FINANCE

Helping employees navigate in the sea of financial change

Helping employees navigate in the sea of financial change

Debra Corey, Reward Gateway advisor and best-selling author 

One of my all-time favourite places to visit is the seaside. Sitting on the beach watching the waves gently come to shore can be both relaxing and cathartic. That is until the waves become violent, pounding the shoreline and destroying anything and everything in their path.

I tell you this because it’s a perfect metaphor for the situation faced by many of our employees as they ward off the waves of financial change and uncertainty. In fact, according to a report by Reward Gateway, 71% of UK workers are battling these waves, saying that they’ve felt stress or financial strain in the last five years. And why not, as the financial landscape they’re navigating in is one of personal debt, high interest and even bankruptcy.

And it’s not just employees, employers have their own waves challenging them. With 25% of employees admitting that financial worries have an impact on their productivity (Source: Consumer Financial Protection Bureau), and 45 million working days being lost in the UK due to stress, anxiety and depression (Source: Labour Force Survey), it has a direct hit on the company’s profitability.

It’s time that companies address these problems head on, throwing life vests to employees to help them navigate in these choppy and challenging waves and times.

Here are three ways that companies can do this:

  1. Boost your employee’s Financial IQ

According to Jasmine Birtles, Financial Expert & Founder of MoneyMagpie.com, “A lack of financial knowledge, and the problems this causes in terms of debt, lack of savings and chaotic home lives can (and usually does) impact employee performance at work.”

For this reason, helping your employees boost their financial IQ is the first step in helping your employees with their financial worries. Here are a few I’d suggest:

  • Point employees to free money advice sites
    There are loads of free money advice sites online which you can share with your employees. Here are some of the best ones according to Jasmine:
    The Money Advice Service, which has information on all aspects of spending, saving and investing,
    MoneyMagpie, which has information on how to make money on the side as well as saving it and
    MoneySavingExpert, which is full of helpful advice and forums on ways to save money.
  • Set up money management classes
    Various organisations offer money management training, including debt clinics, which can be offered to your employees either in person or online. Some of these include:
    The Money Charity, who run courses in companies and schools,
    Christians Against Poverty (CAP), who run a free online course in budgeting and money management, and
    Jasmine Birtles from MoneyMagpie, who runs a “How to be rich without really trying” money management workshop in companies and at conferences.
  • Set up one-to-one meetings for employees with a local, trusted financial advisor or planner
    Bringing in a financial advisor or planner to meet with employees on a one-to-one basis can be extremely helpful, giving them the opportunity to ask their individual questions. And the good news is that financial advisors offer a free initial meeting to new potential clients, so this doesn’t have to cost anything. Future sessions will cost, so it’s up to you whether you want to pay for this or pass the cost onto your employees. Make sure the advisor is fully independent and isn’t tied to any financial institution, able to offer products from the whole market. If you don’t have any local recommendations try
    co.uk.
  1. Raise awareness of tax benefits and credits

Almost half of families on low incomes aren’t taking up the benefits they could be entitled to according to research by the charity Turn2Us. Some families don’t understand they’re eligible and a quarter of disabled people think it’s going to be too difficult for them to claim support. In fact, £13 billion in benefits go unclaimed each year.

By raising awareness with your employees of these tax benefits and credits, you can help them understand their entitlements, and navigate through the often complex system. This can be done by sharing with employees links to key pieces of information. Some of this includes:

  • A list of potential benefits and credits which employees can get is on the
    uk website.
  • benefits calculator to help employees work out which of the benefits and tax credits they could be entitled to.
  • Information on where to claim benefits. The first port of call depends on the benefits you’re applying for: For Tax Credits, start with HMRC. Their
    website has contact numbers and email addresses. For Housing Benefit and Council Tax Support, they need to visit their local Council (click on this
    link to find a list of Council offices. And for the majority of the rest of them it’s best to try the Department of Work and Pensions, or call the DWP on 0800 731 0469.
  1. Provide benefits to stretch disposable income

Last, but certainly not least, is to provide benefits that will help stretch your employee’s disposable income. Ask yourself, beyond a pay rise, what can I do to help my employees ease their financial worries and stretch their money further?

The good news is that there are options that don’t cost that much, so you can help your employees in a cost effective and yet impactful way. Here are a few ideas I’ve used over the years:

  • Employee discount programmes
    This is a hugely popular benefit as it helps employees save money each and every day. By providing vouchers, instant discounts and cashback at hundreds of top retailers, employees can save on their monthly spending habits, stretching their disposal income.
  • Salary sacrifice benefits
    Another way for employees to save money, this time through tax savings, is with salary sacrifice benefits. Although there have been significant changes to them over the years, there are still significant savings to be made. The most common are pension salary sacrifice arrangements and Cycle to Work schemes, which if you aren’t offering already, should be considered as they save both the company and employees money through tax savings.
  • Free or subsidised food
    According to Forbes magazine, this is one of the biggest general perks which employees like to have, and who can blame them — we all like to eat and drink! Depending on your budget, there are a variety of ways you can offer your staff more than a free tea or coffee in the morning. Ideas could include a monthly breakfast club, free lunches, meals for staff meetings or subsidising healthy food as part of a wellbeing initiative.
  • Flexible working arrangements
    Flexible working can be worth thousands of pounds to employees as it helps them save on travel costs, save personal energy by not travelling and often manage to get more work done as they don’t have the usual office distractions. It can also save the company money in terms of space, utilities and other ‘people’ expenses to have employees working from home one or more days a week.
  • Offer additional paid leave
    Many companies are responding to an employee’s need to take paid time off other than holidays. These help employees save money as they don’t have to hire someone else to take care of loved ones or have to take unpaid time off themselves, and also sends a message to employees that their company is there to truly support them.
  • Help with season tickets
    A season ticket is by far the cheapest way to travel, but it can be a huge upfront cost. Offer employees a cheap, or interest-free, season ticket loan which they pay back over 10-12 months.

I hope this has provided you with tips and tools to help you help your employees get through these tough financial times. And remember that every life vest you throw out to them, whether it’s through education or putting more money back in their wallets, will not only benefit your employees, but will come back to your company in the form of improved performance and productivity.

Keep in mind that as Robert Hicks, Group HR Director at Reward Gateway says, “When you help your employees in this area in meaningful and tangible ways, you are helping them outside of work – and that is something that your employees really appreciate.”

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