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Why are conversations around money so difficult?

By Charlie Goodman, Partner

This was the question posed to me when I joined a panel of brilliant financial wellbeing experts at the Global Online Stress Summit, run by the International Stress Management Association. According to their research, 68% of employees don’t want to talk about their money issues with their employer. I suspect that you would see similar results if we asked employees about such discussions regarding some of their more intimate physical health or mental health concerns.

For me the first area I’d look to address is the organisational culture.

Do employees feel able to talk about all their financial, mental, and physical health concerns, without fear of judgment or reprimand?

Is there a healthy attitude to money set by the leadership?

The answers to these might be:

“Well we have an open door policy and we’ve mentioned across communication channels that people can come and speak to us.”

“Our CEO recently talked about their financial stresses on the intranet and on LinkedIn.”

The trouble with the first is it is a passive stance rather than action, and in the case of the latter, the CEO might not have the most relatable story for many. In fact, the CEO is in a position where they probably have the privilege of knowing their job or status isn’t in anyway threatened by being this vulnerable.

As a Partner at EBC, this is a position I sit in for instance, but when employed, I’ve been acutely aware of what people, particularly my boss, might think of my mental health issues. Actions are generally always better than words when it comes to these things.

The organisation should have a serious think about its culture, strategy, and values, and whether those contribute to really promoting the ability for its people to be open about their difficulties. From the top down, genuine trust needs to be established by building supportive coaching, mentoring, and communication skills for management, that are promoted as part of the development paths and performance review systems.

The healthy attitude to money needs to begin with the reward policy and strategy. If the organisation is not promoting a positive, progressive, and supportive reward policy and system, then its going to struggle to improve financial wellbeing.

The first and most basic hygiene factor would be making sure its paying a real living wage to ensure employees aren’t in work poverty. Another basic point is efficient and effective administration of pay, particularly ensuring things such as expenses and bonuses are paid on time and as expected. Depending on the size of the organisation, it may already be addressing the gender pay gap, but other inequalities exist, which the organisation should look to address – for a sense of an equitable workplace.

Clarity is very important when it comes to money, and a step towards this would be ensuring that clear salaries are placed on job adverts – best to start as you mean to go on. You could go as far as investigating full pay transparency, but that’s quite an advanced topic to tackle which you may not want to do until the organisation has tackled the other issues.

Finally, I think organisations should know the limitations to what they can do for an employee’s financial wellbeing. A difficult relationship with money can be formed in early childhood, so there may be many psychological layers to why an employee doesn’t (or can’t) talk about money, and even if they do, they can’t move forward without professional help.

Financial issues can be complicated, particularly if they involve partners or other family members, the individual might not fully be in control of their situation.

Leading on from that the financial uncertainties of the past year or so are systematic, many of them will ultimately only be determined by Government intervention, rather than by what an organisation can do. For instance, there’s not a lot an organisation can do about extremely volatile energy bills.
In conclusion, an organisation can definitely encourage a positive financial wellbeing environment, where people can talk about money, but a successful one will be about getting organisational culture correct.

An organisation shouldn’t take full responsibility for resolving everyone’s money and mental health issues, as typically it lacks the skills and resources internally. It can however provide proactive supporting services and signposting so that employees can help themselves.


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