More than a third of UAE employees are distracted at work because of financial worries, according to a ‘UAE Employee Benefit Trends’ survey by medical insurance provider MetLife. And almost 50 per cent claim they spend more time thinking about personal financial issues at work than they should.

With debt repayments to think about, employees risk not being engaged at work. Worrying about finances can also lead to raised stress levels and, consequently, health problems. If a member of staff is in need of extra cash, they are also more likely to be looking for a better-paid job.

The Metlife survey found that most employees who said they were considering leaving their jobs would stay if offered a better benefits package, but results also showed that benefits managers face some challenges in offering improved packages.

“Both employers and employees told us that a workplace wellness strategy is important to them,” said the study. “And employers with wellness programmes are overwhelmingly satisfied with them. But relatively few in the UAE actually offer a broad wellness package within their benefits. This creates a double opportunity. First, to improve employee engagement and reduce absenteeism from health problems; and second, to clearly differentiate your business from rivals in the war for talent.”

While a wellness package is definitely a bonus for employees, it doesn’t address the issue of personal financial problems. So should employers provide financial education as well?

“The fundamental emphasis on wellness initiatives should be about raising employee education and awareness,” said John Macdonald, vice president, human resources and administration at Lamprell, a construction business based in the UAE.

“Employers cannot force employees to choose a particular lifestyle, to have a better work-life balance or to manage their finances more responsibly, but they can play a major part in influencing and educating them. We run regular health awareness campaigns, which are well received by employees and are playing a part in our efforts to improve employee health and wellbeing. However, they do not necessarily get to the root cause of some of the health issues which can, in many cases, be driven by worries and concerns about personal finances.”

Employers need to know where to draw the line on the subject of financial advice for employees, and the aim should be to raise awareness on how to manage finances, rather than to give personal financial advice or to recommend a specific bank to employees. “As a minimum, I believe some basic ‘living in the UAE’ financial awareness component should be included in any new hire induction programme,” said Macdonald. “It is too easy for new arrivals to be swept up in a wave of potential debt-inducing activities – employers can help them to minimise risk at this stage.

“My biggest concern about employee financial worries, however, is that the employer only ever knows about those individuals that have raised the issue and brought it to the surface. We can have no idea just how many more people are ‘suffering in silence’ because they are too proud to share their concerns. Of course, the same can be said about certain health issues. In this regard, the more reliable information that an employer can make available to its employees, the more chance there is that those that are staying silent will put it to good use and feel more comfortable about reaching out for help,” Macdonald said.

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