Financial Fairness: a New Theme in Employee Wellbeing

Chapter 1

Introducing Financial Fairness

What is financial fairness?

In 2019 employees want more from their working lives than a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work. The concept of ‘fairness’ goes way beyond the stipulations of a standard employment contract.

Employees want work with purpose. They want to feel part of something bigger than themselves. They want to belong.

Intrinsic to that is a sense that their employers respect them and will help them be successful in both their professional and personal lives. That could mean equitable access to professional training resources, or it might mean a reasonable response to requests for flexible working. 

It also encompasses a new concept: financial fairness. While financial fairness certainly includes the idea of being paid fairly for the value you bring to an organisation, it goes far deeper than that. 

It implies a duty to treat employees fairly in all financial dealings and foster a culture of financial wellbeing. It demands, above all, that businesses respect their employees’ time and money. 

In this guide we will introduce the concept of financial fairness, show how it relates to the key area of expense management, and demonstrate its benefits for company culture, employee wellbeing, and ultimately the health of your business.

What does financial fairness look like?

Being fair to your employees financially is an important component of wellbeing at work. It will instill a sense of inclusion and loyalty. What does it mean in practice?

Employees are still routinely asked to pay work-based expenses with their own money, a situation that frequently leaves them short on money towards the end of the month. New research for Soldo* estimates that the approximate value of items that haven’t been claimed back in the last 12 months by SME workers is a whopping £137,171,252.  

And in the same study, almost four in 10 (38%) said they have not claimed back for an item purchased using their own money in the last year.

In effect, employees are giving UK businesses tens of millions of pounds in interest free loans – and in many cases not even being reimbursed for their largesse. 

There are plenty of reasons for this. Some employees are busy – they just don’t get round to claiming their expenses. Or they’re stuck with old paper-based forms. Other employees feel embarrassed asking a more senior person for reimbursement. Either way, expense unfairness amounts to over £137M per annum!

Even when they successfully submit expense claims, outdated expense policies can still cause problems, especially for lower paid workers. One study found that 33% of workers experience cash flow problems after paying business expenses with their own money. Another that a quarter of 18-24 year olds are unable to clear their credit card bills because they are owed expenses from their company. 

It would help if, at the very least, companies reimbursed employee expense spending promptly. Many do not. One US report found that some employees were waiting five weeks for reimbursement. 

Put simply, if you could design an expense policy with the goal of fostering resentment in SME employees, this would be it.  

A financially fair employer would never pay staff in a way that attracted fees or any of the other complexities of international currency transfer and exchange. They will pay on time, every time, in a predictable fashion and with no employee-side penalties.

Airline Ryanair has denied reports that it makes its staff pay for uniforms and training, but accusations of contract staff in particular ending up out of pocket for work-related spending continue. In fact, employers have no legal obligation to pay for uniforms, but not doing so clearly contradicts the principle of financial fairness. Employers are legally obliged to provide other equipment, like desks and computers, and staff have a right to be reimbursed for other reasonable expenses.

Why is financial fairness an issue now?
Times change. Employees are looking for more from their employers than a pay packet. Millennials now make up the largest generational proportion of the workforce in many countries, and bring modern expectations with them. These include flexible working, continual reskilling and the optimum use of technology. 

They also include the desire to be treated fairly and to work for organisations that promote fairness. Deloitte’s 2018 Millennial survey found that millennial and Generation Z workers value “respect and an acknowledgement of the individual”, and that a “positive workplace culture” is key to employee loyalty. As the study notes: “Young workers are eager for business leaders to be proactive about making a positive impact in society – and to be responsive to employees’ needs.”
Financial fairness is an important ingredient in a larger worldview, with millennial workers and those from later generations favouring organisations whose values match their own.

Financial fairness is an important ingredient in a larger worldview, with millennial workers and those from later generations favouring organisations whose values match their own.

Chapter 2

Financial Fairness and Wellbeing

What is the relationship between fairness and wellbeing? Debt is damaging to mental and physical health. Chasing unpaid expense claims is stressful. When employees feel their finances are being abused – or brushed off as a trivial concern – their wellbeing suffers along with the opinion they hold of their employer.

Also, those near the bottom of an organisation are likely to be those with the least choice or freedom. Managers often have greater rights to e.g. fill in less paperwork, speed up their repayments or just bend the rules. Managers are also likely to be on salaries that are less affected by administrative financial worries. 

It is therefore the lower paid employees that must fill in forms! They are disproportionately going to be affected by financial complexities.

Financial fairness is a wellbeing issue, and one that requires commitment and diligence from both company leaders and employees to achieve.

Employees want financial fairness

According to new Soldo research*, over 50% of SME staff think their company does not do enough to support their financial wellbeing. Among staff with no managerial responsibility, and most likely to be affected by financial unfairness, this figure rises to 67%.

The role of financial fairness in wellbeing

Research from GreenPath Financial Wellness finds that 71% of employees say their top source of stress is personal finance. Stressed employees are less productive, and take more time off sick. When every penny counts, spending personal money on behalf of your employer is – at best – inconvenient. In these circumstances, it’s easy to see how a financial fairness strategy could promote wellbeing:

Benefits for your business

Simply put, businesses benefit from healthier, more productive staff who appreciate the interest you take in their wellbeing. But the rewards of a financial fairness strategy extend beyond the obvious.

Chapter 3

Empowering Staff

Financial fairness also means empowering staff to make good financial decisions, certainly with company money, but perhaps also with their own finances. It might seem odd that we can learn Latin in school, but practical skills like financial discipline are often not on a working curriculum at all. It is no bad thing for businesses to support the interests of their staff and their operations at the same time with a little financial expertise.

Empower staff with financial fairness

Financial empowerment is not a magic bullet

Empowering staff to spend company money is part of a financial fairness strategy, but it is not without risk entirely. Some staff will be more adept at expense spending than others. Some will inevitably spend more on less – or on less valid outcomes. 

That’s to be expected, and accepted. A solution like Soldo, properly set up and managed, prevents employees from spending recklessly. Your company will soon work out who can be trusted to spend more generously, and who might need extra support with expenses spending. Allow employees to make mistakes and learn from them.

Chapter 4

Expense Management and Financial Fairness

Small business expense management is a key ingredient in any financial fairness strategy. 

Poor expense management leads to companies losing control of spending. Permissions are revoked and spending rules tightened. Staff are disempowered and inconvenienced, as panicked managers fall back on outdated expense solutions. This is a significant issue. Soldo’s research reveals that 70% of companies with between 50 and 249 employees do not have a company spending and expenses policy in place.

By contrast, a modern business expenses solution produces the opposite result. Companies know exactly how much money is being spent, by whom and on what. Management rules set limits on financial outlay, by category, vendor or employee. 

Here’s how Soldo enhances financial fairness in four areas of business:

Employees

Good expense management empowers employees to spend money on your company’s behalf, fostering trust and a sense of inclusion. Financial autonomy – through prepaid Mastercard® cards – lets staff act more quickly, solving immediate problems seamlessly. Soldo’s smart business expenses app cuts the time and frustration of expense reporting, letting employees get on with more interesting and productive tasks.

Managers

Managers can give their teams freedom without relinquishing control. With Soldo, they set appropriate limits so expense spending can never snowball. With bespoke policies in place, managers are relieved of the responsibility of approving every trivial expense, while in-depth data reporting helps identify spending patterns and areas where savings might be made. Money can be moved to an employee’s account in a click. Cards can be switched on and off in an instant.

Administrators and CFOs

Administrators can monitor company spending in almost real time, with full visibility of who is spending what. Advanced reporting gives a holistic view of company expenses, meaning CFOs can pinpoint smarter spending strategies. Thanks to expense automations and complete integration with accounting tools like Xero, Soldo gives admins the time and space to look at the bigger picture.

Human resources

A recent IBM survey found that “technology drives people’s choice of employers”. Another study revealed that 35% of employees found their jobs harder because of outdated processes and legacy technologies. Powerful business expenses software like Soldo helps HR attract and retain the best talent. Soldo cards give employees autonomy, showing trust in their experience and instincts. Soldo’s mobile business expenses app give them the tools they need to work the way they want to work – efficiently, on the go, and using the best digital technology available. 

Financial fairness in expense management

Soldo’s research finds that huge numbers of SME employees fail to claim back expenses. Many don’t know what they’re allowed to claim. Others find the process complex and long-winded. Allowing this situation to persist creates a divide between an organisation and its staff.

In addition, financial fairness means treating all staff equally when it comes to expenses. Seniority does not guarantee financial acumen. Using business expenses software throughout an organisation can rein in senior spendthrifts while promoting the vision that all staff are treated in the same way. 

Financial fairness isn’t about equality of outcome – some senior staff will clearly need to spend more than junior colleagues – but it is about equality of approach.

Chapter 5

Expense Management Action Plan

How to execute a financial wellbeing campaign

For HR:

  1. Get buy-in from the C-suite. Present them with evidence in a language they understand. Salary Finance estimates that, together, the cost of lost productivity and higher staff turnover due to financial stress represents between 13 and 17% of an employer’s total salary bill. The bottom line is that financial wellbeing is good for the bottom line.
  2. Do some research. What are the main sources of financial stress for employees in your organisation? It might be monthly budgeting or retirement planning. In younger offices, it might be paying off student loans. In addition, many employees will be confused and frustrated by outdated expense reporting and reimbursement processes.  
  3. Put a strategy in place. The details will depend on the needs of your staff, but good financial wellbeing goes beyond savings and debt. Design your strategy to raise awareness and promote healthy financial behaviours across all areas of personal and business spending. 
  4. Practice what you preach. Promote wellbeing through financial fairness at work. Most importantly, giving employees the tools they need to spend company money wisely avoids the hardship and resentment that can result from staff spending personal cash on company business.

For managers:

  1. Open your eyes. Be aware of who in your team is struggling with money worries. Look out for signs of financial stress, like declining productivity and more time off sick. 
  2. Evangelise. Communicate the benefits of financial wellbeing to your team members. Direct them to available resources and sources of support, and make sure they know about any workplace benefits the company offers. 
  3. Create devolved freedoms. Empower employees to spend company money rather than their own. Small business expense management solution Soldo gives you the tools you need to do it: prepaid real and virtual Mastercard® cards backed by a sophisticated expense management platform. 
  4. Give your team the tools to deliver. Make sure your team members have everything they need to do their jobs properly. Don’t ask them to pay for anything that is really the responsibility of the employer

Financial fairness and expense management: In summary

Financial fairness means treating employees fairly in all financial dealings and fostering a culture of financial wellbeing.

It is needed because:

  1. Many UK workers need help with personal finances, especially monthly budgeting and retirement planning. 
  2. A significant number of employees are still expected to pay company expenses out of their own pockets and claim the money back. Reimbursement can be a complex and time-consuming process, and waiting for repayment can exacerbate financial stress.
  3. Increasingly, employees want to work for businesses they respect. They favour companies they trust and that in turn trust them, and companies that respect their time and money.

In practice, financial fairness means:

  1. Making financial wellbeing part of your broader employee wellbeing strategy.
  2. Trusting employees to spend company money, and never making them spend their own.
  3. Investing in the tools you need to make expense spending and reporting simple, swift and anxiety-free, for both employees and the business.
  4. Putting expense policies in place that apply to all staff equally.

If you want to prioritise financial fairness in your organisation, Soldo can help. Soldo is a powerful business expenses solution that empowers staff with controlled access to company money, while making expense capture and reporting easier than ever. Learn more at Soldo.com.   

*This survey was conducted on behalf of Soldo by TopLine Comms and Opinium Research in June 2019, interviewing 1,000 people in full-time work in small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the UK. Full findings and calculations are available on request.