Financial stress causing a quarter of employees to experience brain fog and make mistakes, study finds

Commentators urge businesses to recognise the warning signs while calling for increased investment in employee wellbeing

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Financial stress is having a direct impact on workplace anxiety and productivity, causing a quarter (27 per cent) of employees to experience brain fog and make more mistakes at work, data has shown.  

According to an Unmind study, which polled 2,000 UK adults, a third (33 per cent) believe the crisis is harming their ability to focus at work. 

The data also found that more than half (53 per cent) of respondents indicated that the mortgage rates and cost of living crisis were negatively influencing their ability to do their jobs as normal. 

Lisa Seagroatt, founder and managing director of HR Fit for Purpose, said external issues were impacting significantly on many people’s productivity and this “worry” did not just “switch off when you step through the door of your workplace. Line managers need to be vigilant, especially at the moment in terms of recognising the outward signs of stress and anxiety among their teams,” she said, adding that stress “manifests” in many formats. 

Seagroatt advised employers and line managers to implement an “open-door policy” as the standard operating procedure to help ensure that their employees feel comfortable approaching them if they need support. 

The Unmind survey also found that many respondents felt financial stress was harming their capacity to care for their mental (39 per cent) and physical (31 per cent) health, with some appealing to their employers for support. However, 20 per cent of those polled said their company gave them a cost of living bonus. 

But despite this, 42 per cent said their employers had not assisted in dealing with the ongoing problems caused by rising housing costs and mortgage interest rates, while only 16 per cent had access to online mental health resources and only 14 per cent were aware of the existence of employee assistance programmes.

According to Steve Herbert, wellbeing and benefits director at Partners&, poor financial wellbeing among employees can have a significant impact on the employer’s productivity. As a result, the “onus is therefore on the employer to do what they can to support their workforce through these challenges”, he said. 

Herbert added that employer support may take various forms and that, while one-time cost of living payments and salary awards were welcome, “they of course come with a hefty price tag for still hard-pressed companies to absorb so increasingly employers are looking for other lower-cost support options”. 

As such, he explained that retail discount schemes, directing employees to objective and comprehensive self-help tools such as financial education services and making minor changes to workplace policies were all low-cost but potentially "high-impact options" that employers can practically offer to assist their employees during these "challenging financial times". 

Meanwhile, a Zellis survey, which polled 2,502 non-managerial workers, found that three quarters (77 per cent) of workers in the UK and Ireland had experienced financial stress in the past 12 months. 

The survey also revealed that three quarters (76 per cent) of respondents who had experienced financial stress could identify at least one instance in which financial problems were having a negative impact at work. These included: 

  • Employees losing sleep over financial stress, leading to them being tired at work (45 per cent)
  • Lacking focus and concentration in the workplace (33 per cent)
  • Becoming more error-prone (17 per cent)
  • Being less able to communicate effectively (14 per cent) 

Gethin Nadin, chief innovation officer at Zellis, said performance was important to wellbeing since being “successful” at work gives employees a sense of purpose and belonging. “With financial worries clearly impacting workers across the UK, it’s more critical than ever for business leaders to start thinking of investment in wellbeing, not as an insurance against people falling ill in the future, but as a means to drive greater performance and productivity today,” he said.