HR Means Business 15: HR’s Role in Promoting Financial Wellness and Reducing Money Stigma
Host: Mervyn Dinnen
Guest: Jamie Lawrence, Head of Marketing at Bippit
In this episode Mervyn talks to Jamie Lawrence from financial software specialists Bippit, about their latest research into the stigma around Financial Wellbeing in the workplace and how HR leaders can help.
– Why is there ‘money stigma’ in the workplace with more than half of employees not feeling comfortable sharing financial concerns at work?
– What strategies can HR adopt to address money stigma in the workplace?
– How can organisations support employees who have financial difficulties?
– Importance of messaging around financial support in the workplace
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Mervyn Dinnen 0:16
Hello, and welcome to the HR Means Business podcast, which is part of the HR Happy Hour Network. I’m your host, Mervyn Dinnen. And today I want to talk about something that is very important, I think at the moment, which is financial wellbeing. I was involved in some research about a year or so ago around wellbeing in the workplace and what HR teams leaders were prioritizing, and mental well, being emotional well, being intellectual well being all came out as very high priority. financial well being was was slightly lower down. But certainly a lot of what I see and read at the moment tells me that it is rising in importance, as one would expect with the what is happening out there find it financially for companies and obviously our employees. I’ve recently read some research from a company called BIP it. And this has to do with financial well being. The stigma may be in the workplace of employees needing to raise when they have an issue. And I’m delighted to welcome onto the show today, Jamie Lawrence, who has compiled the research at debit, and is going we’re going to have a chat about this. So first, Jamie, would you like to introduce yourself?
Jamie Lawrence 1:33
Yeah, thanks very much, Mervyn. I’m really happy to be here. Thanks, everyone, for tuning in. So I’m Jamie, I work for Bippit. And we provide UK employees with financial coaching alongside a range of tools, including spending analysis and goal tracking. I’ve been in financial wellbeing space, previously at another company, and actually spent five years as managing editor of HR zone, which is one of the largest HR publications online. So I’ve seen the financial well being trend or sort of pillar emerge and become very dominant. And as you alluded to the cost of living crisis, has really propelled it into the organizational space and put it at the forefront of people’s minds over the last year.
Mervyn Dinnen 2:14
So diving into the research, I suppose the first thing I would ask is, what what were the what are the two or three things that really either surprised you or you felt came across as being very, very strong trends at the moment?
Jamie Lawrence 2:30
Yeah, so if I put it into buckets, okay, there are there are two or three key things that came out. Firstly, we found quite strongly that there are personal factors that correlate with how likely a person is to discuss them money concerns at work. And just to provide a bit of context, this research was purely about financial stigma. It’s a big blocker at the moment, there are comparisons with the mental health stigma. But as a general rule across the UK, you know, people people don’t like talking about money. And we really wanted to dig into why that was because it puts constraints on how we can improve financial wellbeing in the workplace. So just coming back, that’s the first finding. So there are clear personal factors on the individual level that correlate with how likely a person is to discuss their money concerns at work. So I’ll give you an example here, the more you worry about money, the less likely you are going to be to want to talk to your employer. So stat 58% of people with money worries don’t tell their employer that rises to 80%. For those who worry every day about money. And this factor, worrying daily about money didn’t only affect that core stat, which is how likely you are to talk about money at work, it affected related ones. So for example, of those who worry about money every day, twice, as many of them say there’s no one they can talk to about money compared to those who worry across other frequencies. This is one example of how there are personal factors that correlate with how likely a person is to talk about money. Another one here, twice as many women as men aren’t comfortable sharing at work obviously requires deep analysis on that one, as a first bucket. The second one is there are organizational factors that correlate with willingness to talk about money at work. So perception of Employer Support. This is this is interesting. We found 16% of employees who say they don’t get any financial support at work, feel comfortable sharing their money worries for those that do and by do I mean perceive receiving any support 62% of those are comfortable sharing money whereas and I’m very clear him and to say the perception of Employer Support because there’s a mismatch between the level of support being offered when it comes to financial well being in terms of perception by the employer and the organization. And that’s that’s that’s really critical. Yeah, so those two bucks I just got.
Mervyn Dinnen 4:56
I was gonna say is there did you find it A belief may be amongst employees that I suppose there’s two sides of this, they maybe don’t want to admit that they have these issues? Or is it that they don’t feel that their employers are in a position to help them or would be interested in helping them?
Jamie Lawrence 5:15
So that is a great question, because there’s been a big shift in this in the last year. So I’ve been researching in financial wellbeing for a few years. And when I did this last year, I asked that exact question, which is like, what’s the driving force the most, the most critical reason why you’re not sharing money worries at work. And last year, and actually about six months before that I did two studies. The main ones were internally driven. So feelings of shame, feelings of anxiety, fear of being judged those types of things. And that jumped quite significantly. And in this piece, the most common reason for not telling your employer was people did not think that their employer could help, which I found, come back to your original question, which is what was the most surprising result? I find it interesting that in an environment where we can say generally organizational investment, employment, financial well being has jumped employees and not 100%, how their employer can help them. And that’s a driving force between not sharing at work. So there is a disconnect at the moment between employer and employee.
Mervyn Dinnen 6:21
Do you think because if somebody speaks to their employer, it will be seen as they’re effectively asking for a pay rise, I suppose if you go, if you go to a manager or director and say, Listen, I’m really struggling financially at the moment. It looks like you’re just asking for a pay rise, or is it? Is there a way that maybe people can address the fact that almost look, I know, you can’t do much about this at the moment, but I feel I need to talk to someone because it’s beginning to impact the way I perform at work.
Jamie Lawrence 6:54
There’s certainly a fear, I think, amongst some organizations, that this can quickly turn to a compensation conversation. You know, in the majority of the cases, when there’s a direct concern about money, you know, financial stress, it really doesn’t have to, and there are a number of mitigating factors, just sort of things that organizations can do to sort of put in place that support. I think one of the things at play here is organizations have not quite got to the point where they’re comfortable with the signposting role when it comes to financial well being and money resources. On the mental wellbeing side, I think that’s far more established with the sort of level of managerial training out there at the moment, whereas on the organizational side, that relationship is not entrenched at all levels. So it senior leadership at the managerial level in terms of actual sort of content and direction on internal platforms, that type of thing. And I think that feeds into the actual finding around, people aren’t sure how their employee can help, because those are not, you know, fully embedded at the moment. So there’s work to do there. Your point? Yes, I think there is some fear around that for sure. There’s also to be clear fear from the employee side that, you know, they it might be seen as a request for a pay rise. And it’s not, it could be a very specific requests around a very specific problem. But they’re not clear where that conversation will go. And that’s a joint problem, you know, for us to move the dial on this, both sides have got to be clear about where that conversation is going to go. Otherwise you get uncertainty, you get mismatch expectations, and people don’t want to talk.
Mervyn Dinnen 8:39
Do you think this is something that managers feel empowered to discuss with people or I know, you said, for example, the, with the mental well being, and one of the things that, for example, we found in research I was involved in last year was was the concept of Mental Health First Aiders around the business or people who would I suppose identify when they felt somebody needed help or people around the business that employees could go to without raising it with a direct line manager or director? Do you do you think that maybe this might start to happen in businesses as well when it comes to financial well being?
Jamie Lawrence 9:22
I think it absolutely has to that level of support and sort of champions is a common word use, you know, financial wellbeing champions who are trained to spot the signs to understand some of the root causes between money leading into mental health and sort of, you know, connecting that because it’s, I mean, it’s, it’s some survey sites, the root cause, you know, one of the biggest drivers of poor mental well being is poor financial wellbeing. So there’s some root cause work to be done in training into training people, but I think I think it needs to generally I’d say I wrote a piece recently around the differences and the similarities between the sort of mental well being stigma and the financial well being stigma. And one of the key differences is, you know, I don’t think across UK workforces at the moment, we have a shared language around financial well being well, we don’t you know, whereas we’re much more entrenched around the mental wellbeing space of seeing mental wellbeing on a spectrum of understanding how we can talk about our experiences with it, and they not define us. And I think that that sort of shared understanding gives managers a confidence alongside the formal training, I don’t want to I don’t want to say that that’s not, that’s not critical, it is critical. And actually, the shared language is a core part of that. But we we have that with within the within the mental well being pillar, and we don’t in the financial wellbeing pillar. And what that translates says, if somebody comes to you and talks about money, it’s very hard to know what you should do in that signposting role. Because just like the same as mental well being, it’s not your job to solve it as a manager, but you need to redirect it to the most appropriate channels and provide that managerial support. And I just think there’s, there’s a lack of shared understanding and agreement on how we should be doing that in this pillar at the moment.
Mervyn Dinnen 11:16
What role can HR play, obviously, a lot of our listeners work in human resources. They, I mean, we’re talking between you and me about managers, leaders, directors. But how do you think HR can not be the buffer? But I mean, what role can they play in this? And possibly, you know, are they the people who maybe should have the ear to the ground, checking how people are coping? So it might be seen as not as not confrontational? But if you go to a manager or director to say, I’m having problems, then then it’s probably easier to go to somebody in HR and just say, look, things aren’t great at the moment. I don’t want to raise it. But I will I want to talk to somebody.
Jamie Lawrence 12:01
Yeah, I think I think they are in an interesting position, HR can and should be leading the charge on financial well being just like they have on the mental wellbeing angle, I think, you know, the business case for financial well being is very firmly established. Now, there’s lots of stats, lots of models that show the show the return by investing in financial well being. So I think, and my last piece of research, I did show the difference, when you have strategic buy in to your financial well being initiatives, the the output in terms of impact is far more established. So I think, you know, really carrying the flag for financial well being at the highest levels, because there is clear business impact to it. So I think there’s an imperative, there’s a commercial imperative to bring this up at the strategic level. And that’s really important, because, you know, one thing that is very, very important to say is, as with all wellbeing initiatives, there’s the investment in a solution or our platform, or whatever the organization does to do. And then there’s the engagement comes and the adoption. And that’s something I’d like to talk about soon, if that’s okay, because these two things go hand in hand, you can’t have one without the other. If you get strategic buy in for financial well being. It’s much easier to have that continuing investment in engagement, Khan comms, and they are absolutely key to engaging people with financial well being doing those in in in the right way. And I think just just coming back to your question, I think, you know, truly understanding that signposting role and what that could look like when it comes to financial well being. Again, it’s it’s a sort of embryonic space, and that more formal training, but that is coming. It’s something we’re looking at now. And I think there will be more available soon. And I guess, also, you know, having the opportunity with the cost of living crisis, for sure. Although it’s been terrible. It has encouraged people to talk about money and normalized talking about money to an extent, there’s a long way to go. And I think HR have this really strong opportunity now, to piggyback on all the news and all the things happening while people have money at the forefront of of their mind and basically drive forward this financial well being agenda at a time when it is more possible than ever, maybe to drive it forward. And as I alluded to, the business impact is clearly there. So if you can accelerate it, then I think I think now’s the time to do so.
Mervyn Dinnen 14:33
Okay, so you raised the topic of comps. So what would be from what you’ve seen in the research your recommendation for the right approach to take?
Jamie Lawrence 14:44
I think like personalization of engagement, and I’m talking completely generally here, obviously the research is around financial well being. But generally the tailoring of engagement columns is is absolutely critical. Because you know, As I alluded to, for example, twice as many women as men are uncomfortable sharing, sharing at work, what are the unique challenges going on there, you can slice your organization into varying cohorts. And, and all of those if you do the work properly, and it’s it doesn’t have to be hugely in depth, you just need to understand your workforce and what motivates them, you can really get into the motivation of those individual cohorts, or teams on what drives them when it comes to financial well being. And, you know, people aren’t motivated, if you say, save more, save more, save more, it’s just not the way human beings, you know, naturally are, it’s very hard to visualize the future. And so the role of engagement, you know, this is HR as a marketing function, really, you know, the role of engagement is to help individuals visualize the future in a way that’s aligned with their their goals, their hopes, that their dreams, what’s important to them. And that’s the way to get people engaged with some of these core behavior changes that will result in significant improvements in their long term financial well being. Now the best way to do that is to look, you can’t send personalized comms to everyone at work. So you look at well, what are the buckets, the broad buckets that I with my resources with my investment can can can work towards. And then you send us you know, as tailored, personalized sort of content engagement as you can, within that, really trying to tap into people’s people’s people’s motives and motivations within that. And I’m always whenever I talk about this, there’s always a like warning bell in the back of my mind, because it sounds like a huge piece of work. And it really doesn’t have to be, it can be as simple in the firt. In the first stages, tailoring subject lines, if you’re doing an email campaign, or the choice of graphics that you’re that you’re using, but I’d say that this tailored, personalized approach to engaging people with financial well being is what works. And so you have to take steps into it. And if you want higher engagement, if you want people to start, you know, opening up and talking about money, you really need to tap into that motivation start small, you know, but it’s the way to go.
Mervyn Dinnen 17:11
In terms of HRs role, I suppose it’s interesting, because we’re talking about HRs role, I suppose, speaking to the employees and the workers, what would you know, hrs responsibility, maybe if we turn the other way, management leadership, what are the conversations they should be having with them? Maybe there are managers in the business leaders who, who aren’t aware that this is an issue?
Jamie Lawrence 17:36
It’s a really, really interesting point, I’d say, first of all, I always say this first, the thinking that, you know, at the C suite, I know it’s a stereotype. But you know, we’re only interested in data, the number of people who are being affected, you know, after the conversations with quite a lot of HR people, I’d say there’s a real split of personality. And you know, how people are motivated at those higher levels. And I think HR people must have the conversation on various levels, both the data and I’d like to illustrate the data in a minute if that’s alright, just in a way that HR people can, can really think about this. But in terms of, you know, the data generally, across the population, the data for the workforce, specifically, I think surveying your own workforce and coming up with tangible insights into how people are doing is is an important conversation of raising Well, look, these are what our people are struggling with at the moment. And it does differ, the data I’m going to show is generalized and gives an illustration of how a workforce is thinking about money. But you know, all workforce is generally you know, they’re all diverse, but they’ll sometimes due to hiring practices, or like the types of people in there have unique issues. And, you know, raising the financial health of your workforce is really important to board level to sort of put this on the agenda so people understand what their people are going through. And then the personal stories are really, really important. I’ve heard stories of sort of CEOs being moved by individual stories of a person in a unit having X problem and the organization helping them informally change this and the difference it makes, and that’s the business case solved. You know, on the flip side, sometimes it takes it takes more work in terms of like bringing that to life through multiple stories, but a blended approach is is absolutely critical. You know, the data is definitely one side. And I think I said earlier, you know, there’s plenty of data out there on the impact on productivity, lost productivity, focus, even pre pandemic, there was a stat that was pretty well researched. I can’t remember the exact one but it was, you know, over a billion lost each year to businesses from absenteeism and presenteeism from financial stress. That was pre pandemic. That’s a big lesson. You know, the cost of living prices have put this on the agenda has put on the agenda but financial stress was A big problem before it, it always will be. It’s a perennial issue. So shall I just give you this model quickly? If that’s all right, because I think it’s quite relevant just to help on.
Mervyn Dinnen 20:10
Please do, please do. I mean, it’s the I want the listeners to be able to understand as much of, I suppose what you found in the research as possible. So it helps them to, to talk about it in their organizations.
Jamie Lawrence 20:27
What what I’d like to do after this module is come on. So just explore that disconnect between organizations and people a bit more, because I think, you know, we found some some findings there around the disconnect, I think that will help people understand again, what work needs to be done. But if I can, just because this is more linked to that question around, you know, raising financial well being at the highest level. Now, if we take 1000 person workforce, what I’m going to do is illustrate some of the big life events or things that happen that sort of, are notorious for being moneyed events, if you see what I mean. Now, these stats that I’ve got are public sector stats, or from or from sort of easily findable studies, they’re applicable, what I’ve done is apply them across the whole population and then put them and they’re reapplied them down to 1000 person workforce, these are actually likely to be higher, because they’re more likely to affect people of working age. That aside, okay, so if we take 1000 person workforce, what’s happening in the heat of the moment, okay, so 200 are currently renting and facing all the problems with the renting market, okay, that’s doubled from 100 renters have doubled in the past, I think it’s, it’s, I think it’s 10-15 years, something like that. This is every year two are going through divorce, three are getting married, 16 are buying a house, three having car breakdowns, nine are having boiler breakdowns, 11 people are having kids 11 are retiring, not to mention all the people in the age bracket before that, who are thinking about it, and 12 people that are renewing their mortgages. And as we know, the mortgage market is in you know, rates are going a lot higher, there’s a lot of stress amongst people looking to renew their mortgage, who needed to when rates jumped like 5%. So this is sort of illustrating that we are financial animals, again, it’s kind of it’s kind of obvious, but look like this. And this is just a quick model, when you actually look at the personal things as well. The personal situations like debt, you know, debts like individual responsibilities, carrying responsibilities that contribute to this, you get a real picture that of how enmeshed finances and money worries are in our everyday lives.
Mervyn Dinnen 22:39
Ya know, it’s fascinating to think that way, because the, quite often when we’re looking at the world of work, we say about bringing your whole whole self to work and everything, but it’s, it’s amazing when you think, you know, a workforce of 1000, all the different things that are happening in people’s lives, which was, you know, money impacts them all. Exactly. So yeah. So I suppose I said earlier on that, I know, it’s not an easy, it’s not an easy thing for people to raise. Because if you raise it in the workplace, or you raise it with HR, with managers with leaders, the first assumption is going to be as you’re asking for a rise. Because what you’re saying is you’re struggling at the moment, you therefore the I suppose the implications, you need more money. But it’s really also just having somebody to talk to shared experiences. I mean, all those people who are going through buying, renting and everything, they might not be having the discussions internally with each other. That’s well, so they don’t know they’ve got other people that they see every day are in the same position as them.
Jamie Lawrence 23:44
That’s a that’s a core point. Can I just pick up an accident? Absolutely. Core point, you know, the kind of stereotype is you have money concerns, and you go and tell your organization in a formal route, but you know, we can repurpose safe spaces that exist for other reasons to talk about financial well being that’s one of the recommendations we give in the report. You know, and we can tackle stigma by opening up the conversation in non threatening way. So not only when people talk and feel the need for an intervention, but when people need to bounce ideas off colleagues to mention what they’re going through, just talk about their money. There are ways to normalize the conversation without going down formal routes. And I think, again, this is this is another I think, lesson for HR in that not everything, not all your comps and all the things you do about this have to be intervention or list. It can be around, you know, creating those safe spaces or, you know, talking about something that’s available and you resource or something like that. Everyone’s on a financial wellbeing journey. And again, this comes back to that language of you aren’t good with money or bad with money, you’re on a journey. And if we treat everyone has a different journey, and we need to empower them to move forward. That really changes the conversation from We need to make it so people can come in and tell us when they’re in real trouble to, people need to feel more comfortable talking about money generally, and that will empower them to seek what redress or insight or goals or, you know, whatever they need to improve their, their journey. And, and then one more point on stigma is, you know, it’s about obviously, obviously, stigma is about reluctance to talk about money or things that that prevent you from talking about money raising things. But there’s also forget that that stigma can create resistance to engagement, resistance to comms resistance to colleagues. And so that’s another reason why we need to tackle it. Again, not always empowering these formal conversations, but empowering for example, when HR send information about third party service, that person is, you know, not shamed or worried about following that link and go into it, because they don’t have that stigma that makes them resistant to this type of engagement.
Mervyn Dinnen 26:01
Jamie, it’s been a fascinating conversation. And you’ve, you’ve identified, I think, a number of areas, for people to kind of think about contemplate, which I hadn’t considered before. So I think, coming to wrap up, anybody that’s listening to this conversation, particularly HR professionals, doesn’t have to be, but what are the two or three, I suppose action points you would say to take away? You know, if somebody says, you know, what, I want to do something about this in my organization? Where Where do people start?
Jamie Lawrence 26:40
First thing that went really, really quickly, and very enjoyable time flies. Okay, so there’s a couple of things. Firstly, I want to say one, this is not directly related to the research, but something I always say to people starting the financial world being journey, because it’s easy to do, first of all, and that’s to look inwards, because the design of work can have big implications for financial well being the classic example. But one that’s very relevant is expenses policies. So you know, you’re waiting, you making people wait six weeks to get reimbursed for expenses, this can have significant implications for cash flow, for budgeting, you know, because these amounts vary. So it’s very hard for people to track like, where they will be at the end of a given month. So can you reinvent these types of policies to promote rather than take away from financial well being, and this level of organizational thinking, you know, really strikes at the core of like, are we as an organization, creating an environment that empowers people to share their money, worries to talk about money and improve their financial well being, because you know, that was one of the disconnects. And we didn’t quite get on on the time for this, if anyone would like to talk about this or hear more, please, please do feel free to get in touch. But there’s a disconnect between HR and employees on the extent to which stigma is even penetrating the workforce. So 84% of HR think they provide the environment supportive of sharing money, whereas but just over half of employees agree. So there’s a disconnect there. I’d say, you know, one key takeaway is, survey your people, but be very bold and be considered about it. Because there’s even a disconnect on whether HR have asked employees how they’re doing with money, you know, more employees think they haven’t HR think they have. And I think the design of that, how you ask those questions and how you even brand that up. So it’s clear you sort of care about this and are working towards a better position is, is is is is really important. It’s very hard to get a good view of your workforce, his financial well being if you’re tacking a couple of questions onto a generalized survey. So I think be very specific and bold and proactive and purposeful. Start small if if that’s a worry in a particular team, or cohort, but be purposeful, because that gives confidence to raise this and say, This is what our workforce is going through, is going through right now. And then finally, sorry, I know I’ve gone you asked one I’ve given given the first
Mervyn Dinnen 29:09
as many as important. Yeah, sure.
Jamie Lawrence 29:11
Sure. So financial well being is going through the maturity curve, that I think the mental wellbeing pillar and even physical has gone through which is you go from, you know, providing prescriptive solutions when when there’s an issue through to being proactive in terms of preventing things from arising. And then finally going through to that sort of empowering place where we realize that it’s actually not possible to say this is what you need to do to prove your financial well being because it’s so wrapped up in people’s goals and dreams and ideas and, and so what you need to do as an organization really is provide solutions that enable people to want to A and B actually take control of their finance As your well being. And so this empowerment is is is absolutely key. And actually, it’s quite liberating for organizations, I think to know that because, you know, they aren’t there to solve the problem, financial well being is a personal responsibility, there’s a huge amount the organization can do to empower people in this way. And then a bonus for, it’s very hard within financial well being to define it, as I’ve just said, because it’s so personal. And this is a good thing for the reasons I’ve said, but it can make it a bit worrying for organizations and HR to tackle it, because they’re not really sure what it is. And what I’d say to them is you can’t design sorry, you can’t define it at the top level. But what you can do is separate it into the core two core parts of financial well being, which are the objective side, otherwise known as money, and the subjective side, which is known as mindset. Informally, the objective side, the money is, you know, how much how much savings Do you have? how much debt you have? What’s your plan? What’s your budget, you know, factors that go into your financial position? And the mindset is, what’s your relationship with money? Do you feel good about money? You know, what’s your personality? How does that in interlink with money? How does your childhood play into money. And of course, you can be good on one and bad on the other. The stereotype is someone who’s very wealthy, accumulated loads of assets, who feels bad about money, because they’ve sacrificed things that were actually really, really important to them. That’s the stereotype. But for organizations, you cover both bases, and then you can improve people’s financial well being if you cover both bases, that’s a good framework for your engagement comes as well, you know, thinking about both of those.
Mervyn Dinnen 31:40
This is a huge topic. And maybe we need a follow up, chat about it at some stage, because there’s obviously more more to cover. But just before we go, why don’t tell listeners, how they can get in touch with you, particularly if they want to reach out, maybe get a copy of the research or connect with you. And in any way, what are the best way to reach you?
Jamie Lawrence 32:02
Yeah, so do search me on LinkedIn, you’ll you’ll find me as Jamie Lawrence, Lawrence with a W and then bit worm. After that, we should should find me where you can email me at J Lawrence no.at. Beer pit.com. And there’s a lot more in the research. And we touched on a few different points. But it’s it’s the whole thing is a narrative around stigma where we are on stigma and how to tackle it. And I didn’t explore some of the things. So if you’d like a copy to do, please do reach out. We’ve also got some quotas in specific industries, meaningful, statistically significant quotas so we can make some interesting comparisons. So if you’re in a particular industry, I can’t guarantee we have it. We chose a few that do let me know and I’ll see if I can take something out for you as well. Yeah.
Mervyn Dinnen 32:49
Thank you, Jamie. It’s been an absolute pleasure to talk to you today. And I’m sure it’s been a great value to the listeners. And thank you very much for your time.
Jamie Lawrence 32:59
No worries. Thank you very much for having me. I really enjoyed the conversation and thank you everyone for tuning in.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai