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Workplaces - an airbag for your financial and mental health?

As the cost of living continues to tighten its grip, many of us are seeking out more safety and security in our daily lives. In the face of rising bills and food prices, housing shortages and long waiting lists for NHS treatment, knowing that our workplaces have our financial and mental health at heart can bring invaluable reassurance. It can support and empower us when taking on other unexpected life events as they come along.

It is well understood that financial stresses and mental health are intertwined, and we can find ourselves in a vicious cycle with one feeding the other. According to one of Mental Health Foundation’s (MHF) latest surveys, 73% of UK adults had felt anxious in the previous two weeks, with 32% saying this was due to worries over being able to afford their bills. Specifically during the ongoing rise in the cost of living, MHF reports that UK adults are struggling to carry on doing things that are beneficial to their mental health, with 23% seeing friends less and 30% having less sleep.

On top of our financial stresses, we’re also spending far more time at work which is adding to our stress load. With the TUC reporting that UK workers put in £26 billion worth of unpaid overtime over the past year, and over a third of workers are spending more time outside of their contracted hours on work-related tasks, it is no wonder that 38% of us are feeling more stressed at work than before. It is also therefore no surprise that a well-being programme in the workplace is now the highest-demanded workplace benefit with 48% of workers requesting it.

New Possible’s recent 2023 What Workers Want survey found that 40% of UK workers are likely to seek a new job during the next 12 months, with “unhealthy culture, poor leadership, and pay dissatisfaction” being the key drivers of their desire to change their workplace. 34% of surveyed workers said they felt that their well-being had declined over the last year.

Therefore it is now more crucial than ever for workplaces to take up the mantle in supporting our financial and mental well-being.

Many workplaces are paving the way in supporting both their customers’ and workers’ financial and mental health, from gastronomy and digital agencies to energy and insurance providers. PwC has reported that more than 8 in 10 employers from large UK businesses are taking action to support their staff against the increasing cost of living, from direct financial support such as focussed pay increases, to benefits-in-kind such as well-being programmes.

Employment Hero has collated a list of organisations at the forefront of wellness in the workplace. For financial and mental well-being benefits, these include a 24-hour confidential counselling helpline, access to a financial coach to support workers with their financial well-being, and training their managers in mental health. Other popular well-being benefits include having pets in the office, free healthy snacks, weekly team workouts and even free monthly food delivery.

At ALA, supporting our workers’ and customers’ mental health and well-being is fundamental to our workplace culture and service. We offer workers on-demand counselling sessions through Spill’s platform and have a designated workplace mental health first aider, as well as an elected “head of fun” to enhance workplace engagement, experience and morale. For our customers, we offer free counselling sessions if they have had to make a claim on their GAP policy. Speaking directly with many customers every day, some of the conversations that impact us the most are where clients have been deeply affected by an accident or theft. We therefore wanted to be proactive in supporting those who might be struggling.

Of course, many workplaces cannot afford to provide all of these benefits, and employers will always have to consider what benefits they realistically can offer, especially if they have already implemented enhanced policies for family-friendly leave and pay, for example. But as New Possible reports, workplace culture is high on workers’ list of priorities, with good colleagues, fulfilling work and a healthy work culture having a high impact on whether they stay where they are. These are not costly extras but workplace essentials.

With two thirds of workers who receive wellness benefits saying that they feel happy and secure in their job, as opposed to only one third of workers who don’t have access to these benefits, clearly well-being is not only crucial for the worker but should be integral to any workplace benefits programme.