Half of employers afraid to approach staff about financial wellbeing, research finds

Experts warn that lack of clarity over rules is deterring organisations from giving advice, despite consensus on the importance of financial guidance

Nearly half (45 per cent) of employers worry that approaching employees over their financial wellbeing would be an intrusion, a study has revealed.

The survey of more than 2,000 UK employees and 500 HR decision-makers – conducted by YouGov and pension firm Aegon – also found nearly eight out of 10 employers (77 per cent) were unaware of the difference between financial guidance and ‘advice’ that should only be offered by a regulated adviser.

This is despite half of employers (51 per cent) believing a lack of employee financial wellbeing, including concerns over long-term saving, retirement plans, budgeting, debt and living costs, was an issue for their business.

Almost two-thirds (60 per cent) of respondents believed greater financial wellbeing among their employees would boost productivity in their workplace.

David Price, CEO of Employee Assistance Programme and wellbeing network Health Assured told People Management financial difficulties could not always be easy to spot among staff, but employers should still be ready to confidentially address issues if they suspect an employee is struggling. 

“A private, informal discussion will allow affected individuals the opportunity to explain their situation and let you know about any problems they are experiencing,” he said.

“During these conversations, keep in mind that employees may feel embarrassed, or worried that their financial struggles may impact their job prospects. Therefore, it is important to remain considerate and reassuring.”

Nathan Long, senior pensions analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown said the majority of employers were aware of the importance of financial wellbeing, but agreed that many could be deterred by lack of clarity around separating guidance and advice.

“The boundary between guidance and advice is not particularly clear, despite the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) doing a lot of work to try and clarify what is okay, and what is not,” he told People Management. He added employers not working in the financial services industry were far more likely to be unaware of where the line falls. 

Where there was concern over how to approach staff members with financial support, Long said employers needed to be sensitive. “If you’re going to offer something that is really helpful to people, they will thank you for it.

“While many employers may harbour genuine concerns that drive them to ignore financial wellbeing, or worry about whether they are approaching their team in ‘the wrong way’, actually it’s about how they can help them,” he said. 

Money worries were named as a problem by more than two-thirds (69 per cent) of survey respondents, with 64 per cent saying face-to-face counselling and support around debt management would be helpful for their financial wellbeing. 

Aegon called for a shift in mindset to treat financial wellbeing as being just as important as traditional physical and mental wellbeing, with pensions director Steve Cameron warning poor financial wellbeing negatively impacted individuals and businesses alike. 

“Poor financial wellbeing is not only stressful for individuals – it’s costing employers millions of working days a year and billions to the economy,” he warned.  

“Clearly, companies want to do more to provide the help their employees need. We need to start a ‘win win’ conversation about this issue so employees know where they can receive support, and employers feel empowered to give it.”