Employers play an important role in improving their workforce’s financial wellbeing. This includes paying people enough and fairly; offering secure, good quality jobs; providing benefits that help stretch the value of their pay packets; and arranging financial education and guidance so they can make better choices when spending, investing or saving their money.

The situation

Since the 2008 financial crisis, average (median) UK employee earnings have not grown as fast as prices. The introduction of the statutory National Living Wage has meant pay rises for those at the very bottom of the pay scale, but in real terms, pay for the average worker has little changed between March 2008 and March 2020. 

While average pay in real terms has increased during the pandemic, the ONS believes this is ‘being driven by compositional effects of a fall in the number and proportion of lower-paid employee jobs’. In reality, many people report a fall in their financial security, something that could worsen depending on when and how the government reduces its support for people and business.

Money worries have been shown to impact employees' ability to do their job, and many employers are struggling to make the productivity gains they need to enable real-terms pay rises across the board.  

The COVID-19 pandemic has made money worries an even starker reality for many more working people and, as our Labour Market Outlook suggests, it could push the prospect of a real-terms pay rise for many into the future.

CIPD viewpoint

As income providers, employers have a responsibility to support their workers’ financial wellbeing. This includes paying a fair and liveable wage, supporting people to progress into higher-paid roles, and providing access to information and guidance to help staff manage their finances, such as that provided by the Money Advice Service.

Government support for employers to hold onto their workers during the downturn should help to ensure that many workers avoid losing their jobs and livelihoods as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. But, not all jobs have been saved, and many households are now relying on significantly reduced income. The moral case for supporting employee financial wellbeing has never been stronger, but there’s also a compelling business case.

For example, employers that pay the UK’s voluntary Real Living Wage report business benefits including enhanced reputation, easier recruitment, better labour relations and improved employee commitment and motivation.

Some may feel less able to introduce the Real Living Wage in times of economic uncertainty, but those that can afford it should avoid deferring their plans to do so.  In the longer term, the key to making a Real Living Wage a reality for everyone is to help businesses raise their productivity. Evidence suggests that enhancing the support available to help small firms improve their people management skills could help boost productivity and consequently wages

However, employers cannot alone improve the financial wellbeing of their employees. Employees, the financial services industry, benefit providers, advisers and administrators, and the Government all have key roles to play in minimising the risk of in-work poverty. From universal credit, education and housing to pensions, financial education and household budgeting, this will include rules and regulations as well as the use of ‘nudges’ and less use of jargon.

Recommendations for employers

Short-term: 
 
  • Avoid making sudden decisions to cut people and pay in response to the coronavirus before you’ve explored all the consequences and alternatives; check out all the government support on offer to help you protect jobs and income.  
  • Ensure that pay outcomes and processes in your organisation are fair, such as by checking the reasons for pay gaps by gender or ethnicity. 
  • Pay your workers as much as you can afford and ensure that those at the bottom of the pay scale earn enough to live on.  
  • Point employees to useful sources of financial information and guidance, such as the Money Advice Service
 
Longer-term: 
  • Investigate becoming an accredited Living Wage employer. Employers that have signed up – or are in the process of signing – report a range of business benefits, from enhanced reputations and labour relations to improved commitment and motivation. 
  • Create a financial wellbeing strategy that supports – and is supported by – the organisation’s overall health and well-being strategy. This should include running financial education and benefit communication programmes to make employees aware of the options open to them and how to get the most from their decisions. 
  • Explore how low-waged workers can progress in their careers and increase their earning potential; for example, by providing learning and development opportunities that enable people to learn new skills and take on additional responsibilities. 
  • Help stretch employees’ earnings by providing staff benefits, either directly or through a voluntary benefits scheme. Explore which benefits suit the needs of the workforce and investigate whether these can be offered flexibly so that individuals can select those that best suit their circumstances.
  • Put support mechanisms in place should employees fall into financial difficulties. This could include hardship loans, access to debt counselling or early pay access. 
  • Invest in your people management capabilities to help boost productivity and make pay rises more affordable.

Actions for Government

Short-term:
  • Protect jobs and wages by maintaining the current levels of financial support to employers and employees for as long as is needed during the pandemic and its immediate aftermath.
  • Improve financial support during illness, such as through statutory sick pay and the COVID self-isolation payment.

Longer-term:
  • Help improve financial wellbeing by embedding financial literacy in schools, further education, higher education and apprenticeships, and working with employers and the financial services industry to improve financial awareness among employees.
  • The key to improving reward for everyone is to help businesses raise their productivity. Within the industrial strategy, consider developing a stronger focus on boosting demand for skills and improving how skills are used at work to boost productivity (for example, by using sector deals to incentivise employers to take action in improving workplace practices). It should also make it easier for employers to invest more flexibly in the skills that matter to them and their staff, including through greater use of digital learning to strengthen life-long learning provision, by replacing the Apprenticeship levy with a broader training levy.

CIPD resources and references

External resources and references

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