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How can I help if my friend or employee is having financial problems?

When a friend, coworker or employee is struggling financially, there are ways you can help out without prying.
When a friend, coworker or employee is struggling financially, there are ways you can help out without prying.

Q: I think my friend might be having financial trouble, and while I’d like to help, they are very private and there’s no way I could offer. To complicate matters, my friend also works at the same place I do and I am their immediate supervisor. I’m a manager at a local business in our town where we have close to 100 employees. I’ve overheard my friend a few times on the phone with calls that seemed difficult. Then another employee commented how my friend blew up at someone they were talking to on their cellphone when they thought they were alone in the break room. I’m worried about my friend, and as a manager I also worry about how my friend’s behaviour will affect their work and the workplace. What can I do to help without interfering more than my friend will allow? ~Jessie

A: Personal financial problems can have a big effect on a person’s emotional and psychological well-being as well as their job performance. When we see a friend, employee, co-worker or family member struggling to cope with everyday life it’s hard not to become concerned. Thinking that there might be more involved than we know about makes it that much more disconcerting.

You’re in a bit of a unique situation, which you could ultimately use to your advantage. As a friend, you have insight into your friend’s overall situation. You may know a bit about their family dynamics, if they have a support system to fall back on, and what kind of stress they may be facing in their life. As such, even with a deeply private friend and without knowing any of the details, we can often get a gut feeling about how they’re doing financially.

As their manager, while you need to look out for everyone’s well-being and have business mandates to fulfil, you can help from an arm’s length away. If your friend and employee is struggling financially, it’s only a matter of time before their performance at work is impacted beyond repair; that’s a much harder conversation to have with them. Without pushing them to share more than they’re comfortable sharing, here are some things you can do to help.

Don’t underestimate the significance of financial problems

Money is an integral part of virtually every aspect of our lives. How much or how little we have determines where we can afford to live. It dictates how we live. Do we live paycheque to paycheque? Is there money left at the end of the month? Can we balance needs and wants to have some of both, and do we have enough to plan for a financially stable future? Money allows us to enjoy our free time, take care of our loved ones, and reach our goals.

Because money is so important to living our lives, when someone is facing financial problems, the resulting stress can affect every aspect of their lives as well. Stress can lead to significant physical illnesses, substance abuse, and serious mental health concerns. Their communication abilities may be impacted, personal relationships become strained, physical and psychological health is impaired, and their work may suffer.

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Many people spend night after night lying awake worrying about money. Losing out on precious hours of sleep can, for instance, lead to being less focused while operating a vehicle, whether it’s driving to work or operating machinery as part of their job. One person’s financial problems can and do affect everyone around them.

What can you do to help?

Thankfully there are many ways to help a friend or employee without directly interfering. Start by educating yourself about what to do to alleviate financial trouble. Make some phone calls, check out blogs and online information from reputable websites, even talk to industry professionals. Knowing about some of the options that someone may encounter when seeking help will allow you to be supportive and encouraging to your friend.

You may want to go a step further and contact your province’s consumer protection office to learn about the debt collection act in your province. The act will tell you, for instance, if a debt collector may call someone at work, how often they’re allowed to call, when they can call, and if there’s a way to stop the calls. There are rights and responsibilities for debt collectors as well as consumers that most people don’t know about. They vary across the country so finding out what’s legal in your own province is important.

As a manager, check with your human resources department to see what kinds of help they can arrange. Employer-sponsored workshops might be one option and are a way to help all employees. Our organization has an education team that provides informative employee lunch and learn workshops and webinars on various financial fitness topics. The sessions are always well received because they’re presented in a friendly, non-threatening way. No one is singled out and those who need additional help then know where to turn next. Some employers go a step further and engage our services to offer one-on-one financial coaching for their employees because employers know that they benefit significantly when they invest in the financial wellness of their employees.

If you have an employee assistance program, they likely have psychological counselling benefits. If your workplace doesn’t offer employee assistance benefits that cover counselling, there are community services that provide counselling options, often with a sliding fee scale. Many non-profit credit counselling organizations across Canada provide financial counselling, information and guidance at no cost to individuals.

Waiting too long to get help limits someone’s options

The sooner someone gets help with their finances, the more options they will have available to them and the sooner the detrimental effects of financial problems on their life can be stopped. Unfortunately, many people wait much too long before seeking help with their finances. Beyond drastically limiting their options, a vicious cycle develops – they are worried about money, which leads to making unwise decisions, these choices lead to more stress about money, and they can’t see their way out of this cycle.

The bottom line on financial fitness and money problems

If an employee goes to their employer for help, it is usually a last resort. Most people experiencing financial difficulty will have already exhausted any conventional options available to them. If an employee does come to you, try to be as flexible as possible to accommodate their request for assistance, e.g., to change their payroll account on short notice. They may need to do this to avoid an offset or to deal with legal matters. Employees – and friends – who feel well financially, emotionally and physically are happier, more satisfied, and a lot more productive all around. It’s a win-win for everyone’s bottom line.

Related reading:

Sign Up to Attend a Free Online Workshop with a Friend

What Do Bad Habits Really Cost Us?

How to Communicate with Creditors and Collection Agencies

Scott Hannah is president of the Credit Counselling Society, a non-profit organization. For more information about managing your money or debt, contact Scott by email , check or call 1-888-527-8999.

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020

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