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Jul 7, 2020

“Leave your problems at the door” used to be a common expression in U.K work culture. However, the idea that it’s possible for employees to completely separate their personal from their professional life seems outdated and fairly unreasonable.

Ideally, employees should feel supported by their employer when things go wrong in their personal lives. This would improve their wellbeing and consequently lead to higher performance levels, fewer sick days, and lower staff turnover. 

One area in which many employees need support is debt. In 2019, a survey of 2,000 people found that 17% of employees had recently called a debt helpline and 16% had consulted a doctor about their financial situation. Anxiety about money is even more prevalent among younger employees, according to a survey that found that 35% of 16- to 35-year-olds felt their financial worries affected their work. 

What’s more, with so many workers heading into debt (more than half of the U.K. population), you’re highly likely to encounter employees who are struggling. Particularly as an HR professional, you owe it to your people and to your organization to help employees going through financial hardship. Here are some helpful tips on getting started.

1. Be Approachable

In the United Kingdom, many consider debt to be a taboo topic, so it can be hard to open up to close family and friends about your struggles, let alone someone at work. However, you can put measures in place that help employees feel more comfortable having a conversation about debt.

For example, your HR department could send company emails reminding employees that debt is nothing to be ashamed of and that there is professional help available. Your company could also get involved in events such as Talk Money, an initiative that helps tackle the money taboo by encouraging thousands of organizations to start a conversation with employees and customers around finances.  

2. Incorporate Budgeting in Training 

Most people have never been taught how to budget. Having some formal budgeting training for new employees could bring a multitude of benefits for them and your organization. Teaching some budgeting skills is a great preventative strategy against employees falling into debt. It also shows people that you care about their wider financial wellbeing and will make them feel it’s OK to ask for help. 

3. Leverage EAPs

Employee assistance programs are a great way to support workers who are struggling with debt. This confidential service enables your company to help your staff with personal problems that are impacting performance, wellbeing, mental, and physical health. EAPs include — but are not limited to — mental health issues, financial advice, legal advice, and gambling help.

Not only does an EPA help with budgeting and give financial advice, but it may also help people with wider problems that are contributing to their debt. By offering this benefit to employees, you are creating a culture of support and a true commitment to practical solutions for personal problems. 

4. Pay a Fair Wage 

Compensating employees fairly sounds obvious, and all employers should be doing this regardless of whether staff are struggling with debt. While no law mandates that employees should get a pay increase every year, failing to give raises regularly means that workers’ wages are going down in real terms.

Therefore, it’s good practice to increase employees’ wages with the rate of inflation. Paying a livable wage, rather than just minimum wage, also shows responsibility when supporting financial wellbeing.  

5. Ensure Confidentiality 

HR staff should be trained in confidentiality surrounding debt. Employees need to have complete confidence that their issues will remain private if they decide to get help from their employer. This will build trust between you and employees. People may be stressed, angry, or anxious about their situation. Discussing this with trained staff who know how to deal with these situations can help employees feel much more supported.

Ultimately, HR is all about developing the people in an organization. To do this effectively, it’s vital to support people when they are in a crisis — even when it concerns a topic that people are not comfortable discussing openly. Especially at such moments. 

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