Under Pressure: The hidden wellbeing cost of lifting lockdown
It’s been nothing short of an emotional rollercoaster since the global pandemic hit, but the fundamental truth is that we haven’t all been on the same ride.
For many of us, the past year has revolved around furlough and unemployment. In the UK alone more than 11m people have experienced the uncertainty of being on furlough. The accompanying stress, and build-up of anxiety from having income reduced or being out of work, has been a consistent theme throughout lockdown.
But for those who were able to maintain their work (albeit in a radically different way) the overall financial results have tended to be positive. Indeed, as commuting costs disappeared overnight, and socialising costs evaporated, many people have become “accidental savers”, and for the first time feel confident that putting some money away each month might actually be possible.
Life after Lockdown
However, with progress can often come complexity. For those of us fortunate enough to save through the pandemic, the question then becomes what should the savings be used for, where should this money be kept – savings accounts, ISAs, investments – and importantly, what are the risks? And for those experiencing furlough, the questions and concerns have been what does the future hold, and will I still have a job when all is said and done?
According to Close Brothers, 57% of the UK have either changed or plan to change their finances as a result of Covid, and this figure rises to 73% for those aged 18-34.
These new financial concerns have created a whole host of different questions for our financial wellbeing. Knowing what to do, when to do it, and having the confidence to carry it out, is suddenly at the forefront of everyone’s mind.
And the simultaneous pressures that have been building on mental health throughout lockdown, due to factors like isolation and fatigue, are now leading to sweeping changes in employee wellbeing.
Back in the habit
During the shifts caused by the pandemic, businesses have been looking to wellbeing experts for support, but now that we have some light at the end of the Covid tunnel thanks to unprecedented vaccination rollouts, employees are starting to transition back to an “old normal”, which doesn’t feel particularly normal anymore.
In fact, things are a lot more insecure than you might think as we now transition out of lockdown, open-up all of our services fully, and attempt to get back to business as usual.
When Bippit sent out a recent survey to employees, 41% said that they sometimes don’t have money left at the end of the month, and 13% said they always run out of money, and if that wasn’t worrying enough, we discovered that nearly a third of respondents still didn’t have any emergency savings.
This would be concerning at any time, but as we emerge from lockdown into the great British Summer, unexpected new pressures both mental and financial are emerging, which are impacting the wellbeing of employees. The fact of the matter is, habits have fundamentally changed during lockdown, and many employees are now reporting new financial concerns and unexpected shocks as a result.
A return to the costs of socialising, and a surge of spending on holidays is leading to more employees than ever struggling to budget effectively, and eating into any safety nets that they may have built throughout lockdown. And this is alongside the backdrop of heightened anxiety as we return to face-to-face socialising and time in the office again.
With all this happening, what many employees crave is someone to talk to, and this is especially true when it comes to their financial concerns. For example, a PwC employee wellness survey showed that 1/3 of employees now rank access to a financial coach as the top benefit they want to see employers introduce.
The new world of work
In the old world of work, it was still possible to attract talent with a state-of-the-art office space, or with lifestyle benefits that make life a little cheaper, or with a competitive holiday scheme. But people’s priorities have now shifted. A sprinkle of perks won’t do it anymore. We now want to feel secure and we want to feel like our employer cares.
The backdrop of a flexible working situation, having to meet face to face again, survive a commute, and deal with awkward schedules and strange routines is a huge challenge for employees and businesses alike.
Here’s the thing. When people are remote, we don’t necessarily see that they’re struggling. Just because someone has landed a job in our rapidly growing company, doesn’t mean all their worries are solved. Likewise, the top people in the talent market aren’t going to be convinced just because our company appears to be in a stable industry. They’re looking for more.
That’s why a further 34% of employers will be introducing financial wellbeing within the next two years according to research from Willis Towers Watson.
But leaders can model a way forward now, whether through introducing financial coaching, pro-active mental health solutions like Sanctus, or another form of wellbeing, it’s possible to deal with these complex issues head-on with effective support that’s accessible to all.
Change is everywhere
As we emerge from lockdown measures, there are unprecedented opportunities for us to change our lifestyles, from switching the cities or even countries where we live and work from, to adjusting our work / life balance through flexible and remote working. But simultaneously this is generating huge challenges for the way in which businesses support their people, and a great deal of anxiety for employees themselves.
The impact to our financial lives from relocating, changing working hours, and even switching careers, can not be underestimated, and with remote working comes new issues to overcome in terms of mental health.
The key element is ensuring that solutions can reach employees wherever they are, and through digital channels to provide meaningful support, especially as cases of burnout are rising exponentially with employees operating an “always on” mentality, and often dealing with issues outside of normal working hours.
To tackle with these stresses and strains, Charlotte Wiseman, Leadership Consultant known for her pioneering work on mental fitness in the workplace, notes, “try to avoid judging yourself on how you feel. Instead, simply notice and acknowledge whatever is going on for you. When we push away certain feelings, perhaps saying ‘why am I feeling that way?’ or ‘I should be able to deal with this,’ we are fighting ourselves. This means the difficult feelings will shout louder”.
And while mental health support and financial coaching can help to ease some of these problems, it’s education that answers them, and proactive initiatives can help avoid many of the issues altogether.
There’s a reason why research by Gympass & Peakon has shown that 75% of all employee wellbeing comments throughout 2020 related to financial wellbeing and mental health.
But most companies aren’t answering the need. Only 11% of employees say that their employer has provided them with financial education in the past 12 months, according to a Close Brothers report.
The reality is this: Our world of work is changing fast – and employee perks are changing along with it. Or at least they should be. Employee expectations are evolving. New forms of delivery are emerging. Last year’s gold standard has faded to bronze, and will soon become irrelevant. To protect our employees wellbeing, adapt to new ways of working, and stay competitive in the talent market, our employee perks need to be ahead of the curve.
There are more options now than ever to support the needs of our employees. You’ll find an app, solution, or service that answers almost every employee concern. But with so much on offer, how do we prioritise what’s important?
To help employees make enough time for their Physical health, and stay active, services like Gympass can help the workforce of tomorrow stay active, wherever they are.
When it comes to Mental health, there are services like Sanctus who are delivering proactive therapy and mental health support to deal with issues like burnout and isolation before they become detrimental to a business. As Charlotte Wiseman says “when we are exhausted, stressed, and don’t look after our own needs, this starts to impact our performance and the way in which we communicate with others, often in a negative way. We also lose our perspective on life — we can’t see the wood for the trees”.
And for many employees, there is an overarching concern about their financial wellbeing, both now and in the future. But with solutions like Bippit, employees can now measure and make progress with each element of their financial wellbeing, so their Knowledge, Organisation, and Confidence can all flourish. And in doing so they can find the answers they need, plan their finances better, and take action in an effective way.
Bringing up hot topics in a meeting isn’t enough. When we address pressing problems, from mental health to work/life balance to financial wellbeing, we can’t afford to treat it as a tick box exercise.
Leaders have needed to adapt their approach in recent times. Indeed, it’s no longer enough – or even possible – to lap the office once or twice a day. Nor are people motivated by the same drivers that kept them going in recent years.
And we have to acknowledge the elephant in the room. The future remains uncertain and many of us feel anxious about what it holds. But as employers, we can exercise our duty of care, and make sure that our people have effective systems of support as they walk that path.
The good news is that more and more employers are starting to pay attention to the research, and take the first steps by providing specialist coaching for both the financial and mental health of their employees.
What are you doing to support your employees health?
To hear how wellbeing strategies are changing as we exit lockdown, join Leadership and Wellbeing Consultant, Charlotte Wiseman and Financial Coach, Steven Williams on 30th June at 2.30pm