Destigmatizing Debt in the Workplace

Consumer debt in America continues to rise with no end in sight with the average US household Debts in excess of $155,000 – an increase of more than six percent compared to the previous year. Homebuyers could soon be capitalizing in a slowing housing market, but supply chain issues that emerged during the pandemic persist and government relief efforts to support American households are no longer in play.

As debt continues to mount, so do financial shocks Pew defines a significant loss of income or a large unexpected expense. Sixty percent of Americans experience one financial shock and a third experience two or more each year. This increases the financial pressure on American families, nearly 70% of whom have no emergency savings. That cost is typically around $2,000 — which is half a month’s income for the average household.

Using up existing savings is often the first option when employees face a financial shock, and once that happens it’s not easy to rebuild. Almost 50% of American workers who depleted their emergency reserves have been unable to rebuild them. Thereafter, many employees, particularly those with subprime credit ratings, are forced to turn to expensive sources of credit, especially sources where they can get money quickly. Topping the list are payday loans, online mortgage loans, pawn shops, and borrowing money from friends or family.

Financial shocks can take many forms. Shannon, who works at a Nevada hospital system, needed $23,000 to repair the home she lives in with her daughter and grandchildren after a flood destroyed it. For Jenell, a teacher who supplements her salary by traveling in the summer and training other teachers, COVID-19 cost her at least $10,000 in wages she relied on. Water heaters break, unexpected medical bills crop up, and the list goes on.

This has profound implications for companies. Employees dealing with high-priced debt more likely financial stress, which makes them vulnerable to depression, anxiety, and dysfunctional relationships with family, friends, and co-workers. They feel shame and panic and are constantly on edge, worried about when the next financial storm will hit. At work, half of the employees People with debt stress spend an average of one hour a week dealing with debt-related issues at work. And they are more than twice as likely to find another employer.

Continue reading: Financial literacy is important to Gen Z—and they want employers to help them with that

With debt so widespread, why is debt still a taboo subject in American business? And, more importantly, how can business leaders change the tone of the debt conversation internally?

End the stigma
In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, companies were on their way to becoming more empathetic — but not so fast. Only 13% of employees say they can talk openly about money at work and get the help they need, and in a recent Gallup poll Out of more than 15,000 workers, just a quarter responded that they feel their employer cares about their well-being – half the percentage who responded in the early days of the pandemic.

This is discouraging news for employees, many of whom are afraid to disclose their financial shortcomings, believing it implies weakness and could damage their standing in the workplace.

Continue reading: It’s time for new financial security solutions that meet the needs of low-income workers

For employers to end the stigma of talking about finance — and debt in particular — at work, they must regain the empathy they have proven capable of during the pandemic and a culture of openness, support and non-judgment create.

This creates trust among employees and, over time, loyalty. As a workerMonique said of her company that provides welfare services, “I just like my employer more because not only does it pay me, but it helps me financially, healthwise, and mentally health.”

Implement programs that prioritize financial resilience
While empathy allows employees to open up, it is supported by programs and benefits that keep them from leaving the company. More than 40% of employees in a current survey said they left jobs to seek better services.

Employers took notice, especially when workers fled their jobs for better opportunities and benefits during the Great Resignation. Eighty-five percent said their performance data is important in defining their performance strategy. For employers, this means knowing their employees and the challenges they face, including finances. Six out of ten workers say financial wellness benefits that drive savings are a top priority.

Continue reading: How to increase financial security and savings for low-income workers

Salary-related benefits can give employees access to emergency savings accounts or affordable loans that allow them to pay off existing large debts. In this way, they can save more money for unexpected expenses that may arise in the future.

The pain workers feel from debt is real. It leads to anxiety, stress and other psychological problems that affect them not only at home but also at work. Employers have an opportunity before them: Take a page from the pandemic playbook and show more empathy and implement supportive programs that help workers manage debt effectively and build financial resilience.

About Bradley J. Bridges

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