Working with your workers to make sure work works for them!

Aviva’s new report shows the vital role employers can play in improving employees’ financial and professional wellbeing post-Covid, says Iona Bain.

As founder of the Young Money Blog, I have heard from many young people over the past year who feel incredibly muddled about their finances and working lives due to Covid-19 restrictions. 

Too often, they have felt alone - and not just in the physical sense. They were cut adrift from friends and colleagues, often let go from jobs or put on furlough and forbidden to work elsewhere, not always supported by their employers and financial providers. In the absence of structure and guidance, many have lost their mojo, used spending as a coping mechanism and drifted into debt.

No wonder that over half of workers aged 18 – 24 feel they have made a bad decision about borrowing money during the pandemic, according to Aviva’s new report on the Thriving in the Age of Ambiguity[1]Footnote 1 The struggling starter is far from alone, in fact. 

Portrait of Iona Bain smiling
Iona Bain

The figures are not much better for the millennial generation: 36% of 25 – 29 year olds say they regret a debt decision they made this year, but with 24% of employees overall saying the same thing, this isn’t a problem unique to young people. 

The link between debt worries and lower wellbeing is undeniable. Age of Ambiguity also shows that 39% of respondents feel their financial problems are having a negative impact on their overall wellbeing, while 60% say they feel ‘controlled’ by their finances.

This should make for worrying reading among employers. Employees with lower financial resilience, a key concept highlighted in the report, are less likely to bring their best selves to work and more likely to be unproductive, fall ill and drop out of the workforce altogether. Besides, this is about doing the right thing: one employee with crushing anxiety about their finances is one employee too many.

The question is: how do we support these young employees in an era where more remote working seems inevitable? The answer is personalised, thoughtful support. Age of Ambiguity shows four distinct professional and financial personalities that employers need to consider. Some will struggle more than others when it comes to flexible working, others will expect it automatically after thriving on more flexibility and autonomy this year.

The point is employers need to be ready to cater to these differing approaches from the get-go, with a top-down culture that truly supports their employees’ choices, personalities and needs. This needs to be accompanied by a commitment to financial education, which will increasingly be a “must” rather than a “nice-to-have” for confused and struggling employees desperate for some trustworthy guidance.

This doesn’t have to be expensive or over-elaborate. It’s about providing accessible, manageable information through various channels and creating what Aviva calls a “safe space” for honest, non-judgemental conversations about money. Even taking this basic first step could put many more employees on a journey towards greater financial confidence. 

It’s high time that we analysed the differing ways that people cope with money and work. I think back to my twenties and wonder how things might have been different if I’d come across more employers who engaged with these issues. As a long-time champion of flexible working, it was disappointing to be head-hunted, then spurned by so many businesses that weren’t prepared to consider it. And it’s only in recent years that financial wellbeing has climbed the agenda, having previously been an afterthought. 

The truth is that we had been living in an age of ambiguity for some time, even before Covid came along. It calls for employers to provide both structure and flexibility, alongside tailored support and education to help all employees get the most out of life and work. Put simply, this is about about making work…work for everyone.

Iona Bain is the UK's go-to voice on young personal finance. She came to prominence as the founder of the award-winning Young Money Blog, which celebrates its ten year anniversary this year. She is a regular presence on TV and radio, with appearances including Question Time, Newsnight and Woman's Hour, and she is also Radio 1's resident Money Hacker, frequently broadcasting her advice to young people across the UK on the station's flagship Life Hacks show. She has a weekly column in the i Newspaper and writes for various titles, most recently the Financial Times and Spectator Life. She published her first book, Spare Change, in 2016 and is the author of a new book, Own It: How our generation can invest our way to a better future, out now in paperback, as well as on audiobook and Kindle. 

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