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Removing the Mask of Financial Stress in the Workplace

Posted on Aug 31, 2023 3:07:07 PM | By Tasha McDaniel, Attigo Senior Trainer, Certified Health Coach and Behavior Change Specialist (ACE)
Man wearing glasses sitting at desk in an office setting looking concerned while using a laptop.

If you’re familiar with masquerade balls, you know that part of the fun is concealing your identity with a fancy mask. Today, different masks are worn in all types of work environments, but for a less fun reason. These masks are invisible, but used to hide our true emotions.

All of us have moments when we pretend to be okay. We’re grappling with challenges at home but when we arrive at work, we put on a cheerful face. We’re not fine, but our demeanor says otherwise. The mask conceals our true feelings and what we’re going through in our personal lives. It protects our insecurities and vulnerabilities, which are commonly viewed as undesirable characteristics in the workplace.

The Desire to Hide

Dr. Brené Brown, author and research professor at the University of Houston defines vulnerability as uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure (Source: worldofwork.io). It occurs when we’re not sure how others will perceive our realities. At work, we’re more likely to consider the possible consequences of exposing our private lives in our professional settings. It could open the door to judgment, scrutiny, or alienation. Even worse, it could be used to block promotions and opportunities.

Most people strive to be productive in the workplace, but personal challenges and demands can make it difficult to show up consistently with their best selves. The Gallup State of the Global Workplace 2023 Report denotes that workers' stress levels are at a record high (Source: gallup.com).The work itself and the environment are common sources of stress, but many people also carry heavy loads from home. According to a 2023 Bankrate survey, 52 percent say that money has a negative impact on their mental health, up from 42% a year ago (Source: bankrate.com).

The Role of Financial Stress

The impact of financial stress specifically can be quite significant. It can threaten other areas of a person’s life, such as their health, housing, food, transportation, and relationships. It’s also likely to induce physical, emotional, or behavioral symptoms. In the Surgeon General's Framework for Workplace Mental Health and Well-Being, released in October 2022, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy says, “Today, more and more workers are worried about making ends meet, dealing with chronic stress, and struggling to balance the demands of both work and personal lives. The toll on their mental health is growing” (Source: hhs.gov).

Student loan debt in particular is a daunting financial stressor for many people. It is frequently an obstacle to achieving financial well-being, a state of being wherein a person can fully meet current and ongoing financial obligations, can feel secure in their financial future, and is able to make choices that allow them to enjoy life (Source: consumerfinance.gov). The burden of student loan debt leaves some borrowers unable to build an emergency fund or save for retirement. Others delay important milestones, such as buying a car or home or getting married. As a result, it can evoke different types of emotions, such as shame, guilt, or fear.

How to Help

As an employer, manager, or colleague, you may not be aware of the individuals in your workplace who are experiencing major financial stress. Masks may conceal their challenges; however, the stress and its impact are still there. Stress that stems from personal issues and adversities does not simply turn off when work begins. It can affect one’s focus, engagement, and performance, particularly if emotions or anxiety are suppressed. It’s also more likely to lead to presenteeism, which occurs when an employee is physically present but unable to fully perform or focus on their work due to a physical or mental illness (Source: hrmorning.com).

More Important Than Ever

Borrowers with federal student loan debt will soon begin repayment after a three-and-a-half-year payment pause. Most have not made any payments since March 2020 (Source: federalreserve.gov). A significant share is chronically struggling and could benefit from a comprehensive solution (Source: philadelphiafed.org). You can help relieve your employees’ financial burdens and stress by offering Student Loan Repayment Assistance. It’s an attractive employee benefit that enables employers to make tax-free payments up to $5,250 annually toward their employees’ student loans. What’s more, it is a valuable tool for employers to attract and retain quality talent and demonstrate they care about their employees’ lives in and out of the workplace.

Don’t Let Your People Suffer Behind a Mask

Our Attigo suite of solutions provides Student Loan Repayment Assistance, one-on-one repayment counseling, and an online education tool. Don’t let your people suffer behind the mask of financial stress — contact us to learn more.

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