It might still only be the second week of November, but for most employees there is just one more pay day before Christmas. While talking about the festive season this early might be seen as overkill, we all need to be aware that, for a number of employees within our organisations, Christmas will already be very much playing on their minds… and not for the reasons you might think, either.
ITV reported last year that one third of us pay for Christmas presents on credit. Even more concerningly, almost twenty percent of people will have to borrow money to pay for food over the festive period. Statistically, this means that there will be a substantial number of employees who, right now, will be sitting at their desks and fretting about their finances.
Acknowledging the problem
So, as employers… what can we do? Well, while the pressures are exacerbated by the time of year, financial worries in the workplace are nothing new. Studies have shown that almost three quarters of employees have been distracted at work due to concerns about their personal finances. By looking at ways to alleviate this, we can benefit both employees and employer: a win win all round.
The first and most obvious thing to do is to acknowledge the problem. Help your employees to know that they are not alone. Communicate openly regarding the financial pressures of Christmas, and consider publishing sources of advice, from your own internal EAP to Citizen’s Advice. Very often, financial problems are exacerbated by the fact that individuals bury their heads in the sand over them and don’t necessarily know where to go to get help. Removing this barrier can make a big difference.
Don’t rely on sticking plasters
While it might be tempting to look at offering short term loans to employees in the very worst situations, this is rarely if ever the answer. It provides a sticking plaster to debt rather than addressing the problem at the root cause. Instead, encourage those with financial difficulties to seek professional advice and get the support that they need.
Employers should also ensure that they don’t add to employees’ financial woes by adding mandatory events to the calendar in the run up to Christmas which require a paid for employee contribution. Most organisations will have a Christmas party, and it will vary from business to business as to whether this is fully funded, partly funded, or not funded at all by the employer. If the latter two, set a clear expectation with your employees that attendance is not required, and do your best to watch out for small groups of employees being excluded due to their own means to pay.
Showing you care
Ultimately, it’s about showing compassion, and about acknowledging that, much as there are some individuals who have saved or have the disposable income to be able to go overboard at Christmas, there are also those for whom it is not a time for celebration, but a time for stress, or even full on panic. As the festive hype descends, spare a thought for those who might need a kind word and a bit of a helping hand to get them through.
As a Christian, Christmas to me is extremely important from a religious perspective. It can be easy to get distracted by piles of presents and endless parties. Actually, when it comes down to it: Christmas is about love. Love carries no price tag, and is something we can all give of freely throughout the festive period. This Christmas, let’s remember to show people we care, which is arguably the greatest gift of all.