How the NHS can use tech to alleviate financial stress for its staff beyond just a pay rise

James Herbert, CEO and founder of Hastee, an on-demand earnings platform, sheds light on how it might not be enough to just give NHS staff a pay-rise but we need to empower them with flexible pay and benefits to relieve financial pressure.

With the NHS having celebrated a wealth of historical achievements for its 72nd birthday this year, and 2020 itself being one of its biggest challenges, the NHS has become even more recognised for its vital importance. The coronavirus is continuing to test its systems and its staff in a way that nobody could have imagined six short months ago – but we all are thankful for its response.

All industries have been affected by the pandemic and as we emerge from this phase, one question which comes to mind is how we can take learnings from this all, and ultimately, improve. One topic that is coming up again and again, is pay. Unfortunately, this isn’t surprising.

One industry study found that NHS workers top the list of those applying for payday loans and that over half (55%) of nurses have considered quitting as they struggle to make ends meet. Financial flexibility is crucial, and in recent times, it’s only become more so.

Pay discussions are therefore moving into the spotlight and with health unions having taken action by writing to the Prime Minister and the Chancellor to request “immediate NHS pay discussions”, the Government have now, to an extent, responded in July offering the likes of doctors and dentists a 2.8% rise.

The NHS has actively highlighted the importance of such discussions and that there is a link between financial stress and poor mental wellbeing. A pay rise isn’t the only solution here, what needs to be discussed is financial liquidity more broadly. So with pay rise discussions now in the mix, how else can the NHS relieve financial pressure to help its staff using technology?

Reflecting on our human nature to move towards the future

First, let’s reflect on us all as individuals and humans. We are ultimately wired as hunter-gatherers: when we expend effort, we expect an immediate reward.

As technology has developed, we have found that almost everything we want, we can get on-demand. Whether it’s shopping online and getting our goods the next day or streaming movies on Amazon Prime there and then. Because of this all, our expectations have accelerated when it comes to the pace of delivery. This isn’t individual to us as consumers in our day-to-day lives, it is also reflected in the workplace. We ultimately want work to work for us. Part of this comes down to how we access wages. Workers should be able to access a portion of their earned wages whenever they need it, in advance of the monthly pay cycle – whether to help during challenging times or in day-to-day life.

So it only makes sense that individuals have flexible pay, also known as ‘earnings on demand’. In short, earnings on demand allows employees to choose their own pay day. Rather than having their income fixed to particular days of the week or month, they could have the ability to determine when that money is made available within the month.

Though this may sound a small change, flexible pay goes a long way in reducing financial pressures. In its ‘Fit for 2020’ report, the NHS Digital Capability Review highlighted the need to make better use of technology to support key functions including digital services for staff. Workforce planning and procurement were also highlighted as key areas where support is needed. Flexible pay can aid recruitment and increase retention, in turn supporting workforce planning.

While we wait with bated breath to see if and how the NHS undergoes extensive digital transformation, simple, affordable and easy to implement technologies like earnings on demand can have a tangible impact across the organisation without any huge investment or disruption.

A pay rise isn’t the only solution – earnings on demand technology must step in

Pay amount is important, but so is the accessing of pay when it is needed most. There is an issue of liquidity as well as amount.

Technology which aids financial wellbeing in the workforce can support a better quality of care while positioning the NHS as a modern, forward-thinking organisation that embraces technology.

Earnings on demand is already at play across a variety of industries, enabling workers to access a portion of their pay as soon as they earn it. Employers offering flexible pay are effectively giving workers the opportunity to balance their incomings with their outgoings without resorting to borrowing.

This concept is gaining traction as we’ve seen in the proposal by ex-Labour Treasury minister Phil Woolas to Rishi Sunak calling for consumers to be able to use an employer’s payroll like a current bank account – instant access to your money but without any overdraft facility.

South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust, for example, rolled out an earnings on demand platform during the pandemic to give its 5,500 staff the ability to track and access a portion of their earned pay as soon as they earned it. Thanks to this benefit, its staff can now access their money whenever they need it, in advance of the monthly pay cycle – for whatever shopping or bill payment they need – offering liquidity and preventing the need to rely on high-cost credit.

The government’s announcement of a pay rise for NHS staff is greatly welcomed as, like the health unions explained, whilst applause and tributes have been a morale boost, a pay rise truly shows support and acknowledgment of the NHS’ hard work. However, as we’ve experienced from working closely with NHS Trusts up and down the country, a pay rise alone is not the fix for all of life’s financial pressures. Financial liquidity must be a key part of these conversations, and that can only be achieved by giving their staff the option of accessing a portion of their pay whenever they need it, prior to pay day.

James Herbert

Founder and CEO of Hastee, a revolutionary fintech business that allows workers to receive their earned pay on demand.

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