(aka Financial wellbeing 2020: Why employers should offer financial education, now)
For the past decade, people like Gethin Nedin, Director, Employee Wellbeing, at Benefex, have alerted employers that employees’ money worries are having a significant effect on their work and wellbeing. His recent article prompted me to examine the situation in Australia, leading me to believe 2020 should be the year of financial wellbeing in the workplace. Here’s why.
Increased absence and presenteeism, reduced productivity and engagement, and an increase in mental health issues can all be linked to financial concerns. According to the Society of Human Resource Managment, 83% of HR professionals reported that financial stress in employees negatively impacted work performance. One in three Australian workers say their finances are a major cause of stress. Money worries don’t only affect financial health; as one of the single biggest causes of stress it can impact mental health and physical health too, if left unchecked.
Employees are already under financial strain, and without remedy, this situation will only worsen. Employers need to realise the benefits of offering financial education to their employees, to improve their financial wellbeing, now.
Our overall wellbeing is being negatively affected by our relationship with money. With structural changes in the economy, it’s fair to say that the money worries employees currently face is likely to worsen. A significant number of serious challenges will face Australian employees and their money in 2020:2020
Slow wage growth
Australian workers are currently getting the smallest pay rises since WWII. A range of measures show a significant slowing in wage growth in Australia over the past five years. The Wage Price Index (WPI) grew at an annual average of 2.2 per cent in the five years to December 2018, which compares with average annual growth of 3.3 per cent in the previous five years to December 2013.
In February 2019, Reserve Bank governor Philip Lowe told the House of Representatives Economics Committee, “Many people borrowed, I think, assuming incomes would grow at the old rate and they haven’t, they’re having more difficulty, they’ve got less free cash.”
Australia has a large population of working poor. The ACOSS/UNSW Poverty in Australia 2018 Report found that of the 3 million Australians living below the poverty line (generally defined as 50% of median household income), nearly 1 million of these rely on wages as their main source of income. Particularly vulnerable are the high percentage of sole parent families living in poverty.
To deal with the issues of rising costs and slow wage growth, employees are turning to more borrowing. Australians have the world’s second-largest household debts, at around 120 per cent of GDP (everything the nation produces in a year).. We also have nearly twice as much debt as income, as the level of household debt to income exceed 190% for the first time in September 2019, according to the Reserve Bank of Australia.
Ninety per cent of the nearly 55,000 respondents to the ABC’s recent Australia Talks National Survey, rated household debt as a problem for the nation. On an individual level, 37 per cent are struggling to pay off their own debts, with almost half of millennials reporting that debt is a problem for them personally.
Owning your home has historically been one of the biggest predictors of wealth in later life. Debt-free home ownership used to be known as the fourth pillar of the retirement income system because of its role in reducing poverty in old age.
The average Australian’s dream of home ownership appears to be waning, down from around 70% to around 66%. Additionally, fewer own a home outright, 30%, down from 40% two decades ago. There are now more homeowners with a mortgage than those without, currently 37%, up from 31%.
High real house price growth relative to income remains a barrier to home ownership, despite current low interest rates. The level of housing debt to income has jumped to an all-time high of more than 140 per cent. Professor Roger Wilkins, Deputy Director, HILDA, says housing debt has more than doubled in real terms since 2001. “It’s now averaging around about $350,000 for those with a mortgage debt, compared with around about $160,000 in 2001”.
Mortgage burdens have spiked in the 55-64 age group. In 2001 roughly 80% were mortgage-free. Fifteen years later this plummeted to 56%. These trends are expected to continue. Consequently, as the population ages, a growing number of older Australians will still be paying off a mortgage or paying rent from fixed incomes.
Victims of scamming
A lack of financial education and awareness is compounding people’s abilities to keep their money out of the hands of scammers. According to Westpac’s State of Scams report released in August 2019, nearly one in 10 Australian’s have been scammed in the past year, suffering an average loss of $12,000.
The Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC) revealed scammers were on target to rake in a record $532 million by the end of 2019, with the largest losses being to Investment scams. The ACCC Targeting Scams Report 2018 identified that whilst higher losses are suffered by older Australians, there are much higher rates of reports with losses (20% compared to average 10%) by those aged 24 or under.
This highlights that employees across all income levels and life stages would benefit from improved financial education, and financial wellbeing. If you can learn how to do more with your money, you are in a much better position to navigate any bumps in the road.
With a new decade upon us, it’s time for Australian employers realise the benefits to their organisation if they do more to help their team understand money.
With thanks to Gethin Nedin, Director, Employee Wellbeing, at Benefex for this inspiring article https://www.hrzone.com/lead/change/financial-wellbeing-why-2020-should-be-the-year-that-employers-offer-financial-education
Money101 have been delivering product-free, jargon-free online financial education since 2004. Our Financial Wellbeing program is designed to empower Australians to make better financial decisions, a workplace solution delivered online, anytime on any device.