Financial Wellness & Stigma

Addressing Society’s Money Taboo

“People with financial issues won’t share their worries. They get stuck with them and think about them at night, they think about it when they wake up...” – Professional Counsellor & Study Participant1

In our latest Health and Wealth study – Emotional Barriers to Financial Wellness2 – we talked to professional counsellors to explore the relationship between finances and life’s challenges.3 These counsellors support thousands of working Canadians each year and have a unique perspective into how these issues affect their clients. Why are 40% of Canadians struggling with financial issues even when tools and support is available?4 Their insights were enlightening and may be invaluable for employers wanting to effectively promote financial wellness. Here’s part of what they shared with us:

  • 92% agree that financial issues are intricately woven in people’s lives & problems
  • 74% said financial challenges impact emotional health and 46% said they impact physical health
  • 50% of the time that people seek support, financial issues are part of the underlying issue
  • However, only 33% of counsellors saw clients making the link between financial issues and other life issues

Why aren’t Canadians making the connection? Close to half of the counsellors we spoke to said feelings of shame and embarrassment make it difficult to reveal money issues. Even when clients seek help for life issues directly related to finances – money is the last thing they want to discuss.

“It’s very personal, sometimes more personal than sex. If I ask clients if they want to talk about money they are not very open.” – Professional Counsellor & Study Participant

Employers should take note. Our research tells us that financially well employees are happier, healthier and more productive.4 But even the most comprehensive financial wellness program will only help those who take advantage of it. If employees won’t admit to financial concerns, they are unlikely to take the first step to seek help. Stigma surrounding money issues is a barrier many find daunting - how can employers help employees make this important leap? Professional counsellors recommend an approach based on mental health.

We’ve come a long way when it comes to attitudes on mental health. Mental health issues which were hardly discussed a mere generation ago have been relatively normalized. But this hasn’t happened without effort – companies have invested heavily in mental health strategies. Campaigns to start the conversation on mental illnesses have helped to normalize them. More work has yet to be done but by destigmatizing mental health we have begun to make it easier for those who suffer to feel more secure in opening up and seeking support.

There is an approach that’s working and one which professional counsellors recommend be applied to financial wellness. To remove the stigma facing money issues, they recommend an approach based on normalization, non-judgement and ongoing education – the same approach taken to mental health:

  • Normalization: Employees need to know financial issues are common and experienced by many others - they're not alone and there is a way forward for those ready to make the journey (this can be supported by examples and statistics).
  • Non-judgement: Having financial issues doesn't mean those suffering are inept or unable to manage money. Help employees feel comfortable asking for assistance by shining a light on financial wellness and offering accessible tools and support.
  • Education: Help employees understand that financial literacy is a learned skill for everyone – one which requires education and practice. Ongoing education and support - on topics such as budgeting, investing, home ownership, and retirement – can help solutions seem more within reach.

“Talk about financial wellbeing, financial health. It doesn’t mean being rich but what it means to be in a financially healthy place.” – Professional Counsellor & Study Participant

By normalizing financial issues, and encouraging employees to learn about solutions, employers can help employees take the first important step on the road to financial wellness. Not only can this help avoid larger life crises and contribute to greater overall employee wellness, it can increase workplace engagement and productivity. It’s time to take financial issues out of the darkness and help those suffering see the light.

1 All quotes are verbatim from professional Employee and Family Assistance Program (EFAP) Counsellors who participated in Emotional barriers to financial wellness - 2017 study conducted by Manulife/Homewood
2 Emotional barriers to financial wellness - 2017 study conducted by Manulife/Homewood
3 The study was conducted between April 2016 and July 2017 in three phases, starting with qualitative interviews with nine professional Employee and Family Assistance Program (EFAP) Counsellors. This was followed by a quantitative survey of 223 EFAP Counsellors. The final phase was five key qualitative interviews with professional EFAP Counsellors.
4 Manulife Financial Wellness Study – 2016 Index

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