WHY FINANCIAL WELLBEING MATTERS – FOR YOU AND YOUR WORKFORCE

Oonagh Morrison, Regional Manager at Wesleyan Financial Services, the specialist financial services provider for school leaders.

 

Financial wellbeing has been a blind spot that is now starting to get the attention it deserves, with a growing appreciation of the wider implications for employee wellbeing and performance. Still, research by the CIPD – the UK’s professional body for HR and people development – found that only one in ten (11%) employers with health and wellbeing strategies actively focus on financial wellbeing, compared with 57% that actively focus on mental wellbeing. But, with almost half (47%) of UK employees experiencing money worries, there’s clearly an opportunity for employers – including academy trusts – to do more. So, what is financial wellbeing and why is it so important for you as trust leaders?

 

Under pressure

The Government’s Money and Pensions Service defines financial wellbeing as “feeling secure and in control of your finances, both now and in the future. It’s knowing that you can pay the bills today, can deal with the unexpected, and are on track for a healthy financial future.” Financial wellbeing has become an especially pertinent issue recently because of the cost-of-living crisis. Personal finances have been under pressure over the last two years, as rampant inflation means prices have soared across the board – and for teachers and staff, this will have been no exception. Between March 2019 and 2023, for example, energy prices increased by more than two thirds, while the cost of food rose by nearly a fifth. And we are by no means out of the woods yet.

 

Long-term effects

While there are indications interest rates will begin to fall during 2024 and inflation may be starting to slow, prices are still rising and the cost of living is still a challenge for many. And, even as economic conditions improve, the disruption of the recent past will have thrown many teachers’ and staff’s finances into disarray, threatening their security and throwing their plans off course – issues that will have long-term effects.

Teachers and staff may now have depleted their savings, for example, compromising their ability to meet unexpected expenses and leaving them in a more financially vulnerable state.Some      may have been forced to delay or change their retirement plans for fear of not being able to afford to step back from the workplace,      (indeed, one in six teachers surveyed by Wesleyan last year said they would have to reconsider their plans in response to the cost-of-living crisis). Others      may even have had to opt out of their pension scheme, risking the viability of their retirement plans and increasing the risk of a shortfall in their retirement income. Indeed, DfE data, analysed by Wesleyan in June 2023, found that opt-outs because of affordability accounted for nearly three-quarters (72%) of all cases of teachers leaving the Teachers’ Pension Scheme between April 2022 and March 2023 (9,199 teachers out of a total of 12,824). This was up from 64% of teachers leaving the year before (5,193 out of a total of 8,106) Still others may have struggled to find an affordable home to rent, secure an affordable mortgage, or to re-mortgage their property, limiting their ability to live, or keep living, near to their place of work, family and friends.

 

Distracting and demotivating

It’s easy to imagine why any of these circumstances would      prove stressful and have an impact on other aspects of life, including work. The mental strain of living with financial worries can be immense, contributing to poor mental, and potentially, poor physical wellbeing, too. At the very least, it can prove a distracting and demotivating force in a person’s life. From the simple perspective of colleague care,  supporting better financial wellbeing is important for colleagues’ general morale. It may also be able to help reduce sick days where colleagues take time off work due to mental or physical ill-health related to money worries – in turn saving schools and academy trusts from the cost of supply cover and minimising pressure on the wider workforce.

An effective policy around financial wellbeing can also support staff recruitment and retention.

A workplace that includes financial wellbeing as part of a general commitment to staff health is, ultimately, likely to be a more appealing place for your staff to work and keep working, helping your trust and its schools attract the very best talent. It could even mean      keeping some of your most experienced teachers in the classroom for longer than they otherwise would have if no support had been available. For example, a thorough financial wellbeing programme can help educate teachers on the full range of their financial options, including flexible retirement options. That could include taking ‘phased’ retirement as an alternative to leaving the profession altogether, where a teacher can release some of their pension but stay in work with a reduced workload, for the benefit of schools and students alike.

 

A supportive strategy

So, how can trust leaders approach the implementation of an effective financial wellbeing strategy?

The ‘right’ approach will very much depend on each trust’s unique circumstances, and those of individual teachers and staff.

However, there are some general principles that will be helpful to keep in mind:

 

  • Approach financial wellbeing as part of the culture of your organisation.

Financial wellbeing can’t be a ‘once a year’ focus, or something to simply tick off a to-do list.

It needs to be something that receives resources      and attention throughout the year. The sensitive – and sometimes taboo – nature of discussing financial issues should also be considered. For best results, consider providing discreet, professional third-party resources and support that staff can access as and when they need to, privately. This reduces the risk that they simply don’t take action or seek help because they don’t want to disclose personal details or struggles to a colleague. That can include signposting external sources of information and advice. The Mental Health at Work

website, curated by the mental health charity Mind, has produced some excellent resources to support education staff during the cost-of-living crisis, for example. This includes      advice on budgeting, benefits and coping strategies.

 

  • Tailor your support, but keep an open mind

You’ll be working with limited time and money to support a wellbeing programme, so consider taking the simple, but effective, step of asking your staff what wellbeing support they’d value most. A confidential staff wellbeing survey, repeated at least annually, can help identify areas to prioritise.

Together with an expert partner, you can then deliver a programme that will deliver the best possible bang for your buck.

 

  • Don’t discriminate when it comes to retirement.

It’s not a natural priority for staff at the start of their careers, but the sooner we all start planning for our retirement, the better. And a robust retirement plan brings financial security and peace of mind,           so ensuring that staff at all levels have support when it comes to retirement planning is vital. This may be as simple as helping staff to understand their pension options and all the benefits of the Teachers’ Pension Scheme. It will also be useful to discuss ‘phased’ retirement options – the benefits of which seem to have particularly low rates of awareness among teachers. According to a Freedom of Information request submitted by Wesleyan, just 3% of teachers retiring in 2022/23 took advantage of this option, for example. As mentioned above, phased retirement allows teachers to keep working – albeit fewer hours or in a less senior position – while taking up to 75% of their pension. There are some more complex rules around it – for example, teachers’ reduction in workload must mean that their salaries also reduce by at least 20% – but an expert can help explain the rules and advise on what this means for individual circumstances. Overall, it’s a powerful option that gives teachers more flexibility with      the direction of their career, and the shape of their retirement.

Bear in mind that while all of these above points are helpful for supporting your staff’s financial wellbeing, they’re also applicable to thinking about your own financial health. Taking a year-long view, being clear about where you need the most support, and considering the full range of retirement options are likely to all pay dividends in the long run for your wellbeing.

 

What is Wesleyan Financial Services, and how can it help?

Wesleyan is on hand to help academy trusts on their financial wellbeing journeys.

We are a specialist financial services provider for teachers.

We have a team of dedicated Specialist Financial Advisers, ready to offer expert one-off or ongoing

advice at every step of a teachers’ career, from starting training through to planning retirement. This

includes financial advice on investments, mortgages and protection, plus guidance on the Teachers’

Pension Scheme – delivered on a remote or in-person basis to fit around teachers’ busy schedules.

We support trust leaders and their staff on an individual basis with their financial plans, and can work

with trusts to help build financial wellbeing within their schools and networks through financial education, including webinars.

Bear in mind the value of investments and any income can go down as well as up. You may get back less than you invested.

 

Find out more


 

This information is based on our current understanding of legislation. The information contained in this article does not constitute financial advice. The value of your investment can go down as well as up and you may get back less than you invested.

Wesleyan Financial Services Ltd (registered in England and Wales No. 1651212) is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority.

Please note Wesleyan Financial Services are part of a paid for partnership with Forum Strategy. When selecting our partners we do so with careful reference to their expertise and their ethos and values.

Could Wesleyan put from {insert no} to {insert no} just make really clear 77% of teachers haven’t left the teachers pension scheme? Just think that on a quick reading it could read like that!