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Personal finance

3 ways employers can help break the money taboo

October 26, 2023

The money taboo

Companies have worked hard to break down the stigma around mental health to help employees thrive, but plenty of other subjects remain taboo. Just think of sex, politics, religion… and money.

According to the Discomfort Index by FP Canada, these are all touchy subjects. In fact, nearly a quarter of survey respondents said that talking about money is a taboo on par with talking about religion—nearly as bad as sex or politics!1 But just because people aren’t talking about it doesn’t mean it’s not stressing them out.

As seen in Desjardins Insurance’s recent Quantitative Study on Overall Wellness2, Canadians are worried about money. Those worries extend to everything from household expenses to high debt levels, living paycheque to paycheque and saving for short- and long-term goals.3 High interest rates and soaring inflation aren’t making things any easier, but that old money taboo is keeping people from getting the help they need.

Money stress and job performance

According to that same Desjardins Insurance study, when asked to rate their mental, physical, financial, social and environmental wellness, financial wellness came in dead last. But do employers have a role to play? According to the wellness study, they do. A vast majority of Canadian workers—84% in fact—feel their employer has a role to play in their financial wellness.

So it just makes sense—good business sense—for employers to help employees break the money taboo. Why? Because the stress Canadians are feeling about money can affect their performance and ability to focus, which can make them less productive at work, which can affect your bottom line.4

How to break the vicious cycle

Employees are stressed about money, but it’s such a taboo subject that they keep things bottled up inside, which means they also don’t reach out for help, which means their financial situation doesn’t improve, which stresses them out. It’s a vicious cycle.

But why is it taboo to talk about money? In our society, money is often equated to success. As a result, it can be inextricably linked to self-esteem. The entire subject is shrouded in stigma and shame. But it doesn’t have to be.

Just taking these subjects out of the dark and into the light takes away their power. It turns the boogeyman of debt into a simple challenge that can be overcome—with the right help.

3 ways employers can help

Our white paper, "Building Workplace Mental Health Strategies for a Healthy Tomorrow"5, highlighted the fact that employees are often unaware of the mental health supports available to them at work. While that study focused on mental health supports, financial supports aren’t necessarily better known. So we spoke to some of our people to see how employers can start to break down social taboos around money. 

1. Make financial empowerment part of your corporate culture

According to Shahid Hannan, a Senior Education Advisor with Desjardins Insurance, “You can’t just ‘set it and forget it’ when it comes to financial education. You need to make an ongoing commitment to financial empowerment.” And to do so, it needs to be a part of your corporate culture.

That starts with buy-in from leadership. It also means making a commitment to normalizing conversations about finances. Ongoing educational initiatives, finance-focused employee resource groups, and regular financial literacy drop-in events are all initiatives that can help drive this culture. And it all adds up, according to Shahid: “It goes both ways,” he says. “The financial learning helps people feel in control and take control, and at the same time, by talking about it, you’re erasing the taboo.”

2. Showcase ambassadors who have walked the talk

“I advocate for employers to identify ambassadors—local employees who are already participating in their group plan—to share their experience,” says Shahid.

The role of ambassadors is nothing like the role of a financial planner. They’re not there to give advice. Rather, they’re there to tell their own story. By sharing their struggles and what worked for them, they can help destigmatize money struggles and serve as a role model.

"Culturally speaking, we don’t talk about money. We’re shy to talk about it. As a society, we need to overcome that."

    - Shahid Hannan, Senior Education Advisor - Group Retirement Savings, Desjardins Insurance

3. Remind employees about all the tools available to them - not just the financial ones

Andrew Grady, a Financial Planner with Desjardins Insurance, can’t stress enough how important it is for employees to be fully informed about the range of tools and services available. “People forget they even have a retirement savings plan at work!” he says. “And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. They might also have access to free counselling or legal services through a group benefits plan, which can provide safe spaces for people to open up about their financial struggles and help steer them in the right direction.”

You may offer a wide range of services to your employees, but if they don’t know what’s available, they can’t get the help they need. The messaging starts during onboarding, of course, but clear, year-round communications are the best way to keep benefits top of mind.

Breaking the money taboo can help employees take control of their finances and build a more secure financial future. This benefits everyone—employees, their families and employers too. Normalizing conversations about money, letting employees know that they aren’t alone, and giving them the tools and supports they need to strengthen their financial future are all ways employers can help financially empower their employees while attracting and retaining top talent.

To continue the conversation, feel free to contact us

To learn more about how to help your employees become financially empowered, check out this article: 5 ways to reimagine financial education at work.  

1. FP Canada, "The Discomfort Index", February 25, 2020.

2. Desjardins Insurance, Quantitative Study of Overall Wellness by Ad Hoc Research for Desjardins, December 2022. Survey of 2,000 respondents ages 18 and up, living in Canada, including both members and non-members of Desjardins.

3. Financial Consumer Agency of Canada, "Why your employees’ financial well-being matters", January 15, 2019.

4. Ibid.

5. Desjardins Insurance, "Building workplace mental health strategies for a healthy tomorrow", based on research published by the Conference Board of Canada, November 2022.