Talking about money: “Un-British” or good for culture?
Over the last few years, many things which were previously regarded as workplace taboos have been displaced. The shift to remote and hybrid work. The openness in talking about mental health. The relaxation of formal dress codes.
However there’s a few taboos that are still there. Some should maybe stay that way (please don’t start microwaving fish in the office). But one that needs to be tackled is the issue of talking about money at work.
Recently, we surveyed employees across the UK to see what their thoughts were. The majority (51%) welcomed more open conversations — however there’s also a contrast between the attitudes of different generations. For example, over two-fifths (41%) of Baby Boomers believe that it’s un-British to discuss money in the workplace
This is something we’ve explored in detail in our latest report, which you can download.
Here, we’ll go through some of our key findings, along with a couple of tips for businesses.
Can we talk?..
As we mentioned earlier, open conversations about money is something people do welcome — but there’s uncertainty about how this would actually happen. For example, almost half (47%) of our respondents said they would only talk about money when others initiate the conversation. This shows we’re not quite at the stage where it becomes normal water cooler conversation.
This doesn’t have to mean talking directly about wages though. In fact, a quarter of our survey respondents said they avoided talking about money so they wouldn’t be jealous of colleagues who earn more.
But it can simply mean talking about the challenges people are facing — something which has become especially common during the cost of living crisis. Acknowledging these challenges, rather than sweeping them under the rug, is often the first step to dealing with them.
Plus, bottling things up will only have a negative effect on mental wellbeing, so encouraging open discussions within your workplace is key. 57% of employees said they’d faced money troubles in the last 12 months, so there’s clearly lots to speak about.
To start things off, you should first show this is the culture you want. It could start with organising financial wellbeing surgeries, where external advisors are brought in. These are an opportunity for employees to ask questions and seek advice.
Although the questions are being asked to someone else, as opposed to discussing things with colleagues, it’s a solid starting point. Think of it as a sign to employees that you’re happy to encourage more open conversations.
Senior leaders also have a key part to play. Be direct and tell staff that you want them to feel comfortable talking about their challenges. Use things like company all-hands or staff newsletters to reiterate this — regular communication is the name of the game when trying to drive cultural changes.
Make managers trusted
There also needs to be a bigger focus on educating line managers and positioning them as people to be trusted. Our survey showed that only 19% of employees feel comfortable talking to their managers about financial difficulties. This is a number that needs to improve — the most regular point of contact for most employees is their direct line manager, and the focus shouldn’t just be on work chats.
Ensure they’re trained to spot signs of employees who are struggling in their personal lives. Examples include:
- Someone’s tired when at work
- Someone takes more time off than usual (without a clear reason) or shows up constantly late
- Someone is easily frustrated, gets angry or responds in an irritated way
- Someone isn’t eating properly
- Someone’s productivity plummets
- Someone stops keeping up with their appearance or has poor hygiene
- Someone stops participating in social activities
The Generation Game
Showing you have an open culture is something that’ll be especially important for the younger members of your workforce, who may feel more insecure than others. Our study showed that around a quarter of both Gen Z and Millennial workers said an inability to talk about money in the workplace had a negative impact on their mental health. But a similar number were also worried that talking about it could harm their career progression, showing the dilemma they face.
When compared to the responses from older workers — those in the Gen X and Baby Boomer category — the numbers drop significantly.
"The inability to talk about money in the workplace negatively affects my mental health."
- 22% of Gen Z agree
- 24% of Millennials agree
- 12% of Gen X agree
- 15% of Baby Boomers agree
"Talking about money in the workplace will harm my career progression."
- 24% of Gen Z agree
- 23% of Millennials agree
- 14% of Gen X agree
- 10% of Baby Boomers agree
It’s also worth remembering that even the oldest members of Gen Z have spent the majority of their working lives dealing with instability — things like the pandemic, economic uncertainty and redundancies. Our survey showed that 66% of them had suffered from money troubles in the past 12 months, whereas the figure for Baby Boomers was 45%.
The generational divide went further when we asked employees if they thought greater transparency around money would improve workplace morale.
51% of Gen Z and 47% of Millennial respondents agreed. This number dipped to 33% and 36% for Gen X and Baby Boomers — perhaps reflecting their more traditional values of money being a taboo topic.
The key takeaway
As the numbers in our report highlight, businesses need to take bigger steps forward and encourage employees to be more open around the topic of money. Not only is it the right thing to do from a wellbeing perspective, but it’ll help you provide more meaningful support to the cost of living crisis.