Natalie Hall is a Trustee of caba, a former Big Four partner and now runs her own business advising organisations on workplace culture, wellbeing strategy and leadership development.
In any kind of crisis, the first thing an organisation should do is get an understanding of the scale of the challenge and how it’s affecting not just its employees, but wider stakeholders including small suppliers and clients. Initially, it’s key to take stock and try to fully understand the challenges before working up a strategy to support them.
From there, consider the range of potential solutions you could provide as an organisation from direct intervention such as payments to employees to support them through the winter or shortening payment terms for small suppliers, through to providing learning and development tools such as financial management webinars.
There are potential hazards, of course, and it’s important to be mindful of them. Through a cost of living crisis there may be increased prevalence of fraud and it’s important to consider the potential additional risks and ensure that the controls are in place to mitigate this.
To determine how best you can help, you need to create a culture in which people feel safe to talk about what they’re struggling with.
It’s important to consider the type of culture that exists within your organisation and how this might need to evolve in order for employees to be able to share concerns – particularly in relation to the topic of money and debt.
An important part of this process is not to try and cover this kind of topic as part of a normal work meeting or interaction. Instead, find time to properly ask how people are feeling. Create a confidential space in which to talk and normalise the idea of having that conversation.
Another thing to consider is developing managers’ listening skills. Giving people the opportunity to just talk, rather than to necessarily fix their problems, is a valuable part of a conversation and a great first step towards dealing with financial issues. So active listening is incredibly important and something we should ensure managers are aware and capable of.
From there, we need to work on managers’ signposting abilities. From one-off loans to energy reimbursements, do your managers know what support can be provided internally? And if the right support can’t be provided within the business, do they know where they can direct people for external help? Are they aware of what organisations like caba can do?
This particular piece of the puzzle is about questioning how comfortable leaders are when providing support, and whether they have the tools required to start a conversation. You can’t assume your HR team will simply manage this crisis. What’s in place to support them? Do they, themselves, have someone senior who they can turn to when things become too much?
People can struggle to talk about money. We need to find ways of encouraging them to open up, while also being compassionate when they do.
Keep an eye on your team and watch out for signs of stress. Ask yourself, how do you know when your team is struggling? What are the signs of stress that they display? – ask an open question about how they’re feeling.
There are risks that organisations run if they fail to support their people through this crisis. For one thing, of course, there’s the question of staff performing in a productive way. If you’re financially well, you’ll perform more effectively at work. But there’s an ethical consideration at play as well. If an organisation has employees in real financial distress, what does that say about their environmental, social and governance (ESG) agenda? Or about duty of care?
Ultimately, this goes back to having a good wellbeing conversation. We should want people to thrive in the workplace, not just perform.