Dosh, dough, bees and honey – let’s get used to talking about MONEY

31 July 2023

Talking about money in the UK is hard, sometimes being seen as gauche or embarrassing particularly when you are asking for help. In a time when finances are changeable due to inflation and the dreaded cost of living is squeezing everyone, what can employers do to help when they aren’t able to raise salaries? Are they even obliged to help?

In a recent Forbes article, the cost of financial shame was counted. One CEO told “how financial wellbeing is an issue that is eating away at performance across his 600-strong business. People are coming to work in an emotional state unlike anything he has seen before, and when he explored why, people finally admitted that it was about concerns with money. He was horrified to find they were struggling to afford the basics.”

Peter Komolafe, financial coach and author, recently spoke at the Institute of Internal Communications Fest 2023. His message was clear, financial wellbeing is integral to mental wellbeing, and without opening up conversation about finances and giving people the space and safety to talk about it these mental and financial wellbeing issues will be compounded. Komolafe shared that research shows our financial habits are embedded at the age of 7. “Merely advising people to budget better, establish emergency funds, or be more mindful of debt is akin to pulling out a weed without removing its roots. Without addressing the underlying behavioural norms that influence our financial decisions, the same issues will resurface.”

This means that for organisations looking to really support their people, a one-off bonus isn’t the end of the conversation. Surveying 1000 senior decision-makers from British firms it became apparent that any cost-of-living measures are ad hoc and short term. It is far more common for organisations to provide a one-off payment or bonus than provide ongoing support or a pay rise. Alongside this payment, it’s more valuable and sustainable for organisations to offer ongoing help which enables employees to understand their financial behaviours alongside very real financial advice.

We also need to be aware of how people’s positions within the hierarchy can affect the help they receive. That same Forbes report found that people in more secure positions and on higher salaries had greater expectations around support. Those in insecure work, arguably the cohort who need greater support, are less likely to expect any help at all. Organisations must be wary, silence does not indicate a lack of need; it’s important to be proactive in reaching employees who are less engaged or not represented in the feedback.

So to help our people, we’re going to have to have some tricky conversations. Talking about your finances with or in the sphere of your employer will probably feel uncomfortable for a lot of people. Organisations need to be intentional in how they set up support structures and programmes, designing the environment to be psychologically safe and productive. Consultation with your people to understand what they actually want is important, and it’s also good to consider bringing in third-party financial coaching to ease the discomfort of being vulnerable in the workplace.

Here are some thoughts on how to break down the stigma and ease the pressure for your colleagues:

  • Open up the conversation and normalise talking about finances. Whether that’s through regular educational resources being shared or sharing any tips or tools you personally have used to help with financial wellbeing.
  • Flexibility can be a real boon. Hybrid or flexible hours can help with transport costs, for example travelling off-peak or increasing home working can be a real saving.
  • Shout about your benefits and any programmes already in place, and make space for colleagues to ask questions about how they work; only half of employees understand their benefits.
  • Create a culture where it’s okay to ask for help. Role-modelling from leaders, or story-telling from colleagues who have overcome financial hardship and where they found help can normalise the experience and encourage speaking up.

Central to all of this is communication; transparent communication around what the organisation can and sometimes can’t do to help. Communications to educate on benefits and existing support, storytelling to humanise the problem, and a change in discourse and willingness to talk about money and financial hardship is needed more than ever. Not every organisation can offer a pay rise, but every organisation can make small, sustainable changes to better support colleagues.


Written by Millie Watson, Content Writer and Researcher

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