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How leaders can create a safety net for their employees

The CEO of Canary believes that the leaders who figure out how to do something about their employees’ financial stress are the ones who will create the most value, deliver impact, and help their employees lead extraordinary lives. 

How leaders can create a safety net for their employees
[Images: Frank Eiffert/Unsplash; Rawpxiel]

Today’s world is chaotic, whether you think about the global economy, politics, or what you need to do before dropping your kids off at school. The world of work is often no exception. Shifting rules and norms, and the uncertainty of it all, get in the way of just showing up and doing your best work. We’re all dealing with so much variability and so much change that when work is a source of support and stability, it drives tremendous value for both employees and their companies. 

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The inability to buffer themselves against unexpected financial hardships is a common source of instability for millions of families. Insufficient funds to recover from a major medical event or an urgent home repair can derail a family’s food security and housing stability for years, decades, or in ways that spiral into a cycle they never recover from. For many, a personal emergency fund is out of reach. In a world where unpredictable emergencies run rampant, this is increasingly problematic. We saw this with COVID-19, but it shows up over and over through increasingly frequent natural disasters or personal disasters that yield the same results.  

This means that employees increasingly look to their workplace to provide more than just a paycheck. They also want to feel community and purpose. They want to know that if they experience a major problem, their coworkers and managers will stand by them. They want a path to true financial wellness. Fortunately, there are innovative workplace solutions that go beyond traditional benefits to make this easier for employers to deliver. 

An important new wellness offering in this category is to build a community-wide safety net. Establishing an emergency relief fund, where companies work with a third party to administer the tax-advantaged collection and fair and consistent distribution of money for employees who suffer hardships, allows employers of all sizes to act on a “we are all in it together” mentality.  

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There are three things employers should keep in mind to achieve just that:  

Foster a work community that shows employees that you care

Community is the lifeblood of a successful organization, and it’s harder than ever to create in a remote-friendly work environment. In order for people to feel connected to the work that they do and the people they work with, there needs to be tangible action behind the ubiquitous (and, sadly, sometimes hollow) statements of corporate caring. 

Without a focus on showing employees that they care, businesses lose out on attracting, retaining, and motivating the best talent possible. Millennials especially—now the largest part of the workforce—prioritize organizations with clear values. Stepping up when employees experience a crisis demonstrates exactly that. 

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I’m lucky to be able to share Anne’s story. Anne and her husband’s income were disrupted by COVID, so they were behind on rent and in danger of eviction just weeks before the birth of their child. Anne experienced serious pregnancy complications due to their financial stress.  

Fortunately, Anne had access to an employee wellness offering like an emergency relief fund that provided her with emergency funds within a couple of days. She paid her rent, bought groceries, delivered a healthy baby—and when it was time, got back to work. 

There is no clearer way for Anne’s employer to demonstrate that she is a valued member of her company’s community and that the employer is committed to her long-term well-being. Their community-wide safety net changed her life forever.  

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Deliver confidence and dignity in the workplace

With any employee wellness offering, employers need to ensure that people can get the help that they need with dignity and efficiency. If the program is burdensome to access, or delivered with a dose of worry and shame, it won’t deliver results for either employers or their workforce. This is true no matter what the benefit is. There are a few elements to achieving this.  

The first step is simple to say but hard for some companies to deliver: pay employees a livable wage. This is a baseline that can be built on, and without it, additional ways of helping the community just feel like window dressing.  

Additionally, employers can conduct anonymous employee wellness surveys to better gauge their overall needs. Make sure that people leaders have a true pulse on stress levels and the priorities of the community. Focus on signs they are financially stressed, such as early 401k withdrawals, workers asking for more flexible/frequent pay schedules, or advances on their earnings. Being driven by what the community most needs will ensure that additional offerings are used and valued.  

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If your workforce seems financially stressed, make it your responsibility to do something about it. The leaders who figure out how address this are the ones who will create the most value, deliver impact, and help their employees lead extraordinary lives. 

Continually innovate

Fortunately, or unfortunately, the chaotic pace of change everywhere around us isn’t slowing down. This means employers are in a tough spot. They need to figure out how to be the buffer for their employees, establishing enough stability for them to then show up to work with focus and commitment. At the same time, they need to look ahead and prepare themselves for the next change around the corner. The highest need today may be remote work policies and flexible schedules, but tomorrow, it may be something else. 

This is also an opportunity. Building a culture of caring and stability is an evergreen need. The companies who seize this moment of transition to create and innovate around establishing a workplace that genuinely engages motivates and supports its talent will be the ones who emerge from it stronger and poised for long-term success. 

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Rachel Schneider is the CEO and founder of Canary.   


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