Clearing the air on financial wellbeing
- 8 Min Read
Financial wellbeing is yet another prong to overall wellness that we are being called to examine further.
“Every day, I do my best to position myself such that my knowledge and abilities will be recognized. Professionally, I am well on my way and love the variety of work I do. I feel great and on top of the world some days, and other days I feel like my world is crashing down on me. I genuinely feel that I have worked hard and tirelessly to be where I am today. I understand that adversity is necessary to realize success, but it feels like I have been in limbo for a long time. Setbacks make me feel like I’m a failure; like I have made the wrong decisions. It’s a place of hurt and sorrow and hopelessness that I would not wish on my worst enemy. What I want is simple. I want to have the money to live and enjoy life on my own terms. I feel like money controls me and my life. It isn’t a good feeling.”
This is an excerpt from my book “The Absurdity of Doing You: Rebel Elegance for the Evolving Soul where I speak candidly about a time back in 2015 where I felt I was in a bit of a professional and financial purgatory that seemed insurmountable at the time.
Assumptions and reconditioning
Financial insecurity like other afflictions of the human experience has no race, aesthetic or appearance. Our society lauds and praises affluence and excess urging us to remain in a constant cycle of climbing the proverbial corporate ladder, acquiring titles, accolades and capital just so we can either flaunt it in the name of social credibility to keep up with others. Frugality and having just enough to sustain yourself is often made fun of and downcast as a person not being ambitious enough or being too lazy to want better for themselves.
If we are honest, a few things in this condition of financial insecurity are glaring. For one, there is a deep shame that people carry sadly and quietly as they do their best to see themselves out of financial ruin. Other than two family members, I am certain no one else knew I was experiencing the financial instability I described above while it was happening. I wasn’t dressed in rags, my temperament was positive, and I was doing work I loved but at home, all of that was overshadowed by a financial picture that didn’t match what others saw.
Secondly, why as a society are we selling the same narratives decade after decade about the necessity of higher education and becoming a professional powerhouse with unlimited money-making abilities if we are not going to first address what is lacking in our mindsets surrounding wealth and financial stability? I had to learn that matters surrounding money and wealth is more about our mindsets than it is about the amount of money in your bank account.
Changing my overall financial outcome was the result of reconditioning I had to put myself through quite painfully and quietly with no thanks to any of my employers. More importantly, what is the value of work if you otherwise enjoy the company, culture and your job, but your paycheck doesn’t adequately ensure that you can put a decent meal on the table, a roof over your head, and pay for basic health expenses without it resulting in crippling debt?
These are not grandiose asks when you consider that the average person spends more time at a physical place working or working tirelessly via remote work, side gigs, and businesses in hopes that they can continue to pay their rent, mortgage, car payments, student loans (accumulated in the name of achieving professional affluence), the ever-increasing price of food, and all other expenses of being a living being.
What is financial insecurity?
According to Springer’s Social Emergency Medicine’s study on “Financial Insecurity”, it is defined as “a broad term used to describe people who are living paycheck to paycheck and/or who have concerns about making ends meet. People experiencing financial insecurity are not prepared for unanticipated medical expenses.”
LawInsider.com provides another definition for financial insecurity that states it is “a means not having (or perceiving to not have) sufficient money to pay bills to meet basic necessities such as housing, medications, clothing, etc.” Just so we are clear, there is no possible way any employer can solve for all their employee’s financial decisions.
Every person has an ethos surrounding their financial wellbeing that is developed over the course of their lifetime and it is dependent on everything from their relationship to managing needs versus wants to whether or not they grew up feeling like their basic needs were adequately met by their parents. However, what employers are accountable for is ensuring that everyone who works for their establishments are offered not only livable wages, but wages that are fair for the work being executed while attempting to minimize any contribution to additional expenditures.
Unseen financial burdens of the employee
I worked for one of the largest healthcare systems here in New York some years ago where one of the jobs I hired for was phlebotomists. We prided ourselves on getting phlebotomists work as close to their homes as possible because it was advantageous for us in filling shifts, but also it eliminated the concern of there being issues with a person commuting to a patient service center or site. The issue with that was often the managers at those respective sites would shop them out to service centers beyond their areas depending on how good they were and to alleviate understaffing issues. When this happened, those phlebotomists were also on the hook for driving their personal vehicles.
In one case, I had a phlebotomist who became burdened by the number of miles she was putting on top of an already old car due to her driving outside of the radius she was hired for. Moreover, her car started requiring costly repairs due to driving further than she anticipated and she was further stressed by what she was spending in gas per week. Her hourly wage and slated hours of work per week were not adequate for covering these expenses amid ongoing health issues and managing household expenses. She also worked for three different companies as a phlebotomist to barely make her ends meet.
In this case, this healthcare system banked more than enough in revenue to have sprung for a fleet of reliable cars that mobile phlebotomists could use so that their personal cars were not run into the ground. They could have also covered gas for those cars and her gas when sending her further than her initial territory.
This is what I mean, when I say there are simple things that companies can do to alleviate certain financial burdens for their employees, but they actively choose not to, creating an inordinate amount of stress and strife for their workforces.
What can employers do to help
Mental Health America (MHA) has been surveying employees since 2015 to better understand the impact of the workforce on mental health. In their 2021, Mind the Workplace report, they found that people not only continued to struggle with financial insecurity throughout the pandemic but reported that 25% of respondents diagnosed with anxiety and depression attribute financial insecurity to their ongoing mental health problems.
With this in mind, let’s examine three ways employers can do a better job of alleviating the financial burdens of their employees:
When you are looking at the scope of a particular job role try to absorb as much of the financial burden for company assets and expenses necessary for doing the job.
Something as simple and inconspicuous as dress code can affect your employees’ finances. Do they have to wear business attire? A weekly dry-cleaning bill can become costly. Relaxing your need for people to have to keep up with your company’s fashion requirements could help employees breathe easier financially. Are your employees working longer shifts? Maybe, this is an opportunity to partner with local restaurants to see people are fed and don’t have to spend money they don’t have.
Consider working with firms that offer financial planning or wellbeing consultation and make it mandatory upon hire that everyone receives a year of free counseling.
This takes the burden off you as an organization for having to have difficult conversations around financial stability and hopefully offers some free options to your employees for discussing these concerns in a confidential setting.
Be more flexible about how you handle compensation and payroll.
To the extent possible, you should be doing regular salary surveys and adjusting your ranges for market attractiveness, cost of living, and complexity of duties. If your organization truly does not have the bandwidth to offer healthy raises per year, it should be communicated along with other ways you will assist employees, so they don’t feel burdened. Companies like Walmart are now allowing for check advances for emergencies and better control of week-to-week finances via on-demand pay models.
Financial wellbeing is yet another prong to the overall wellness of the human that we are being called to examine further. It is our job as stewards of work to ensure that we continue to address these topics gently and intentionally so that our people can thrive and not merely survive.