A Proactive Response to Well-Being in the Cost-of-Living Crisis

In light of the cost-of-living crisis, the impact on employee mental health poses new challenges for leaders, who will need to guide the workforce through these turbulent times. Money concerns can have a range of effects on mental health, which may result in performance depletion. A recent study found that one in four employees said money worries affected their ability to do their work; including those earning higher incomes.

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Money-associated stress often results in staff sickness, with 4.2 million workers a year being lost due to problems with financial well-being, meaning it is crucial leaders cultivate psychologically safe spaces where employees feel supported. 

Here are 5 key ways to create a proactive well-being framework.

  1. Embed a culture of psychological safety 

When addressing any well-being issues whether physical, mental or financial; a culture of psychological safety is key. Employees need to feel that they can discuss their concerns honestly with senior leadership without fear of negative consequences.

Leaders can set the precedence for this through their own honesty with colleagues. As leaders we often feel the need to appear strong and collected at all times; however, displaying vulnerability can help demonstrate to employees that it is okay to do the same. This will help create spaces where employees can explore personal challenges with empathy and understanding, whether within teams, with line managers or with healthcare professionals.

  1. Understand employee needs

Making a conscious effort to understand what employees are going through and the kind of support that they need is an integral part of any well-being strategy. Any preconceptions must be abandoned, and leaders must acknowledge that, similarly to mental health struggles, financial burdens impact everyone, regardless of salary, age or responsibilities such as family. Leaders must listen with curiosity as well as empathy, to understand how people feel and identify organisational triggers.

Effectively researching employee needs will help identify target areas and the advice and support that needs to be offered. This will help build a strong programme that aligns with employee needs, as well as making employees feel seen and heard.

  1. Celebrate success together 

During challenging times, it can be easy to focus on the negatives. This can quickly place individuals and teams on the road to burnout because work isn’t bringing a sense of reward or sense of satisfaction. To maximise motivation and engagement among the workforce, small wins should be celebrated with everyone being made to feel proud of their involvement. Encouraging this shared sense of purpose and pride in teams’ work is particularly important when employees are struggling and have become disengaged.

Leaders can also set small, achievable personal professional and well-being goals such as taking a full hour for lunch, eating a nutritious meal and going for a walk. When these are achieved, they should be celebrated together. These kinds of goals also teach teams how to set healthy boundaries and protect them. This sense of community can prevent well-being issues from setting in.

  1. Spot signs of burnout early

Humans are not designed to always be switched on. Unlike computers, we are built for short sprints broken up with periods of recovery. If an employee is feeling pressure from all directions, both at work and at home, and can’t switch off, this can quickly begin to snowball and lead to burnout.

It is important to remember that not all people naturally develop pressure management skills and will not know when to slow down and stop overworking themselves. This can result in a depletion of energy and output as well as a decline in mental and physical health. Leaders must set an example by encouraging clear boundaries and protecting their own. This will help prevent unhealthy habits trickling down through an organisation and being picked up by others. Be vigilant when you see an employee behaving out of character, perhaps being abrupt or impatient with other colleagues, and offer this individual help.

  1. Offer accessible support services

Support services which are easily accessed are key to preventing people from becoming more unwell. Organisations should heavily signpost these and ensure they don’t come with layers of bureaucracy that block fast access.

As well as offering internal organisational support, professionals such as Counsellors, Psychotherapists and Life Coaches who can listen and offer tools and techniques to build personal and financial resilience should be available. This will help employees learn skills to regain confidence and develop effective coping strategies.

Organisations such as the Money and Pensions Service offer free and impartial financial advice through Moneyhelper and should be highlighted by businesses as a useful resource.

Creating a robust, proactive well-being framework that addresses potential well-being issues rather than firefighting them as they become urgent is key to maintaining a safe and happy workforce in times of crisis.


Lesley Cooper is a management consultant with over 25 years’ experience in the design and delivery of all elements of employee well-being management programmes. In 1997 Lesley founded WorkingWell, an award-winning specialist consultancy that helps companies to manage workplace pressure in a way that facilitates growth and development. WorkingWell was shortlisted for “Best Well-Being Service Provider” at the Great British Workplace Well-Being Awards 2021.

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