“Being in debt is an awful feeling, one of regret and shame.” – StepChange
While relationships are important, one key relationship that we often fail to identify is the one we have with money. Being financially well is about more than owning the most, or the biggest, or the best – it’s about a general sense of ease, and comfort around our wider financial situation. Security. Autonomy. Choice.
But what about when things go wrong?
We are living through an unprecedented climate of fear around money: having enough, or even in some cases – having any at all. Global catastrophes on the back of the pandemic have led to an exponential rise in financial difficulties for many families. Financial difficulty does not just refer to those in poverty; it refers to a consistency around having to worry about money, and making ends meet. According to the Money & Pensions Service, 24 million adults in the United Kingdom don’t feel satisfied with their financial management. Further to this, 1.5 million people experience mental health issues and financial difficulties at the same time (Ref money & Mental Health), with 46 percent reporting that their mental health issues are due to debt struggles directly. Astonishingly, 50 percent of people in the UK report that life for them is financially tough, and 54 percent feel they lack the financial resources to handle unexpected expenses. No wonder then, that many people feel stressed about money and finances.
Stress happens when we become overwhelmed by pressure, and demand upon us is too great to reconcile with – either on a long-term or short-term basis. Preceding events can be positive or negative; any sort of life change prompts a need to alter current coping strategies, or build new ones. Be it a work change, a wedding, a bereavement – or longer-term changes such as saving for retirement, or becoming a parent. Debt and financial burden, both short-term and long-term, can also be a major stressor, and a prominent source of anxiety for some people. In fact, this problem is so prevalent, that it is even seen as a major contributing factor in suicidal ideation. In England alone, around 100,000 people per year consider taking their own lives because of living in debt – and this is just the data that is reported or known of.
The relationship between money and mental health runs both ways. To put it simply, our mental health – which at times is better and other times worse – can impact our financial life. Equally, when our finances suffer, it can have a detrimental impact on our mental health. If we’re stressed, anxious or depressed around other circumstances that are happening for us, spending can increase as part of the high of reward, and we may be more prone to avoiding taking proactive, responsible steps to money management. Our motivation to stay on top can falter, and we become stuck in a negative cycle which feeds in to our mood and ultimately worsens the financial situation. Beyond this, certain financial situations can create a sense of anxiety in the face of threat, and danger; debts and bills adding up can contribute to this, and the impact may also be that we end up avoiding opening emails and letters. Ultimately, this avoidance may lead to not being able to pay for basic amenities: food and energy bills, for example. As this situation deepens, so too can a sense of isolation and loneliness.
A plethora of emotions are connected to stress around finances: fear, guilt, anger, and shame to name a few. Change begins with awareness of how we feel, and that might include drilling back and asking ourselves what is really going on for us. Imagine the scene: the letters on the table unopened, the unread email about the overdue account – we’re feeling anxious, but why, and what about? These are key questions to ask ourselves in order to help find how we are really feeling. Alongside these, some key considerations are:
- When am I more likely to spend money? How does it feel when I spend money?
- What is the difference in how I feel when I am more likely to save money than spend money?
- What feelings do I have when I think about money?
- What are the things that make me feel worse about dealing with money?
- What makes me feel good or more in control when I deal with money?
It may be useful to record our findings via journaling, which can help us to track, monitor, and become aware of our patterns with mind, mood, and money. This can be hard at first but can take on a form that we feel comfortable with to help us to engage.
Money and work are inextricably linked, and financial stress and its impact on employee mental health can be seen in employees’ approach in the workplace. An employee who is presenting as tired, stressed, unproductive, late, and so on may be experiencing some type of difficulty in any regard. But it is not just the obvious signs that are tell-tale ones. An employee that is signing up for overtime, or working a second role, may be overworking in order to stay ahead of their finances. While there may not be anything wrong productivity wise, or even any obvious signs that there is anything wrong, it might be useful to monitor these types of behaviors and foster a supportive approach to finding out what might be going on. Here, there are a few key themes for employers to take into consideration:
1) Open communication invites conversation
Some people find it easier or harder to communicate with workplace channels or even any relational channel or avenue of support. Employers should harness an approach of not being responsible for, but responsible to, their employees. We can’t make someone talk – but we can certainly create the opportunity to do so. Scheduled line managements ensure that employees are getting the right amount of face-time with their manager – not to micromanage – but in order to facilitate both parties staying involved, attuned, and up to date. If isolation is part of experiencing financial stress, being included in what is happening at the company can go a long way to capture any behavior at work that operates towards financial stress, such as taking on too much overtime. Trainings and education in mental health, and opportunities to learn all around, can be beneficial. Awareness is key, and may help managers be able to have these types of conversations with their employees. This is perhaps the next step in fostering an environment of wellness at work, given that 85 percent of employees link their own sense of wellbeing directly to workplace culture.
2) Clear Signposting
Stress happens when we’re not looking. And when we’re not looking where finances are concerned, we are usually burying our heads in the sand. This avoidance goes hand-in-hand with simply not knowing what the right channels or avenues of support are, and so there is great value in the simple science of signposting.
Signposting employees to where they can go for help can go a long way to leveraging the right support. The message could be simple, and rolled out in one centralized place (e.g. a company intranet) for a consolidated resource hub. These can be both internal and external, local and national. Letting employees know where they can access practical and emotional support is a good start, whether this is via a wellbeing program or other means. Often overlooked, the power of signposting is the power of enabling. When it comes to internal signposting – let employees know clearly what is available through their employee benefits in terms of life insurance, critical illness cover, or relief funds for example.
3) Training Opportunities
Aside from psychoeducation and mental health training in the workplace, there may be a place for practical, financial education also. Simple workshop events held once per month around managing money and finances, growing money, debt education and more, can present an opportunity for employees to engage in their own time and of their own volition. This could be external or again internal – with a sub-purpose of signposting to internal resources, which can provide employees an opportunity to feel valued, respected, and cared for – and in turn may support retention, loyalty, and healthy coping.
Financial wellbeing is part of our daily lives – we cannot ignore this fact. And while money and resources and how we acquire, grow, and use these is down to us, there are things we can all do to help each other to learn about money management. We spend most of our day at work. So, doesn’t it make sense to give our teams, employees, and colleagues a hand up? It just might be, in essence, a good financial decision to do so.