Feelings of embarrassment and shame around personal financial struggles are affecting Canadians’ workplace productivity and there’s a role for employers to play, according to a new study by Manulife Financial Corp.

The study, conducted in partnership with Homewood Health Inc., surveyed more than 200 employee assistance program counsellors. The vast majority (93 per cent) of respondents believe financial challenges affect work and productivity, and 99 per cent think workplace pension and health plans play an important role in providing safety, security and support to overall employee wellness.

Read: What you don’t know about your employee assistance program

Nearly half (46 per cent) of those surveyed feel it’s difficult for people suffering from financial health issues to reveal those issues, mainly due to shame and embarrassment. Three-quarters (74 per cent) feel that personal finances have a significant impact on emotional and mental health. And just one in three counsellors see people making the connection between their finances and other problems.

The findings highlight a broader impact on business than already well-documented effects on physical and mental wellness, says Sue Reibel, executive vice-president and general manager of institutional markets for Canada at Manulife. “The costs of this are very similar to and connected to the cost of somebody’s physical and mental health being compromised, which employers are very attuned to and have been trying to get ahead of for years,” she says.

“It’s having an effect on the engagement of their employees, the attitude, the energy, the confidence they bring to work, that really helps their business thrive,” she adds. “The stigma associated with someone’s financial situation and the fact that they aren’t dealing with it brings a cost to the employer, through absenteeism, presenteeism . . ..”

Read: Financial woes distracting Canadians at work: survey

So what can employers do to help employees address the issues? First, they have to acknowledge the problem and ensure employees do the same, says Reibel, noting it’s where a financial wellness assessment could be helpful.

One of Manulife’s employer clients completed an assessment and found its employees had an issue with budgeting. “That inability to budget was causing a lot of troubles,” says Reibel. “It was causing them to not be able to save into their retirement program, it was causing a lot of stress, so that was a really important finding for them. So acknowledging there’s something here to be addressed and then figuring out where the highest risk is in your employee base, and then it’s really helping employees to acknowledge this.”

Reibel also believes there’s a need for the industry to start a movement that encourages people to talk about money more openly. “Just like we’ve done so much over the last couple of years of people talking about mental health, it’s also acknowledging that everybody struggles with money,” she says. 

Read: Hamilton hospital hosts back-to-basics financial education series

Copyright © 2021 Transcontinental Media G.P. Originally published on benefitscanada.com

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