Financial insecurity contributing to poor mental health for UK workers

  • A quarter of employees are struggling to make ends meet, less than half are satisfied with their current financial situation 
  • Two-thirds say mental health and wellbeing affected by personal job security (66%)
  • 90% of young people say their mental health is affected by the cost of living

A national mental health at work survey, commissioned by Business in the Community in partnership with Mercer, has found that employees are struggling to deal with the demands and insecurities of the workplace and that financial insecurity is contributing to the national burden of poor mental health. 

The survey of over 4,000 people, conducted by YouGov and run for the third consecutive year, exposes the relationship between personal finances and mental health, with two thirds of respondents saying their mental health and wellbeing is affected by job security (66%) the state of the economy, (65%) and the cost of living (77%).

Financial concerns caused three-fifths of respondents to say they had experienced negative mental health symptoms such as loss of sleep, stress, lack of concentration, and fatigue, with younger workers in their 20s bearing the brunt of job insecurity and low wages; 90% reported their mental health was affected by the cost of living. 

Fewer than half of employees (46%) are satisfied with their current financial situation, and 56% of employees are reluctant to talk about money issues at work.

Employees were more likely to talk to their manager about general mental health issues (24%) than financial issues (14%) when given a direct choice. However, half still say they wouldn’t like to talk about either, and only 17% of employees believed that their employer supports those with financial difficulties. 

Although most employees feel unable to talk about financial wellbeing and mental health at work, 85% of people managers saw employee wellbeing as being their responsibility. Meanwhile 68% of managers believed that there were barriers to providing support for staff mental wellbeing, with training a key concern; 67% of line managers said they had not had any training on mental health. 
Business in the Community is calling on organisations to do more to support conversations between staff and their line managers about all aspects of wellbeing, including financial. 

Louise Aston, wellbeing director, Business in the Community, said: “There is a two-way causal relationship between financial wellbeing and mental health, but very few employers support employees experiencing financial difficulties. Employers have a role in educating employees in financial literacy and signposting to appropriate sources of professional support. 

“There is huge financial pressure on employees, with stagnant wages and living costs which continue to rise, so employers have an important role in educating employees in financial literacy and signposting them to appropriate sources of professional support.

“Although there has been slow incremental improvement of overall mental health at work over the past three years, collective and urgent action by employers is needed to build momentum quickly, taking a ‘whole person’ approach to physical, mental, financial and social health and wellbeing." 

The report asks employers to take action to support financial wellbeing. They should:

  • Integrate financial wellbeing into organisational health and wellbeing policies and be explicit about what’s available or acceptable within the organisation to people with financial issues. For example, pay advances, hardship loans, time off to sort financial issues, travel loans, access to EAP, money counselling or other support services.
  • Offer financial education to improve employee financial understanding increase the use of existing benefits; making available salary deducted savings, in order to create a financial buffer; or offering salary-deducted lower cost loans to help employees who are in debt or have unexpected expenditure but no savings. Include awareness of financial issues in line manager employee wellbeing training and equip them with information about what solutions are available as part of the overall employee benefits package.
  • Signpost colleagues (staff, line managers and HR) to organisations that offer free help and guidance on money issues such as Money Advice Service (general money issues), The Pensions Advisory Service (for pension specific issues and Step Change (personal debt counselling).

Wolfgang Seidl, Workplace Health Consulting Leader UK and Europe, Mercer Marsh Benefits said: “For the health of the workforce to flourish, focus must shift from disconnected initiatives to approaches that address employees’ physical and mental wellbeing as one”, said Wolfgang Seidl, “Someone struggling to manage their income, may experience stress and sleep loss, leading to unhealthy comfort eating. They might not yet experience health issues and by encouraging a focus on financial wellness, employers can help prevent any from developing further down the line.

“Mental health has become such an abstract concept that it seems it cannot be treated, so a practical approach is important. Looking at the root causes, such as financial worries, harassment, lack of equality, lack of opportunities to exercise, and more, makes it easier to find ways to prevent and treat.”

Eve Read, UK Consulting Leader - DC & Individual Wealth, Mercer, added: “Employers need to consider what workplace initiatives are required to support their employees’ financial wellbeing. Depending on the specific pain points experienced by employees company benefits programmes can be structured to drive positive change, by offering financial clinics, education sessions, personalised mobile communications on finances, savings options and debt management initiatives.”

Alongside the recommendations on financial wellbeing, The Mental Health at Work report asks employers to:

  • Talk - Break the culture of silence that surrounds mental health by taking the Time to Change Employers Pledge.
  • Train - Invest in basic mental health literacy for all employees and first aid training in mental health to support line manager capability.
  • Take action - Implement the practical guidance found in Business in the Community and Public Health England’s Mental Health toolkit for employers.

Ends 
The executive summary and full report are available in advance. Please email alex.delaney@bitc.org.uk

Notes to editors
Mercer financial wellbeing guides can be found at www.uk.mercer.com/what-we-do/wealth-and-investments/financial-wellness

Spokespeople:

  • Louise Aston, wellbeing director, Business in the Community
  • Eve Read, UK Consulting Leader - DC & Individual Wealth, Mercer
  • Wolfgang Seidl, Workplace Health Consulting Leader UK and Europe, Mercer Marsh Benefits 

Methodology
The research, in partnership with Mercer was conducted by YouGov between May and July 2018 with 4,626 full and part-time employees in the UK that is representative of gender, age, industry sector, region and business size, excluding sole traders and those working alone.  In addition, the report draws on data collected via public open surveys conducted in 2016 and 2017 as part of the Mental Health at Work reports in each of those years. Comparisons have been made over time. These surveys were promoted by Business in the Community, partners, supporting organisations, and via social media. 

Media contact 
Alex Delaney, PR Manager, Business in the Community, T: 020 7566 8694, 07766 161 419 E: alex.delaney@bitc.org.uk