Over the past few months, there has been significant attention on the current cost of living crisis, with the Bank of England predicting that Britain is facing its longest recession since records began. It is clear the financial pressures people are facing will have a direct impact on their emotional wellbeing.
The impact is already evident. The number of people seeking help from our Employee Assistance Programme has doubled and the number of people downloading our self-help documents has increased month on month since the summer. Because of the confidentiality, it’s impossible to say that that’s all about finances, but that increase has absolutely aligned with the cost-of-living crisis, and the more publicity it’s getting in the media, the more attention it’s getting on our app. So, it is impossible to say that there isn’t a link. There is an underlying emergency in the background that isn’t even close to scratching the surface yet.
In August Mind reported its Infoline saw a 30% rise compared to the year previous in calls related to finance, and in July alone, Samaritans received 12,000 emotional support contacts mentioning finance concerns. YoungMinds also tracks young people’s experiences of mental health, and, for the first time, ‘worries about money’ was found to be the top concern and negative influence on their mental health. In a recent survey Newsround reported that of the 2,081 children they surveyed 72% were worried about the cost-of-living crisis. A much bigger concern highlighted in the report is that 12% of children reported that they weren’t eating three meals each day, as often as they were three months ago. One in seven of those who skipped meals said it was because there wasn’t enough food at home, and just under one in 10 said it was because they couldn’t afford to buy food at school.
As business leaders and people who run businesses, it’s important to understand the financial pressures your employees face with the rising costs of everyday goods, such as food, energy, and petrol, and how this may impact their mental wellbeing. What can you do to show that you understand their financial pressures and how can you support them to ease that pressure through the ongoing cost of living crisis?
What is the link between financial wellbeing and emotional wellbeing?
It is impossible not to connect the two. People who are under financial stress behave differently, that different behaviour might be stress related. It might be drinking or dependence on substances. It might just mean that they go quiet and introverted. The 2008 global financial crisis is an example of the intrinsic link between financial wellbeing and emotional wellbeing. The financial crisis was associated with a reversal in previously falling suicide rates in England and increases in suicide attempts and depression, particularly in males. And now, 14 years later, the ongoing cost of living crisis is similarly affecting people. Mental Health Concern recently reported a 90% increase in overall referrals over the past six months, with one in five people experiencing suicidal thoughts – a 196% increase on the previous six months, with many of those cases directly linked to the rising cost of living. One case worker from Mental Health Concern reported that out of 28 clients she was working with, 25 were facing financial challenges, with 11 having tried to take their own life at some point.
Understanding your employees’ financial wellbeing
It sounds churlish for a manager or leader to say, I understand; we’re all suffering, we’re all struggling. Technically yes, we’re all impacted, but not everyone is struggling. Even if you can relate to it – because there are a lot of people who earn a lot of money who also struggle financially for a variety of reasons – the general worker won’t believe that members of the leadership team are struggling because it is a perception that is created. So even if you can relate, it doesn’t come across in the most relatable way if you’re trying to have the conversation. The key is showing your employees that you understand the impact the cost-of-living crisis is having on them and them feeling that you understand this.
Showing your employees you understand
You have to have an ongoing long-term strategy of what you’re going to do, and not all of that strategy is around measures that are necessarily going to impact the financial situation of your employees. So yes, you can invest in discount schemes where in theory, your employees can stretch their money and make it go further or Employee Assistance Programmes, and yes, in isolation, both those things are great, but they become one facet of the strategy.
So, what can you do in the short term that says “I understand that this is impacting you, and I want to help?
- Subsidise lunches
Is there a local business that sells sandwiches that people go to at lunchtime? Ca you negotiate something that makes those sandwiches half-price because you are going to subsidise it for anyone that goes in with your lanyard on? This might be extremely niche and nuanced, but it might make a massive difference because suddenly, you are subsiding people’s lunches. It might not be a long-term thing, but it is a short-term difference that says I understand that this impacts you.
- Provide snacks in the office
Put snacks in the office, where half has to be subsidised by the business so you can control the flow, and people still have to contribute to it, but it’s a contribution you’re making.
- Pay for parking
One of the things we’ve just done is looked at our parking policy and found that there were a number of people who weren’t eligible for a parking space or didn’t get a parking space as often as they needed to. So, we looked at it and said for those who aren’t issued a parking space when they are in the office, bring in a receipt, and we’ll cover the costs.
- Turn your Christmas hamper into a Christmas voucher
Hampers are great, but let’s be honest – half of the cost is the hamper itself. So instead of a Christmas hamper, can you buy a Christmas voucher instead?
All these things are little things that can be done to make sure that what you’re trying to do has as much relevance as possible in the current climate. It will show an element of empathy and understanding with your workforce. They might only have a short-term impact, but the long-term impact is that your employees believe you understand the challenges they’re going through.
There are, of course, grand gestures you can do, whether that be bringing planned pay increases forward or providing a no strings attached bonus. Often the grand gestures are unviable for all businesses so each business needs to think about what’s achievable. Even if those grand gestures are achievable for your business, it’s still important to make the smaller gestures too, because those grand gestures often get forgotten a few months down the line. It’s about the perception that people understand that you genuinely understand the challenges that they’re going through.
There absolutely is a link between financial wellbeing and mental health, and the more that employers can put in place to support people’s mental health, the better but it isn’t quite as simple as saying “I know that there is a cost of living crisis out there that’s going to be impacting peoples mental health, therefore here you go here’s a counselling service that you can contact”. It’s actually about creating a framework whereby people know that you understand what’s going on and the impact it’s having on people in the wider society and your employees and the impact it has on them. They need to feel that you understand.
For more information about how we can help you and support your employees navigate through the cost of living crisis, visit our SMART Employment page and read more about supporting your employees’ financial wellbeing, emotional wellbeing and physical wellbeing.
Scott Read, CEO of Employee Services at Growth Partners
Scott Read is a results-driven business leader with a proven track record in helping employers strategise key business growth through employee engagement.