Recently Erevena and Octopus Money brought together a group of C-Suite HR and People leaders to discuss how they’re building and retaining motivated, aspirant teams, despite the pressures organisations are currently facing.

The evening started with a panel discussion between Ruth Handcock, CEO at Octopus Money, Leah Sutton, Chief Portfolio Talent Officer at Balderton Capital and Maria Josife, Partner at Erevena. This was followed by a roundtable discussion among all of the attendees about how they’re approaching financial wellbeing in their own workplaces.

These were the main takeaways on how to tackle today’s challenges, both those affecting leaders, and lower-level and mid-level employees:


Treat your leaders like sportspeople

Leaders can’t function without the right support around them. Often, they might be afraid to ask for help, or see having a coach as a sign of failure, where in reality it is the opposite. Having a coach as a support system for C-suite leaders can be invaluable – especially one who understands the stressors they’re facing, and can help them navigate these. A sportsperson wouldn’t be expected to succeed without a coach, so the same thinking should be applied to leadership teams.


The founder landscape is very privileged, with people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds struggling to find backing for their businesses.

Social mobility in the UK is the worst it’s been for 50 years. People from lower socioeconomic backgrounds take 25% longer to progress, regardless of performance, which is reflected in the overwhelming proportion of business leaders and VCs who were privately educated. Nearly half of UK entrepreneurs and tech CEOs went to independent schools, along with 71% of VCs.

Often, VCs won’t invest in a business that doesn’t have a significant savings buffer. This creates yet another barrier for founders from working class backgrounds, who often don’t have a large network of affluent friends and family to raise money from.

These disparities affect gender and ethnicity, too: only 3% of funding goes to women-founded businesses. Between 2009 and 2019, only 0.3% of funding in the UK went to black-owned businesses.


Employers need to change how they view their relationship with employees

With the combination of the pandemic and the cost of living crisis, employees are under a lot of financial strain. Half of employees in the UK will be hunting for new jobs this year, so employers need to take a proactive approach to avoid high turnover.

Employers need to build a familial relationship with their employees, not a transactional one – where the employer cares about the whole person and the individual delivers complete accountability as a result.

As part of this, they’ll need to reevaluate their benefits based on what their employees’ needs are. Without understanding this, any propositions will miss the mark, and become largely “for show” as opposed to meaningfully transforming lives. For example, offering expensive gym memberships, even discounted, to employees who are living paycheck to paycheck won’t bring any value. Start with your core ingredients: a safe culture, mental, physical, financial wellbeing, and then add your flourishes.


Goals have been replaced by apathy, which comes from a place of fear and shame

Many leaders have said that they’ve noticed a lack of motivation among their employees. This could be partially explained by the fact that people entering the workforce today can’t expect to hit the same milestones as previous generations, like buying a house. Combined with the realisation that many won’t be able to attain the same standard of living as their parents, this is likely contributing to the apathy they’re feeling.

Employers need to adapt to these changes when defining their people strategies. Too much of the workplace is still set up for people who experience traditional life milestones. Instead, it should be set up to boost financial wellbeing and engagement, and provide employees with the resources they need to meet their goals, no matter what they are.


What are some practical ways that employers can help?

After implementing any new benefit, it’s important to see if employees understand and engage with it – this is far more important than the £ value of the benefit itself. Again, employers who understand their employees, and build a familial relationship with them, will have more success in implementing benefits that actually resonate.


As one CPO said, “Data is the great democratiser”

Data is the best way to track engagement, share information transparently with employees, and keep companies accountable. Without data, companies run the risk of letting unconscious biases define their HR strategies.

For example, pay transparency is coming up more in conversations at work. Publishing salary bands for each level, with a commitment to revving them, is a great way to engage with employees, and boost financial equity across the organisation.

Finally, companies can’t rely on governments to pass policies that will boost financial wellbeing, or create more equitable workplaces. They need to take accountability and ownership for the duty of care they have towards their employees, which goes far beyond paying a salary and pension.

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Maria Josife, Partner

Specialisms: Board, CEO, COO, Commercial Leadership

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