May 18, 2023

Addressing the Money Mammoth in The Room

Geran de Klerk on Unsplash

On the hyper-popular podcast Secret Diary of a CEO, Simon Sinek recently discussed his preference for the phrase ‘mental fitness’. 

Specifically, Simon argues that in application, a current-degree-of-fitness should replace the comparatively binary and fixed states implied by the term mental health/ill health. Simon suggests that - just like we constantly work on our physical fitness, which even with the best of intentions can ebb and flow - mental fitness requires the same consistent attention. 

Additionally, by considering how mentally fit we’re feeling at any given time, the hypothesis is this; enabling normalisation of having good days, and bad days… embracing the peaks and the troughs across a constant work-in-progress. 

We’ve seen a major shift towards considering mental and emotional health with the same level of significance and validity as physical health, when it comes to influencing wellbeing, motivation and productivity at work.

But where do our finances (another important, constant work-in-progress) fit into this puzzle? How normalised is the conversation about financial wellbeing? 

We think there’s much work to be done. 

Why Aren’t We Talking About Financial Fitness?

To position financial wellbeing effectively in the here and now, let’s consider the macro context that will be - perhaps to differing degrees, but nonetheless universally to some degree - affecting your team members; the current cost of living crisis*.

At time of writing, there are more than 2,500 food banks in the UK. (For context and by comparison, there are 1,146 Starbucks stores… something has gone very wrong!) 

It’s heartbreaking to read news reports encouraging people to share the location of “Warm Banks”; spaces where people can access free heating in cold weather. 

Talking of heating, here are some headline stats for the rise in energy prices over the last 12 months…

  • increase of 12% in October 2021
  • increase of 54% in April 2022
  • Increase of 80% on 1 October 2022

Looking at those energy price rises, we reckon the maths is obvious; 1+1=Clusterf**k.

Against a backdrop that has seen The Royal College of Psychiatrists warn the cost of living crisis “poses a threat of pandemic proportions”, as a business leader one thing is for sure

…if you employ people, this absolutely now becomes your problem, and you absolutely need to take accountability for addressing it. 

A 2022 report investigating Financial Wellbeing by Champion Health discovered that:

  1. Financial pressure is the top cause of stress outside of work (34%)
  2. 25-34-year-olds are the most affected age group (35% cite finances as a cause of stress)
  3. Female employees are 33% more likely to experience financial stress than their male colleagues
  4. Those experiencing financial stress are twice as likely to experience suicidal thoughts
  5. 15% of all employees say financial stress impacts their productivity

So why aren’t we talking to our team members about their financial fitness? 

It may feel daunting to proactively engage in conversations about wellbeing as relates to financial stress and anxiety given so much is going on around us that is out of our control (both as an employer and a team member.) 

But as points 1-5 above prove, the stress and anxiety is very real. 

The relationship people have with money is incredibly meaningful, and (like all meaningful things) doesn’t stop being meaningful when people are working. 

By considering their approaches to overall financial transparency, companies can avoid letting financial wellbeing become the elephant in the room (the ‘money mammoth’ - if you will) instead, proactively giving it the attention it deserves. 

What Can Companies Do to Help? 

Wage stagnation in the UK is well reported, but we recognise that it’s important to be realistic. 

We appreciate that many businesses are simply not able to increase company-wide salaries in line with the rate of inflation. That isn’t however, where the conversation should stop. 

Companies and their People/Operations functions in particular can get creative. A great starting point is to ask yourself the following two questions: 

  1. What are the strategic, sustainable practices that will protect us against similar challenges in the future?
  2. What can I do to ease the pain for my people, right now?

Let’s take each in turn and provide some ways to get the creative juices flowing… 

Sustainable Strategies 

  • Do you have a clear compensation/ pay or reward philosophy? 
  • Do you know why you pay at the levels you do? 
  • Is it fair? 
  • Is it inclusive? 
  • What is the process for pay review and pay increases?
  • And has this been well communicated to your people in a way that aligns with their expectations and the company's values? 
  • What about financial wellbeing support? Are you clearly signposting opportunities made available to your people when it comes to discussing their current degree of financial fitness? 
What’s a compensation philosophy?

A compensation philosophy is a statement about two things: what your company is trying to achieve through employee compensation (the ‘philosophy’ you adopt in defining total reward) and how in practice, you intend to get there. 

It defines not only your strategy to attract, retain and reward your talented team members, but also the operational activity (practices, policies & associated criteria) that exist in your company as a result. 

A comprehensive pay philosophy includes everything from a transparent description of salary benchmarking approaches, to how performance and reward are related. 

(Quick ad break : if you need support with building a pay philosophy, a review process and communicating this clearly, then we got you! Get in touch for a chat with one of the Unleashed team, we’d love to see how we can help.) 

Considering salary benchmarking as an example, some questions to consider include… 

  • How often do you commit to doing a comprehensive external benchmarking exercise? 
  • Do you know (confidently using data, rather than just gut feel) how competitive your compensation is in the market? 
  • Do you know how it stacks up geographically? 
  • How do variable components like bonuses work? 
  • Are you quantifying the financial value of benefits? 
  • What is your philosophy on different reward packages at different levels of the organisational structure, and why?

Salary benchmarking keeps you fair, and it keeps you competitive - you’re going to pay people, so pay them right (and incoming pay transparency legislation is going to force you to start sharing that data externally, so getting the house in order internally should be top of the ‘to do’ list) 

Knowing these things and communicating them well, helps you stay equitable, consistent and transparent (which also happen to to be the essential ingredients of building trust)
There are myriad benchmarking tools out there to help you in this process. At Unleashed we’re big fans of Figures; a super helpful resource for anybody benchmarking in the UK, and we also like Option Impact which is a great resource for private, venture-backed businesses. 

(“BUT wait, I have a bias for action and I wanna help right now!”, we’ve got you there too!) 

Easing the Pain, Here and Now 

Talk to your people 

Be transparent about what’s going on behind the scenes as a business; lift the lid on company health (to the appropriate degree!) 

One off payments 

Maybe you can’t increase salaries, but can you offer one off payments to help ease some winter bill burdens? We’ve seen several startup businesses offering “Cost of Living bonuses” with this sentiment at heart.

Food Box subscriptions
Could you as a company, access greater discounts towards bulk purchases of products and services, maybe subscriptions like food boxes… Could you even give these as gifts? Check out John Lewis who is offering free food to all of their workers. 

Financial education and knowledge sharing 

Is someone in your business (maybe in your finance team), a whizz at this, could they provide some financial wellbeing talks, perhaps a lunch ‘n’ learn around financial education.

Money Coaches

There are some great businesses out there such as Octopus Money Coach (which we are using at Unleashed to help team members maximise their earnings and investments.) For £249 per year, it is money well spent.

Review your benefits package

If you already spend money on benefits, is this being maximised and utilised by your team. If not, it's a waste of money for you and worthless to your people. Consider understanding the spend per person and offering this in different ways for flexible benefits that, well, benefit your people… (now is a good time to mention our friends at Juno

Hybrid and flexible working
Allowing your team to work flexibly between home and the office allows people to weigh the cost benefits of saving money on your commute versus using more gas and electricity while working from home. (Note to penny-pinching companies, this is about being non-cynical and supporting wellbeing, not using office leases and heating bills as part of your reward philosophy! * insert eyes emoji here *) 

The most important in the list? The opening statement: Talk to your People. 

Listen, engage, be open, be present! 

Talk about what’s going on - there could be something that you hear and action that makes an enormous difference to the lives of your people.

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