There are many things people are worrying about at the moment. After health, money will probably be top of the list.
Some employees will be concerned about their job and whether they’ll still have one at the end of the pandemic.
The furlough scheme was introduced to help the employees of companies that were forced to close their doors, due to lockdown restrictions—to enable them to pay their bills. The scheme ends this month, which may force the hands of some companies who are on the precipice of folding.
If a company did go under, of course, redundant employees can claim benefits from the government to tide them over until they find other work. That’s how it should be, of course, and it’s a process that was in place before the pandemic.
But what about employees? They could be under significant financial pressure, even though they’re still in work.
For instance, if they live in a two-income household and their partner has lost their job because of the pandemic, this will undoubtedly cause worry; and because they’re still working, their partner may not be able to claim any benefits to replace the lost wage, which will be stressful for both of them. Perhaps your employee had just moved house and taken on a bigger mortgage before lockdown; after all, only crisis experts would have been able to predict this pandemic a year ago, the majority of us were completely oblivious to such a situation.
Debt isn’t a fault of someone’s personality, or necessarily something they should have prevented; it’s just a situation they’ve found themselves in through one or two poor decisions and/or incredible bad luck. Anyone can find themselves in financial trouble.
How would you notice if an employee or colleague is struggling financially?
They may act out of character and possibly become angry over little things. They may find it difficult to concentrate with so many worries running through their mind, or they’re easily distracted when they’d otherwise be able to focus.
This inability to concentrate may appear as apathy or lethargy. They may exhibit odd behaviour or their sense of humour may go into hibernation. Their worries may impact their job, making them less productive, or they may produce work that isn’t of their usual quality.
They may not have the cash to spend on travel or petrol before payday—regardless of whether it gets paid back as expenses, they still have to pay money out in the first instance, and this could prove an issue if money is particularly tight.
Their financial stress may cause their immune system to be more vulnerable, and they may have more days off sick than what’s typical for them. They may not be able to afford childcare if their finances have been negatively impacted, and they may need time off to care for their kids.
Maybe they’re persistently asking about overtime, or they’ve had to take a second job to earn more money, which may affect their availability/flexibility.
Whilst you may not be able to help your employee financially, i.e. by giving them more money, you can make life a little easier for them.
Act as soon as you’re aware
There’s much more help available to someone when they’re at the outset of financial troubles. If the problem lingers because you daren’t broach the subject with them, the risk is that legal proceedings may have begun that can’t be reversed. Financial experts always recommend early action.
Few people enjoy talking about their finances, least of all to their boss, but take them to one side and gently ask if anything is wrong, or how their situation may have changed due to the pandemic.
Explore your contacts
Maybe you know a financial professional who would be happy to take a quick look at their situation; they may be able to unlock equity in their home, for example, to ease the financial pressure.
You could recommend a charity such as StepChange, who can help people tackle their financial problems; don’t assume that your employee will have already sought help.
Though it’s not a good idea to bury your head in the sand, when you’re in the grip of financial problems it’s difficult to see the wood for the trees. All you can see is the problem and you may not have the energy or focus to begin looking for a solution.
Look at their workload
If possible, see if there’s any way your employee’s workload can be eased. Talk to the rest of the team and explain that their colleague needs support (do not, under any circumstance, explain the nature of their issues), and that you’d really appreciate them picking up a bit of the slack.
Most people are happy to help a team member when asked; it usually only becomes a problem when more work is dumped on them without any explanation.
If you relieve some of the pressure on the employee’s shoulders, they may be able to find the energy and headspace to seek financial solutions and professional support.
Whereas, before the pandemic, this situation may have been few and far between, 2020 has decimated the livelihoods and lifestyle of thousands of people across the country. Educating yourself and/or your HR department on how to recognise signs that an employee is having financial problems is a responsible move in the current climate.
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