Monica Kalia, co-founder of Neyber, explains why helping staff cope with financial worries can help reduce stress levels and, consequently improve their performance and well-being at work.
The recent report by the Royal College of Physicians (RCP), entitled Work and wellbeing in the NHS: why staff health matters to patient care, sets out why it is in the best interests of both patients and NHS organisations for the health, wellbeing and engagement of the NHS workforce to be prioritised. It offered a call to action to UK governments, NHS trusts, health boards, commissioners and medical royal colleges to take urgent action on staff health and well-being in the interest of patients, staff and services.
One area impacting staff well-being that has long been neglected is financial wellbeing. We know that when stress levels become dangerously high our immunity is reduced and our ability to achieve tasks successfully becomes impaired. Consequently, stressed staff will not be as engaged. We know that a significant proportion of NHS staff are experiencing stress in some form or other with a direct effect on their performance and behaviour, but how much of this stress is down to poor financial well-being?
The financial crisis, and the consequent austerity cost control and pay restraints, have contributed to stress levels and to the numbers of staff reporting financial difficulties nearly doubling in the decade to 2013/2014. At Neyber we recently conducted large-scale research with over 12,000 respondents and an analysis of the ‘Understanding Society’ longitudinal survey of 40,000 UK households with the Social Market Foundation, which showed that the resulting low financial capability and resilience that many staff have is a significant cause of the high stress levels across the UK. Our forthcoming research will also reveal that around 7 in 10 workers in health care suffer from financial worries.
This means that staff are borrowing more to cope with static pay levels and rising living costs by putting into place short-term solutions when cash is scarce. Levels of debts are rising as staff rack up credit card debts or take out payday loans with scandalous rates of interest.
This is having a profound impact on workplaces. Concerns about their financial situation have made staff feel worried (67%), lose sleep (29%), feel depressed (23%), affected their ability to concentrate on their jobs (30%) and caused them to miss work (6%).
Absent staff are not productive at all and the effects on morale and workload for other staff members can reduce their productivity too. Staff who have made it into work with little sleep, or with a physical illness of which stress is an underlying factor, can at best show low levels of engagement and at worst have a potentially detrimental impact on the health, safety and wellbeing of themselves, their colleagues and patients.
There are many causes of stress and unfortunately the major taboo that surrounds talking about money worries means stress can silently grow in organisations.
The irony here is that personal finances are fundamental to employer-employee relationships. For most of us, our employer is our main or only source of income. And this is one area in which every employer, regardless of size, could potentially reduce stress and improve engagement. This doesn’t mean increasing wages, but rather using simple solutions to encourage financial mindfulness in staff by helping them to learn health financial behaviours, build financial resilience and ultimately turn borrowers into savers.
Talking about debt and teaching staff about sustainable finances will help. As will highlighting the sometimes exorbitant charges for credit that are made to working people, and consequent heavy load of financial anxiety on their shoulders. Offering staff benefits from new providers such as Neyber, which provide affordable savings and credit products that use the bond of trust between employee and employer, can provide a solution.