In the UK, the cry 'heating or eating' is already echoing loudly. In the Netherlands, many people are also watching the skyrocketing inflation figures and their energy contracts with fear and trembling. According to HR policy manager Annemiek Baars, it is still unclear whether those developments will push UT employees (deeper) into debt. 'For now, we can only base ourselves on national figures from the Nibud (National Institute for Family Finance Information, ed.): 20 per cent of Dutch citizens are already struggling with payment issues. 36 per cent expects a challenge in making ends meet. We want to anticipate developments in time, with a package of measures. We deem it to be modern and good employment practice.’
Anonymous phone number
A first concrete measure is to set up a helpdesk. Baars clarifies, ‘It is an anonymous phone number outside the organisation. This way, people can confidentially tell their story. That fits in with the message we want to convey: if you have or risk having money problems, talk about it - and do so sooner rather than later. People may be embarrassed, but financial fitness and health have been shown to be closely linked. If debt piles up, things quickly go from bad to worse: then it's not just another sleepless night, but people start dropping out.'
A next potential step after the helpline is a referral. 'Only if someone is personally open to that idea,' Baars stresses. 'You can think about help from a budget coach, for instance - that can be done internally or through the municipality - or referral for mental support. In terms of case histories, we will have to see which help is appropriate.'
To ensure greater awareness of financial fitness and sustainable employability, the topic will be explicitly addressed during well-being weeks of the UT, in November. There will also be internal training for HR staff. 'So that they know better what to look out for and how to deal with it. After that, we will also offer workshops to managers. They are an employee's first point of contact and therefore form the basis,' according to Baars.
Paying holiday allowance in installments
In terms of financial measures, options are limited for UT according Baars. 'Some universities of applied sciences have plans to financially support their staff. That is an option we are exploring, but we are focusing on this support package first.'
What is possible anyway is the payment of holiday allowance in installments. 'Then, as an employee, you can choose not to have the holiday pay paid out all at once in May, but spread over 12 months. That can help in paying monthly expenses.' For the medium term, HR is going to expand the employee benefits choice model to include sustainability. 'Similar to the bicycle plan. For employees in rental properties, this will not be applicable, but it can help employees who own their property in a tax-friendly way to make that property more sustainable,' says the policy manager.
Finally, human resources hopes to rapidly launch a survey on the extent and nature of the problem among employees. 'Such a baseline survey is still lacking, but we are looking into that together with the Nibud,' says Baars. 'For now, the target group is very broad. It is expected that people dealing with major life events are the most vulnerable. Think of employees who are on the eve of retirement, have just moved house or are dealing with a break-up. There may even be a large group who you wouldn’t expect to be in trouble. The better we know the issue, the better we can offer help.'