Money talks, as the saying goes, yet the reality is that money still is not a topic we are comfortable talking openly about. The taboo of discussing our finances does not just affect our personal lives, it can also affect our professional lives too. When it comes to the workplace, this can lead to some awkward conversations — be that in the timing or the tone — as often neither employer or employee are trained to talk about money with each other effectively. So how can we as employers better enrich conversations about finances, and what would we stand to gain if we could?
Talking about money can be sensitive, whether it is being discussed with your significant other, with your friends and family, or even in the workplace – multiple studies from the financial sector, such as Lowells and Wells Fargo – have proven that money is one of the last things anyone wants to talk about, sitting ahead of death, politics, religion, mental health, and even infertility.
Our societal reluctance to discuss our finances often stems back to the fact that we live in a world where notions of personal value are tied up with monetary value. So when we are socialised to align power, success, prestige, and intelligence with what is in our bank account, it can make it a lot harder to openly discuss money, even in environments where we already feel safe and loved.
However, when we unravel the hidden meaning behind money in an environment with power plays already in practice such as an office environment, this can make the topic feel even more awkward. With the majority of people still believing the subject of money should be completely off-limits at work – despite this being the place we go for our primary income. This is understandable when you consider that if money is such a loaded and vulnerable topic, discussing it so openly at work can make many feel uncomfortable.
It is interesting to consider how the reluctance to talk about money differs across the world. In Norway, where since 2001, it has been possible to see everyone’s salary and tax information online – almost everybody is more than happy to tell you what they get paid. The UK’s notorious stiff upper lip takes the other end of the spectrum, with a very high proportion of people refusing to discuss money for all sorts of reasons. Germany on the other hand has taken a stance in the middle, introducing its own wage transparency act that has made it a legal requirement for companies with over 200 employees to display median salaries for their roles.
But should the discussion be dictated by our political policies? What can employers do to help empower these important conversations, regardless of location or societal norms?
Lucila Castañeira, Talent Management Director at Aon, acknowledges that although societal reluctance can differ, conversations about money are important wherever you operate:
‘There is a lot of variance between countries and industries, and in more mature markets financial wellbeing or mental health are easier to talk about, but it is still important to have the necessary support in place wherever you operate.’
Yet despite this, the personal nature of discussing money has caused employers to be reluctant to initiate these conversations in the workplace, as described by Lucila:
‘Financial wellbeing and mental health can be very personal topics. Understandably, employers can be reluctant to discuss it openly with their workforce. Because they perceive that it can be very easy to overstep the mark, and some aren’t knowledgeable or well-trained enough to handle these issues.’
So perhaps before we can approach how to effectively discuss money in the workplace, we must first understand why enabling the environment for meaningful financial conversations at work is so important for both the employee and the employer. With this in mind, individuals and organisations are breaking the financial taboo to strengthen their employer brand, and open up conversations that improve the financial wellbeing of their staff, as Lucila explains:
“People are starting to talk about purpose, and this will become a much bigger part of the conversation, from a team, company, and individual perspective. The change-oriented mindset demands that an individual’s finances are both catered for, and there is a personal plan in place so that people are in control in the future.”
Lucila Castañeira, Talent Management Director at Aon
Avoiding discussions about money can be detrimental to employee wellbeing and mental health, with many losing sleep counting pennies rather than sheep. But money worries are not just an individual employee concern – when staff are preoccupied with their financial woes, this can have a direct bearing on company performance and productivity.
In fact, research from Salary Finance suggests that employee productivity lost due to financial concerns can be as much as 13% of salary costs – so it pays to alleviate the financial worries of your staff. As a result, many organisations are rightfully treating financial wellbeing as seriously as emotional wellbeing, understanding that both are equally important and can directly impact the other.
In response, some forward-thinking organisations are beginning to incorporate financial education into the workplace. After all, when conversation channels open, your workplace does not have to be where you just earn money – it can be where you learn about it too. By bridging knowledge gaps, employees can make their money work for them, rather than constantly working for their money. This approach not only helps employers to iterate that they care about their employees outside of work and are here to help them, it also creates a healthy precedent that we can openly talk about our finances.
By demonstrating this in the workplace, employers can kickstart two separate but important conversation channels – the first between them and their employees, and the second through facilitating a support network of like-minded staff. After all, fellow employees may also be going through similar financial milestones and hurdles, considering they are likely being paid a similar amount, in a similar location, and on a similar career trajectory.
By facilitating these conversations for everyone, employers can start to bridge knowledge gaps, that could even result in larger societal change, encouraging more people to talk about finances openly, and less likely to suffer in silence, or even ignorance.
Armed with the importance of facilitating these conversations, compassionate employers can begin to provide the skills and benefits that enable employees to improve their financial wellbeing – ensuring their employees’ financial wellbeing is nurtured today, and their pockets lined for the future.
When it comes to alleviating today’s financial hurdles, there is a variety of different approaches that employers can take to help alleviate current money stressors. Whether it is regular finance-themed lunch and learn sessions with external experts, or free access to one-to-one phone consultations with financial advisors, opening up communication channels allows employees to educate themselves on a wide variety of topics. It may be that employees attend every session, or it may be they dip in and dip out to what is relevant to them. Either way, it is a great way for them to feel supported when it comes to a host of pressing financial issues or goals such as paying off student debt or simply making ends meet. By facilitating these conversations regularly, you will not only ease existing staff worries, but you will also set them up for success in the future too – strengthening the wellbeing of your workforce as a result of its resilience.
As well as alleviating pressing financial matters, employers are also able to help employees prepare for the future, by educating their employees about financial benefits that help them plan ahead – be that pension packages, or employee-initiated ISAs. The workplace can help kickstart life events on the right foot, ensuring employees benefit from getting on the property ladder earlier than expected, or enjoying the retirement lifestyle they felt was out of reach. By educating and facilitating conversations about finances, your employees will be better equipped to make the most of your benefits packages, while also enjoying the life lessons that can help them feel more supported and secure in the long run – by both their employer and their pocket.
At Aon, we understand that every team and individual is different, which is why when we help you create the environments for these ongoing conversations, and the benefits that compliment them, we take the trouble to find out what your employees actually want to gain – both educationally and financially.
By tapping into the financial wellbeing of your employees, and the monetary journey they find themselves embarking on – willingly or not – we are able to ensure that conversations, and benefits, are as meaningful and relevant as possible to your workforce. In doing so, together we can help make money a topic that is less of a taboo, and instead seen as a tool for improving employees’ wellbeing and productivity. By creating these conversations and empowering your employees by going beyond the financial benefits of a paypacket, you can start to change the conversation around finances.
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