Will there be resistance?
Financial education in the workplace is a great idea – but will your employees think so? Here you are, the big boss telling them that they aren’t good with money and they need to learn to be better with it. That’s obviously not the approach you want to take, even if you believe it’s true. Why should you, as an employer, tell your employees what to do with their money? The point of financial education is not to be judgmental and say “I know everything about money and you could learn something from me”; it’s to help individuals to get some control over their finances. How many people actually know what “APR”, “AMC” and “repayment mortgage” mean? How many people contribute thoughtlessly into their pensions every month without ever really understanding what’s happening to their money? It makes sense for you, as a caring employer, to want to ensure the financial wellbeing of your people. Yes you give them a pay cheque each month – but that might not be enough. Financial wellbeing is just as important as emotional or physical wellbeing – in fact they are linked: problem debt can have a psychological impact upon individuals including problems sleeping and deterioration in work performance*. And of course, not everyone has problem debt, but everyone can be better with money.
How to introduce financial education in to the workplace
You might think that by actually giving individuals a job you’re helping them; and in a way you are because money controls so much of what we can do. But when you give money to someone, you don’t know what they’re going to do with it. The point of financial education is to provide knowledge and tools so that individuals understand how to make the most of the money they have. You’re not saying “you’re bad, be better”, you’re providing them with an opportunity to help themselves if they want to. This is an important aspect of financial education – it shouldn’t be compulsory – that would be patronising: your employer thinks you have debt problems and you have to attend this course. That’s clearly not the way to do it. Employees should be offered the chance to take part in financial education sessions if they wish; they have to know it’s their choice and they’re not being pressured into it. In addition to this, presenting financial education as “education” might put your employees off; they don’t want to be preached to, but they might be happier knowing they are trying to be better with money.
Promoting financial education to your employees
Once you’ve decided you’re going to introduce financial education into your workplace, you then need to promote it. It's a good idea for this promotion to be through a combination of different avenues – posters around the workplace, intranet posts and possibly staff champions. These adverts need to explain that the sessions are not compulsory and the attitude conveyed needs to be inviting, not demanding. As previously noted, don’t call them education; call them something like interactive workshops. It’s important to understand that it’s not just about having problems, it’s about ignorance: individuals don’t want to appear as if they are ignorant about money. The promotion of financial education should make it clear that anyone can benefit – all sorts of people are good with money and all sorts of people are bad with it. Effective communication is vital to ensure that plans are put in place and can be followed through. It’s also a good place to let your employees know your objectives and the reasons for your decisions.
Engagement with financial education
In terms of the financial education sessions themselves, it’s difficult to know whether employees will actively engage when it comes to talking about something as personal as their finances. Financial education needs to provide information but also real-life case studies to help employees see how it relates to their situation. For individuals to openly discuss their financial worries and issues, the environment needs to be comfortable, informal and most importantly, secure. In our experience, it has proven beneficial for individuals to share problems within this informal environment, because it allows for others to suggest ideas and things that they have done in similar situations. For this to be possible it must be made clear to your employees that the education environment is safe and confidential – nothing they say will be passed on to their managers.
Mixing senior staff and their teams for financial education
And this brings us on to the next challenge – mixing senior staff and their teams for financial education. No matter how comfortable an employee feels talking to their boss about personal problems, they're unlikely to want to discuss the details of their financial situation with them. An employee wants to appear professional and capable – how is it going to look if they have problems keeping control of their spending habits? Can you be fired for having debt problems? – No. But you don’t want your employer to know anything that could jeopardise your employment. On the flipside of this, senior staff are supposed to be the ones holding it together – if they have problems with their money, that could look very bad to their team. You can’t think that just because they earn more, they use money any better. We know that everyone has similar problems and worries when it comes to their finances, but it may well be better to provide education separately for senior staff so that they feel comfortable knowing they aren’t making a bad impression on their employees, and team members are able to talk freely without feeling they are being scrutinised by their bosses.
*StepChange Debt Charity; Personal Stats Yearbook 2013