Energy, public transport, petrol and food prices are the highest they have been in 13 years. With some inflation reaching record highs, employees are facing financial pressures they may have not faced before and as a result, an increase in stress.
Our Lifeworks’ Mental Health Index, collected through an online survey of 2,000 employed people in the United Kingdom, has found that more than one-third (34%) of the British workforce say that inflation is the leading cause of stress, and 30 per cent say their mental health has worsened since the pandemic.
Stress can have a major impact on wellbeing and how employees deal with additional stresses at work. Employers should be mindful of these changes and how they can help to ease employees through this period. The economic climate has already triggered hundreds of job cuts across certain industries, which will only heighten anxiety for employees. The Lifeworks’ Mental HealthIndex also shows that those who are most stressed over the prospect of job loss also have the lowest mental health responses.
Any uncertainty in an area of importance is very stressful. The human mind experiences stress whenever there is change (even if change that is positive). It does not mean that all change is bad, but uncertainty from a change that feels fully out of our own control is particularly stressful and more likely to have a more significant negative impact on our mental health and wellbeing. Economic uncertainty can fit into the category of something that feels outside of our personal control.
Employers also need to recognise that those who are more vulnerable to begin with are more impacted. If one has a cushion of savings and financial knowledge and options, there is a sense of control even in uncertain times. This sense of control and the feeling that although you may be impacted in the short term, you can manage generally in the long-term, is a big factor in mitigating stress.
OurMental HealthIndex also found that a reduction in salary triggers the lowest mental health amongst employees, followed closely by a reduction in working hours. It was also reported that a lack of emergency savings is a driver of lower mental health regardless of income. In light of the challenging economic climate, it’s obvious to see why financial triggers are negatively impacting employee wellbeing and mental health.
The lack of financial cushion creates anxiety and higher vulnerability, which is stressful. Lower financial wellbeing also correlates with lower work productivity and higher turnover risk. While a solution to ease financial worries would be to offer pay settlements in line with rising inflation rates, for many employers this is not possible and fails to address the root of mental health concerns for employees.
While the responsibility of fixing the economic crisis isn’t on employers, the duty of care to manage the impact of the financial climate is clearly in the interest of employers, and needs to have a practical and sustainable approach. It is important to remember that if you are able to offer a salary increase, this alone does not mitigate the problems workers are facing. Programs that make it easier to save for emergencies, financial management information and coaching, company sponsored discount programs and even hardship funds have had more of a focus and display a sense of care towards staff, who in turn feel an increase in control.
Workplaces that can offer flexible working options also allow employees to cut back on commuting costs as well as balance factors, including after-school childcare responsibilities for older children, and enable a focus on individual wellbeing and mental health.
Additionally, the stress of economic uncertainty or any disruption, means that mental health support and services are needed by more people. It is important to ensure that such services are easy to access, confidential and well communicated. For workplaces it also means training managers on mental health in the workplace and their role in supporting it. Providing the education that addresses the stigma around it can have a positive impact on the whole business. Managers should not be mental health counsellors for their employees, but they do have a role in a psychologically safe workplace and spotting when their employees need support.
While all of this is most helpful when in place prior to a downturn, it is never too late. Implementing support during a downturn or even ramping up communication of programs such as EAP and savings schemes that address these issues and also already in place, is also extremely helpful on a practical level and also shows that the employer is concerned about the wellbeing of their people.