Mental health and money – and how employers can help

Mental health and money and how employers can help

It will hardly come as a surprise to any employer that times are pretty tough for people right now. With the cost-of-living continuing to soar, employees at all levels of your organisation will be worrying about money…

While health and wellbeing rose to the top of benefits wish-lists during Covid-19, in its aftermath financial wellbeing could well be the next big HR frontier – and the two are intrinsically linked.

The scale of the problem

The CIPD estimates that one in eight workers in the UK were already living in poverty before the current cost-of-living crisis hit. And according to the Office of National Statistics, by the Spring of 2022 around 3 in 4 adults (77%) reported feeling very or somewhat worried about the cost of living.

At Equipsme we’ve also seen the cost-of-living crisis reflected in the calls coming into our stress support line - an add-on service provided by our partners Health Assured. Between July 2021 and July 2022 there was a whopping 82% increase in financial-related calls.

The link between money and mental health

The link between money and mental health goes both ways, according to Mind. Your finances can impact your mental health, and your mental health can impact how you deal with your finances.

For some people, money worries can become so acute they start to seriously impact their mental health – and their work. In fact 1 in 4 told CIPD money worries already affected their ability to do their job. Not being able to cover essentials, being cold and hungry and constantly worried and afraid for the future are clearly going to affect someone’s performance.

Meanwhile, for those who already have mental health problems, the challenge of managing money can be even tougher. Often your ability to earn it is impeded in the first place, while mania can lead to overspending, and depression to avoidance – being literally unable to open bills or check finances.

The Money and Mental Health Policy Institute estimate that in England alone more than 1.5 million people experience both problem debt and mental health problems. And 100,000 people in England every year attempt to take their own life whilst struggling with debt.

The cost of mental ill health

We know that mental ill health – whatever the root cause or trigger – doesn’t just cost individuals and families – it costs businesses, too. It was responsible for nearly 10% of sickness absences in 2021, costing something like £8 billion annually. Someone taking time off for mental ill-health takes an average of 25.8 days a year out of the workplace.

Clearly it’s very much the business of businesses to support mental wellbeing - and to support financial wellbeing as something that can impact it so profoundly.

What can businesses do to help?

Well, paying fair wages is a good start - but there’s also a lot that can be done in workplaces which goes beyond direct remuneration. Here’s 5 ways to start helping today:

  1. Be aware

Understanding that financial pressures are going to impact your workforce – and the productivity of individuals within it – is the first vital step. People struggling at home WILL struggle at work. Training for line managers is key in spotting those who might need extra support – and key to tailoring your interventions for your particular workforce.

  1. Make it a policy

Those line managers need something to work with, so if you don’t have a financial wellbeing policy, now’s the time to create one - and this CIPD guide is a great place to begin.

  1. Reduce the stigma

Talking about financial issues at work needs to be normalised – particularly right now. That could involve financial education – for instance detailing government support schemes on your intranet, posters on toilet doors about debt, introducing your financial wellbeing policy in employee newsletters - or running full financial wellbeing workshops.

  1. Signpost

Get people to the right place for further help. Whether it’s general advice, debt counselling or top saving tips and pension tricks, make it easy for people to get to the right place and people to help them do something practical to do about their situation.

Step Change
Citizens Advice
National debt line
Money Saving Expert
Money and pensions service

  1. Support

Where salary increases aren’t possible, there may be other strategies you can employ – from overtime opportunities to helping people make informed choices about their pension contributions, advanced pay-cheques to cover large unexpected costs - or changes to how often expenses are reimbursed.

It’s also time to remind your people about the other benefits you provide – and encourage take-up and use.

That includes for things like Equipsme’s stress support line. It’s an add-on that more than 33% of businesses choose to take out with us, and it has around 7% utilisation. When the average use may be as low as 1-2% on other embedded products, that’s a pretty good endorsement of how useful it’s proven to be for Equipsme members already.

Find out more about how the service works here.