Why wellbeing is like a three-legged stool

happy young woman sitting on sofa at home

A well-rounded wellbeing programme must focus on three elements – physical, mental and financial wellbeing – if it’s to do the job properly.

Have you ever sat on a three-legged stool? Provided the stool is well made, it will take your weight and you can sit on it without any worries. But if one of the legs is wobbly, it affects the whole stool and it’s not easy to sit on it comfortably anymore. 

It’s the same with wellbeing. If one of the three elements is off in some way, it affects a person’s wellbeing as a whole. 

Debbie Bullock, Wellbeing Lead at Aviva, agrees with that, saying: “The triangle is one of the strongest shapes in construction [1]Footnote 1, and from a wellbeing perspective it’s important to have all three elements – physical, mental and financial – to have the strongest wellbeing programme.

The triangle is one of the strongest shapes in construction, and from a wellbeing perspective it’s important to have all three elements – physical, mental and financial – to have the strongest wellbeing programme.

When supporting employees’ wellbeing, organisations should take a whole person approach. Everything about an individual is linked – our physical health impacts our emotional state and vice versa, our financial wellbeing impacts our mental and physical health. If an individual neglects one it could be to the detriment of the others, and the same can be said for organisational wellbeing programmes.”

You’ve probably heard a lot about physical and mental wellbeing in recent years, and that is brilliant because they are important topics. But can you honestly say you’ve seen financial wellbeing receiving the same level of focus? The thing is, it’s not enough to focus on one or two legs of your stool and assume the third one will be fine.

Why is financial wellbeing important?

Financial wellbeing is important because it’s so fundamental. It’s the sense of security from feeling you have enough money to meet your needs. It’s about being in control of your day-to-day finances and having the financial freedom to make choices that allow you to enjoy life. 

The unprecedented events we’ve seen since early 2020 have accelerated awareness of the importance of personal financial wellbeing. And it’s very much a story of two halves. Some employees have been able to save more with less demands on their pockets. On the other hand, some have seen their income reduced and are facing larger debts or having to provide support for dependent family members. 

And there is a strong link between finance and mental health. Research by The Money and Mental Health Institute claims over 1.5 million people in England alone are experiencing both problem debt and mental health problems [2]Footnote 2.

In the research for our new report Thriving in the Age of Ambiguity, we asked employees how they are feeling about their financial situation. Here are some of the things they told us:

  • 39% say their financial situation is affecting their mental health [3]Footnote 3
  • 57% are just getting by financially
  • 26% say their current level of debt is detrimental to their wellbeing
  • 30% are concerned the money they have won’t last

As you can see, a significant number of employees are struggling with their financial wellbeing. If this is happening in your workplace too, that’s not good news for your business. Poor financial wellbeing can lead to stress. In turn, that can lead to a higher likelihood of your employees experiencing mental health difficulties and that can affect such things as productivity levels and absenteeism. 

Why you’re ideally placed to help improve your employees’ financial wellbeing

Our research shows better financial education is vital in improving levels of financial wellbeing and helping employees thrive in an increasingly ambiguous environment. And as an employer, you’re ideally placed to help.

Debbie Bullock says: “Financial wellbeing is often ignored by employers, because it’s seen as difficult to address or outside of their remit. However, as it’s often the primary source of income for an individual, the workplace can be a great source of financial education and support on topics from simple budgeting to understanding long-term savings such as workplace pensions.”

If you have a wellbeing programme in place, it’s likely you have initiatives to help your employees improve both their physical and mental health. That’s fantastic, but they are only two of the legs of the stool. The question is, do you have anything in place for the third leg, financial wellbeing?

We know from our research that financial confidence can have a tremendous impact on mental health. As an employer, you’re in a position to provide financial education to your employees in manageable chunks. 

What’s more, many employees are looking for this type of support from their employer. They see the workplace as an accessible way to learn more about their finances. It’s often a place where they can absorb key messages and take the actions they need to take to improve their financial wellbeing. And if you can personalise the information and not follow a one-size-fits all approach, your employees are more likely to soak up those messages.

From your point of view as an employer, giving your employees the support they need to gain a greater sense of financial wellbeing is also good for your business. A fully rounded wellbeing programme could help you build a more resilient workforce, with better productivity and lower levels of absenteeism. 

Interested to find out more?

You can discover more about the importance of financial wellbeing in a healthy, happy, productive workforce by reading our latest report, Thriving in the Age of Ambiguity.

Download the report now

Health & Wellbeing articles

Business perspectives articles