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What not to say about money at work

Money can be an awkward subject generally, but talking about it at work can be especially tense. Does that mean that we should avoid the subject altogether?
Published 7 Feb 2022
5 min read
Woman working on laptop

If I asked you how much money you currently have in your bank account, how would you respond?

Financial concerns are more than common. Did you know that a third of Australians were under financial stress in 2021? There’s a lot of us in the same boat, yet most of us are looking out to sea.

Money can be an awkward subject at the best of times, but talking about it at work can be especially tense. No matter how friendly we are with our colleagues, it’s unlikely that we’ll ever feel comfortable discussing our personal finances in detail.

But does that mean that we should avoid the subject altogether?

Why is money such a taboo subject?

Even though you might not shout from the rooftops about mental or physical health at work, it’s become a lot more socially acceptable (and encouraged, with initiatives like R U OK Day) to open the conversation about these topics at work. The same cannot be said for money.

Money seems simple in theory, it’s a number attached to your bank account. But individual financial associations go much further beyond what you see on a surface level. Your team member may be battling a big debt or supporting someone who is, they may have financial dependents you are not aware of, or they may be saving up for a big ticket item that they do not wish to disclose. All of this can be tied to complicated feelings.

“It is such a loaded conversation, and there is so much subtext and hidden meaning wrapped up in money,” behavioural finance expert Daniel Crosby told Reuters. “Money is shorthand for happiness, power, and personal efficacy, so it can be very scary. When money is short, it can be seen as a deficiency on the part of the breadwinner.”

As work is the place where we win our bread, the awkward nature of financial conversations is heightened.

What money topics shouldn’t we talk about at work?

Here are some money topics that HR, managers and leaders should not start conversations about at work.

Debt

Personal debt can be tied up in a lot of feelings of shame. No matter how it was accumulated, it can be an incredible source of stress. It may be tied to a mortgage, a credit card, a student loan or a personal loan; but whatever the source – we do not recommend asking your employees questions about their debts.

In the unlikely event that your employee comes to you to discuss debt, you may wish to provide a kind ear or point them in the direction of helpful resources. Remember, it’s important to not give any personal advice as you may not completely understand your employee’s situation.

Instead, direct them to the National Debt Helpline on 1800 007 007 for free and confidential advice from professional financial counsellors.

Personal Savings

Remember that bank account question at the top of this article? The same enquiry should not be made of a person’s savings account.

It’s not cool to ask a member of your team how much money they have in their savings accounts, the value of their assets or how much their retirement or superannuation is worth. Be mindful of the life stages of the different members of your team. Even a lighthearted question about super could cause stress for an older employee with a small fund.

Again, there’s no issue in providing a sympathetic ear as a leader – but we shouldn’t be asking the questions unprompted, and we should refrain from giving direct advice.

Family salaries

Have you ever heard the saying about assumptions? They make an… (we’ll let you fill in the blanks).

It’s not ok to ask or speculate about someone’s family’s salaries. You never know what someone’s family financial dynamics might be – if their partner is earning more or if they come from a wealthy or working class family – and it’s not really anyone’s business to know these things.

If a manager is curious about these things, they should keep it to themselves.

Cryptocurrency

Look – it’s not that you can’t talk about cryptocurrency at work, it’s just a little bit easy to get carried away with it. Watch out for eyes glazing over if you enter a long conversation about this one.

What money topics should we talk about at work?

We can – and should – talk about money at work. It’s all about how you frame it. We suggest avoiding personal financial advice, and instead, discussing more generalised financial wellness.

Financial tools

There’s no reason why you can’t share some helpful resources and tools to help your team grow their financial knowledge.

Our article on financial literacy resources for your team is your gateway to getting started. With government tools, podcasts and other tips; start the conversation with your team today and encourage them to share their own favourite tools.

Savings tips and discounts

Who doesn’t love a discount? No one we know.

Finding great discounts is one of life’s great joys, so why not share the love? Helping your colleagues find deals on everyday items is a fun way to show that you’re looking out for their finances.

You could also go one step further and provide them with Employment Hero’s huge Discount marketplace. Part of our amazing platform benefits, Discounts provides savings on thousands of everyday items from health insurance to gift cards, right through to tech and movie vouchers. Your team can also access our Savings tool, a personalised spending tracker that can help you create financial goals, save money and save on everyday items.

Employee share scheme

When you’re a small business, it’s important to think outside the box when it comes to employee benefits. So, if you may not be able to give big cash bonuses, how else can you reward your team financially?

An employee share scheme could be the answer. It’s a tried and tested method which doesn’t just capture the attention of incoming talent, but can also inspire your team to have a growth mindset throughout their employment.

We are generally more likely to feel ownership over something we, well, own. So when you give your employee shares or equity options, you’ll likely see further engagement, productivity and excitement surrounding performance targets and exceeding goals.

Instead of feeling disconnected from a company’s success, the staff member knows that their contribution to the growth of the company could give their shares greater market value and directly impact their return.

You’ll need to work with a business finance advisor to set this up compliantly, but it could be one of the best conversations you have with your team about money.

Make financial support part of your 2022 wellbeing program

While it may not be an employer’s sole responsibility to ensure financial wellness, offering financial support can make a big difference to your team’s sense of wellbeing.

It’s important to remember that financial wellness and capability looks different for everyone. Though you may not know which of your employees may be suffering from financial stress, you can introduce initiatives to better support all your employees’ financial wellbeing. Doing so won’t just improve their overall wellbeing – it will also improve productivity, retention and engagement.

Wellness at Work 2022

Disclaimer: While due care has been taken in preparing the document, no responsibility is accepted by the author for the accuracy or suitability of the information contained. All liability is expressly disclaimed for any loss or damage which may arise from any person relying on, using or acting on any information contained therein.

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