Many employees admit that they cannot afford to get sick, with more than one in three saying that they would not be able to pay their bills if they had to take time off work. These stark findings have been revealed in a report entitled ‘A high wire with no safety net’ published by health and wellbeing provider BHSF.
The report states that 37% of workers say they could not pay their bills if they were ill and 28% admit they would use their credit cards to cover any unexpected bills. The situation is made worse because many people do not have savings to fall back on and two-thirds of UK employees only get the statutory minimum sick pay provision of £89.35 a week.
Unless they have some financial safety net, this statutory minimum is going to have to cover all their monthly outgoings, such as their mortgage or rent, council tax, shopping and utility bills; therefore, employees may become stressed over their dire financial situation or be forced to go back to work before they are fit enough.
Perhaps what is equally worrying is that many employees are looking at their financial situation through rose-coloured spectacles. Many believe they could survive up to six months, despite having high levels of credit card debts – the average is about £1,910 – and a lack of savings. Average savings will last between six and eight weeks before being eaten up by bills.
BHSF managing director Brian Hall warns that two-thirds of the UK workforce would get into serious financial difficulties, which could take years to put straight, through a short illness or accident that means they cannot work.
Those most at risk are in the 30-44 age group, who have more than average unsecured debt and are the least likely to enjoy a quick recovery from financial problems.
The report also highlights the mental effect of financial difficulties, with half the UK’s workers saying they have lost sleep over money and one-third admitting that financial problems are having an adverse effect on their performance at work.
A solution has been put forward by Adrian Lewis, absence management expert at Activ Absence. He believes flexible working can help, with his company allowing employees to temporarily work from home if they feel up to working but are too sick to get to the office.
This means they can feel more relaxed at home and work at their own pace; in addition, they can carry on earning an income while they get better.
This is a good solution for those who have long-term illnesses or accidents, as they can stay in touch with their colleagues and the workplace. Employers could also set up sick pay insurance schemes, which could be a low-cost way to help employees at no cost to the employer.
This would provide a safety net for a company’s most valuable asset – its workforce.
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