well financially reported these problems. Employees who are finding things financially difficult are also more than twice as likely to have struggled to concentrate, and three times more likely to be losing sleep.

 “Sleep deprivation is a huge factor. You can hold out for a while when things start to go wrong/debts grow, but after a while the anxiety kicked in a lot.”

3. Earning a paycheck is no protection from poverty

As an employer, it’s easy to assume that just because workers have a job, they should be financially secure. One in five employees (20%) report that they are ‘just about’ managing, while a further 5% say they are finding things difficult financially. That’s a quarter of the workforce – and for employers who pay low, or minimum wages, it’s likely to be far more.

“I felt unmotivated to be at work as payday came around each month just for it all to disappear on bills, debt etc… I never got to see any of it or enjoy it.”

Three practical steps

As an employer, a failure to invest in the mental and financial wellbeing of your employees is a trick missed, and will be affecting your bottom-line. Making a commitment to tackle this means taking seriously the sources of stress your employees may face – including their finances. Reducing this financial stress could pay dividends in productivity, as well as improving lives.

And if you’re wondering what that really looks like in practice, I’ve got another list of three for you: three ideas for every workplace.

  • Build financial resilience

Employers should explore providing both savings schemes and short-term loans through payroll, allowing a lower rate of interest to be offered and helping employees to avoid fees and charges.

  • Make it OK to say

Include material on problem debt and financial difficulty in management training and minimise the costs of participation in work. Limiting up-front expenses and birthday ‘whip-rounds’ can reduce stigma and ensure that employees in financial difficulty are not excluded from social or professional events.

  • Offer help once problems have set in

Support employees who are taking sickness absence to avoid financial difficulty, by establishing reasonable sick pay policies, considering group income protection and by signposting to welfare advice where appropriate.

“Instead of concentrating on taking my antidepressants I was not taking them so that I could attend work.”