The current economic crisis has seen many people turn to their careers to try and offset some of their financial difficulties. We asked Mental Health First Aid England what employers can do to help
Britain is facing the highest rate of inflation since the 1980s and, whilst we’ve seen promises of energy price caps and ‘levelling up’, there is still a great deal of uncertainty among us. As the cost of living rises, many people are being forced to consider changing their careers, upping their hours, or even getting a second job to try and offset some of the financial difficulties they may be experiencing.
With this in mind, we reached out to Simon Blake OBE, Chief Executive of Mental Health First Aid England, to ask what employers can do to support their employees’ financial wellbeing.
What steps can employers take to support employees’ financial wellbeing?
As an employer, it is important to remove the stigma regarding financial issues so that employees do not suffer in silence and can access the support available to them. Research from a Wealth at Work survey found that 14% of UK adults say that financial worries make them feel embarrassed, rising to 23% of 18 to 34-year-olds.
As a nation, we might not feel terribly comfortable talking about our finances but, if we remove the stigma of talking about financial insecurities and worries, we can start to create plans to alleviate financial concerns and promote mental wellbeing. Here are a few top tips on how to remove the stigma of mental health in the workplace:
1. Deploying Mental Health First Aiders (MHFAiders®) in the workplace
The role of a MHFAider® is to be a point of contact for an employee who is experiencing a mental health issue or emotional distress. The MHFA course teaches people how to spot the early signs of poor mental health, including the warning signs of common mental health crises.
Research from The Royal College of Psychiatrists shows one in two adults with debt experience mental health issues, and over 100,000 people in England every year attempt to take their own life whilst struggling with debt. MHFAiders are trained on how to approach the person, listen and communicate non-judgmentally and then signpost to relevant support. This interaction could range from having an initial conversation to supporting the person to get appropriate help.
2. Focus on flexibility
There are individual and business benefits to some face-to-face interaction and, whilst at MHFA England I am keen for my teams to be in the office once a month for our all-staff meeting, I am also aware of the cost of travel. Keeping mandated office days to a minimum and providing lunch for everyone, I hope goes some way to mitigating some of the costs. We also have a policy of flexi or condensed hours which can help our employees avoid peak travel costs.
3. Keep connected
Creating opportunities to bring people together and boost morale will be important over the coming months. Proactively creating moments of celebration and joy at work as well as reminding employees that they have a strong team structure in place can help people through challenging times.
Be – and encourage all employees to be – considerate with your social planning. Activities can sometimes be expensive, and people may feel unable to participate. Introducing a mix of social options including virtual and affordable activities can allow more staff to feel included while not adding an additional call on their finances.
How can employers start difficult conversations about money/budgeting?
Societal norms mean many people are uncomfortable discussing money worries. 68% would not want to discuss finances with their employer for fear of shame, embarrassment or even discrimination.
Positive and open cultures are developed from the top down. As senior leaders, we can lead from the front by showing that we understand that finances are increasingly tight and a significant number of people in most organisations may find it difficult to manage.
We must also remember that soaring costs will exacerbate existing economic and social inequalities, and some groups within your workforce will be impacted more than others. We can helpfully encourage people to access the support available to them whether that be from a line manager, your Employee Assistance Programme or other people in your organisation.
How can employers support their employees to feel more financially confident?
Organisations should take stock and make sure that everyone is aware of all the benefits already on offer, for example, any season ticket loan, salary sacrifice options, or ‘cycle to work’ schemes. Make sure employees know they exist and how to make the most of them.
As employers, we should ensure that our wellbeing strategies reflect the relationship between financial wellbeing and mental wellbeing. As part of the support we offer our employees, we recently facilitated an online discussion to help our employees understand the different options available to navigate the cost-of-living crisis. We wanted to ensure that people knew that we recognise things may be tough in the months ahead and that they felt supported.
Speaking to your employer or employees about financial situations can feel somewhat taboo. The truth is, the cost of living crisis is likely to have an impact on all of us in some way or another. So, if you’re finding that it’s affecting you, your family, or your work, it’s important to speak to your employer about what support they can offer you. If you don’t feel you can confide in them, try having a conversation with HR or a close colleague instead.
This month, MHFA England launches its new MHFA course, which is the only licensed internationally accredited, evidence-based MHFA course in England. It has been re-developed through an inclusive lens – promoting equity and understanding around mental health. If you’d like to find out more about training MHFAiders for your organisation, visit MHFA England.
Read more about MHFA England’s latest course.