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Now is the time to build a financial wellbeing program for your workplace

HR professionals are best placed to lead their companies through this uncertainty.

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Covid-19 has highlighted the vulnerable situation many Australians are in. Even those who are employed may not have the resilience to withstand a financial emergency that lasts for too long.

GM of Wagestream Australia Brad Joffe regularly talks to HR leaders from some of Australia’s largest companies. He explains why HR professionals can be the heroes of this moment, as they’re best positioned to lead their organisations through unprecedented uncertainty, placing a new emphasis on financial wellbeing and resilience at work.

“The current situation with COVID-19 is tough, particularly for HR professionals,” Brad says. “The scale of the impact is unprecedented and has touched nearly everyone in our society.

“People are dispersed with employees working from home. They don’t have the comradery of coming into work while others have been stood down, furloughed or made redundant.

“This situation is particularly tough from a financial perspective, with many people not prepared to face a financial emergency of this magnitude and duration. Now is the time to permanently address the financial wellbeing of the Australian workforce.”

Financial wellbeing doesn’t get the airtime it deserves

“There are some employers who really have financial wellbeing top of mind,” Brad says. “They understand the research behind it and the pillars that support it.

“But in our work, we’ve seen many employers who focus on the opposite end of the spectrum, focusing mainly on the financial hardship of select staff, rather than the financial wellbeing of all their employees.

“Generally, there is a low uptake of employee assistance and hardship programs in the workplace because there is still a huge taboo around financial stress and coming forward to acknowledge you need help.”

Financial wellbeing is not always well-understood

“Many employers understand financial stress is a big problem. Yet, looking deeper financial wellbeing is made up of the ability to make choices, absorb a shock, have financial control and feel secure.

“Organisations often have broad wellbeing programs, built on different pillars including mental health, physical health, emotional health and social health. We often see that financial wellbeing is missing,” he says.

“Organisations either don’t have a financial wellbeing program or it’s squeezed into another wellbeing pillar, perhaps because of a lack of understanding of the interconnectivity between financial, mental and physical wellbeing."

Financial wellbeing focuses on preventing financial stress

“I think a helpful way to understand financial wellbeing in the context of a broader wellbeing program is by thinking about Maslow’s pyramid or hierarchy of needs,” Brad says.

“If you think about the bottom of the pyramid, you have physiological needs, which come first. You need food on the table and a roof over your head, which you get from an income. If you don’t address those base physiological needs, it’s harder to progress up the pyramid to any other parts of a wellbeing program.

“While employee assistance programs and hardship support are really important, they address the symptoms, not the cause. The majority of these measures intervene when it is potentially too late.

“The best analogy for financial wellbeing would be looking at the recent focus on preventative medicine, that is, how do we keep people healthy so they don’t get sick?

“In this moment, the wellbeing of staff can’t be underestimated but it needs to include all aspects of wellbeing to ensure employees are mentally, physically and financially fit.”

HR can create enduring change for their employees and their businesses

“A recent article in the Economist said that in a pandemic, chief people officers can make or break a company. During the global financial crisis, it was the chief finance officers that saved their companies.

“The people who can really lead their people through this time are the HR professionals. Their duties are absolutely critical right now.”

“The best organisations from a wellbeing perspective acknowledge their inherent involvement in the lives of their people.

“Twenty years ago, if you asked an employer what they were doing about the mental health of their staff, they wouldn’t have seen it as their responsibility, and that thinking has changed drastically.

“From a financial point of view, what we’re seeing is a shift away from employers believing their responsibility ends at merely giving their employees a pay cheque to ‘how can I promote good behaviours and support my employees financially in addition to paying them?’

“I think there needs to be recognition by more organisations, especially in a post COVID-19 environment that the lines are increasingly blurred between personal and professional life.

“If financial wellbeing can help employees manage their finances better, feel less stressed, less anxious at work, then that will have positive flow on effects for their organisations as well.”

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