Should employers give staff an hour every month to sort out their financial affairs? Insurance firm AXA is leading the way, but denies it is a marketing ploy for its products.
Poor pension provision, inflated house prices and record levels of personal debt are financial issues that all employees face. For some workers it can even lead to depression or problems with alcohol or drug misuse.
Research by insurance provider AXA has revealed that UK employees suffer from a serious lack of motivation when it comes to spending time addressing their money matters.
Now the company is calling on UK employers to make a commitment to helping their staff take control of their finances by giving them one hour off work a month to spend on personal money management. AXA has pledged to give the time to its 12,000 UK employees through the launch later this month of My Budget Day.
AXA has piloted the scheme among workers at its Bristol and Bolton offices. Employees were given an hour a month to review and manage their finances, including working out their monthly budget, searching for cheaper credit card deals, and reviewing the best savings options.
Sonia Wolsey-Cooper, AXA’s group HR director, said: “Encouraging individuals to find this hour is difficult, so we decided to offer it to employees while they are at work. If we, and other businesses, can demonstrate to our employees how valuable just one hour can be, they are more likely to try and find the time themselves in the future.”
Getting UK business on board though is expected to be a challenge. While 40% of the 500 businesses surveyed by AXA earlier this year said they would give their employees an hour of work time to spend improving their finances, more than half (52%) refused.
However, the initiative has won the backing of the CBI. Director-general Richard Lambert called the idea a “breath of fresh air”, which should be seen as an innovative way for employers to engage with their workforce. “It is a brilliant example of corporate responsibility in action, and shows how an employer’s role really can extend beyond getting the job done,” he said.
The campaign is also supported by union Unite. National officer David Fleming said: “This initiative provides employees with an opportunity to help tackle a great cause of stress in the workplace – financial worries.
“Unite welcomes this scheme as a positive step in addressing the widespread issue of financial exclusion. Allowing employees to spend just one hour reviewing their finances demonstrates a commitment to corporate and social responsibility.”
Speaking at a roundtable event last week, hosted by AXA, Jim Dredge, the Financial Services Authority’s Workplace Working Group programme director, said: “Employers want to know what’s in it for them. Research has shown stress is one of the biggest reasons for work-related absence. People worry about money, which then leads to greater time off.”
Lambert believes that individuals are having to take more responsibility for personal finance issues as the government takes a step back in matters such as pensions. “Employers have an interest in their employees’ wellbeing and peace of mind,” he said.
In theory, AXA’s idea will benefit employees as it is adopted by organisations nationally. But speaking at the event, Liberal-Democrat MP Vincent Cable, acting leader of the party, raised questions about the insurance firm’s motives in launching My Budget Day. He voiced concerns about the independence of the scheme, and becoming nothing more than a push for AXA’s various financial products.
However, Paul Evans, executive director at AXA, denied this. “It is an AXA-funded initiative. We are offering to kick-start the process and a chance for people to do something for themselves. It’s voluntary [for staff] and we are not offering financial advice, but a set of tools through a specialised website,” he said.
Steve Pearsall, HR director at technology firm AEMS, told Personnel Today: “This is a good initiative and is facilitated by technology with online and telephone banking facilities so that the impact on working life can be minimised.
“In my experience, developing a give-and-take approach within the employee-employer relationship makes business sense as employees value the opportunity, and certainly repay this benefit through increased motivation.”
Why give staff an hour?
The study by AXA found that the average UK worker spends 50 minutes every working day engaged in non-work-related activities, what it termed ‘social not-working’. However, the average person spends only 22 minutes a month focusing on their money matters, with one in three not devoting any time to their finances at all.
AXA said: “If businesses are prepared to let their employees spend hours a month wasting their time on text messages, asking them to dedicate just one of those hours to helping their employees alleviate their money worries doesn’t seem like a lot to ask.”