Mental health and the cost of living crisis: how can workplaces help?

October 20 2022

White curve
The cost of living crisis is still dominating the headlines and affecting people's mental health. Here we look at ways of supporting people in the workplace.


Mental health at work

Despite the fact that many employers now provide some form of wellbeing support at work, the cost of mental health related sickness absence is at a record high of £53 - £56 billion. Most costs relate to presenteeism - attending work when you are well enough to do so, with the overal increase relating to staff turnover due to mental ill health.

Prevention is better

With the cost of living crisis, many businesses are also under pressure so a prudent approach to wellbeing support is important. When it comes to mental health, preventative activities give a direct return on investment of £5 - £6 for every £1 spent. Reactive support costs more and often comes too late - the damage has been done.

Furthermore, evidence shows that a one size fits all approach to mental health at work is not that effective; it makes more sense to target interventions for those most in need.

Targeted support

Certain groups in the workplace have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic, including younger workers, women (particularly those with small children) and those with a pre-existing mental health condition. These are also the groups potentially hardest hit by the cost of living crisis.




In-work poverty

Research from the CIPD (Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development) indicates that one in four workers find money worries affect their ability to do their job. Even before the current financial crisis, their research found one in eight workers experienced ‘in-work’ poverty.

So, what can employers do?

  1. Step up two-way communication
  • Be honest – don’t go silent or send overly optimistic messages. Be open with staff about what you’re doing as a business to manage the challenges, and ask for their ideas.
  • Ask your employees what benefits matter most to them. Are yours relevant and fit for purpose?
  • Signpost to good sources of advice, such as The Money and Pensions Service or Money Saving Expert.
  • If you have an employee assistance programme (EAP) find out what support it offers in this area.
  • Invite a guest speaker to talk about managing your money, recording it so people can view it later (the shame associated with money problems may stop people attending).

2.  Have a financial wellbeing policy as part of your mental health and wellbeing strategy. Your policy should include:

  • Your commitment to pay a fair wage.
  • Development and learning opportunities.
  • Financial education.
  • A flexible benefits programme to support different employees’ needs.

3. Make sure your managers are trained in recognising the signs of poor wellbeing and know how to respond.

 Try and understand the reasons behind poor performance: an employee who’s late might have to visit the foodbank on their way to work or change childcare routines to fit tighter budgets. Can you offer more flexibility to help them?

4. Have an effective approach to stress management.

 You may not be able to remove employees’ money worries but you can address other common stressors. One of these is lack of role clarity. Ensure staff know:

  • What’s expected of them.
  • What ‘good’ looks like.
  • Where they can get support, such as training or mentoring, which benefits both them and the business.

The Talking Toolkit: Preventing work-related stress ( can help you have these conversations.


By Abigail Hirshman, Workplace Programme Director

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