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Roundtable recap: Helping employees through the cost of living crisis

Retail and hospitality employers talk about helping employees deal with cost of living increases.

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Last week Humanforce Thrive hosted some of Australia’s leading retail and hospitality employers in a discussion about helping employees deal with the recent rises in costs of everyday items like groceries and petrol.

The conversation ranged from why employers have shied away from implementing financial wellbeing programs in the past to what’s causing these cost of living pressures that are making life so difficult for many hospitality and retail workers. Just this week inflation hit 6.1% — the fastest annual increase in Australia in 31 years.

Though the causes for price increases may be varied, one thing did stand out to all at the roundtable — there’s never been a more important time for employers to provide holistic wellbeing support by including financial wellbeing as a key pillar.

The strong connection between financial wellbeing and mental health

One of the key speakers at the roundtable was Jane Monica-Jones, a leading financial therapist and mental health and resilience specialist. Jane is a pioneer in the study of the psychological and behavioural challenges with money and financial management practices, such as gambling, overt financial risk, retail therapy, overspending and underearning.

For Jane, this focus on financial wellbeing is essential given that financial stress is ultimately a mental health issue.

“Stress around our finances impacts our mental health and overall wellbeing and prolonged exposure to stress has a significantly detrimental impact on our mental health. We often think of money as just numbers, but at a deeper level it’s about survival,” she said. 

“We know that if you have mental health problems you’re likely to have financial wellbeing issues and if you have financial wellbeing issues you’re likely to have mental health problems. So we need to really look at the way we manage and feel about our finances and treat financial stress as a mental health issue rather than just numbers on the page.”

What can employers do to help employees with rising prices?

The conversation at the roundtable then turned to what employers can do. With everyone agreeing that at a high level it is a two step process. The first step is creating an open and supportive culture, the second step is finding the right support programs.

“Employers have a great opportunity to change the collective culture. If we can say that money is one of the biggest mental health issues that we all experience and can create cultures that are safe, then that is the ultimate employee value proposition. You can be a leader in cultural change by making sure your employees are holistically supported. It’s not just about physical health, it’s not just about mental health, it’s also about financial health,” said Monica-Jones.

“So the first step is to create a safe and open culture. The second step is to look at what programs can support financial wellbeing, especially those that go beyond financial literacy. Financial literacy is important, but it’s not everything. It’s about building confidence and agency and supporting people, because financial literacy plus financial capability equals financial wellbeing. This is where HR departments can lead.”

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