Author Profile Picture

Anna Rasmussen


Founder & CEO

Read more about Anna Rasmussen

Managing the mental cost of living: Why conversation is key

How can HR help a stressed and anxious workforce when financial aid isn’t an option?

Imagine completing a marathon only to learn you must do it all again the next day. No time to take stock and even less time to recover from the extreme physical and mental exhaustion.
It’s a hypothetical scenario but one that now serves as a fitting analogy for the experiences of millions of employees. Three years ago, the pandemic gave way to widespread isolation and record levels of stress at work but just as that crisis begins to dissipate, the rising cost of living now poses an equally grave threat to employee mental health.

Now it’s time to break the taboo that’s tied to financial distress

It’s exhausting, it’s ongoing – and it’s no wonder that wellbeing and engagement have taken a huge hit.
To make matters worse, organisations are also having to tighten their belts as the prospect of recession looms closer – and for many employees, that means pay rises and bonuses are off the table.

So here’s the conundrum: how can HR teams help their employees to manage the mental cost of living when financial support isn’t an option?

Encourage conversations about money

Organisations have worked hard to dismantle the stigma that surrounds mental health in recent years. Now it’s time to break the taboo that’s tied to financial distress. To do this, HR leaders must encourage people to have regular conversations about money so that managers can identify when an employee is struggling with their finances. The obvious truth is that if managers are unaware of these issues, employees are unlikely to receive the support that may otherwise be available to them.

But how exactly can HR teams start to encourage and normalise these conversations? Ultimately it comes down to a combination of culture and technology. Educating managers about the importance of money conversations is a huge part of the equation, as are internal communications that promote helpful resources and encourage people to speak up when they’re finding it hard to make ends meet.

By underpinning these steps with technologies that enable effective manager-employee conversations (either in-person or remote), HR teams can begin to embed the topic of financial wellbeing into the one-to-one agenda.

Embrace flexible working

This is helpful but allow employees to define what this means for them, whether it’s flexi-hours, in-office, remote or hybrid work or work from anywhere. Once again, the conversation is vital here if managers are to understand the individual needs and circumstances of their employees. Get it right, though, and employers will lend their people the autonomy to choose how and where they want to work, driving intrinsic motivation in the process. Beyond this, there’s also huge potential for those employees to save a considerable spend by way of reduced fuel, travel, and energy bills.

In the current climate, many organisations are unable to offer pay rises but have they considered enabling access to earned pay?

It’s important to avoid a ‘set it and forget it’ mindset when it comes to flexible working, however. The arrangement that suited John* from sales last year may no longer be relevant as his family and financial circumstances change. Flexible working must therefore be an ongoing topic of conversation that is led by the employee, which features in every one-to-one at a regular cadence.

Provide access to earned wages

In the current climate, many organisations are unable to offer pay rises but have they considered enabling access to earned pay? Earned Wage Access (EWA) can provide an alternative means of supporting employees in a financial crisis – and all without adding extra cost to your business. This flexible pay policy, which can be managed in-house or via an outsourced payroll provider, not only offers a vital safety net but one that will make all the difference to those who need it.

The great thing about EWA is that, even if employees don’t use it, just knowing that they have the option to do so can help to relieve the financial stress that many people are experiencing. Better still, if an employee is seen to be regularly accessing their earned pay ahead of time, HR can take proactive steps to provide that individual with extra support and advice.

So if your organisation isn’t already offering EWA, now’s the time to act and let your people know that they have it at their disposal if and when they need it. Importantly, and as part of these communications, HR teams should encourage their people to leverage this safety net responsibly and only on a needs-must basis.

Build your HR comms strategy

People crave clarity in times of crisis – and this calls for increased communication and transparency. Employees will want to know where they stand as well as what to expect – and equally, managers will need more guidance around how to support their people. On a practical level, a strong communications strategy will ensure that managers are aware of any and all Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) that may be leveraged to help individuals in financial distress.

But developing this communication strategy need not be an HR-only remit  – and in fact, ensuring cross-functional expertise can help here.

Recognising people’s efforts is more than just a nice gesture

By working more closely with internal comms (or marketing if you’re a smaller organisation), HR can draw on in-house communications expertise and tap into the tools they’re using to reach different segments of the workforce. It’s about going beyond email and the intranet to create more touchpoints  – and in places that suit the employee.

That means communicating via HR and L&D systems, employee newsletters, internal podcasts and blogs, and even project management tools. The objective is two-fold: use a variety of channels to reinforce the right messages, but also ensure they speak to the challenges at hand so that employees feel supported and cared for.

Recognise and show appreciation

A thank you costs nothing but its value is priceless. Recognising people’s efforts is more than just a nice gesture. It’s an essential means of reassuring employees and eliminating any insecurities they may have about their performance or even job security.

Whether it’s top-down, peer-to-peer, or even bottom-up recognition, creating a company-wide culture of appreciation through tech-enabled ‘high five’ programmes and employee awards is a great way to show people that their contributions are both significant and valued. It’s a simple strategy but one that can genuinely help people to manage the mental toll that comes with being an employee in 2023.

Interested in this topic? Read Collective problem-solving will help HR endure the cost-of-living crisis.

Author Profile Picture
Anna Rasmussen

Founder & CEO

Read more from Anna Rasmussen

Get the latest from HRZone

Subscribe to expert insights on how to create a better workplace for both your business and its people.


Thank you.

Thank you! Your subscription has been confirmed. You'll hear from us soon.
Subscribe to HRZone's newsletter