Two minutes with… Niamh McLaughlin, Managing Director from WorkLife
Tell us a bit about yourself and WorkLife
I am originally from Derry in Northern Ireland but have been living in Manchester for the past ten years. I initially only planned to come over for two but fell in love with the place so here I am!
I studied languages at university, so definitely not your ‘traditional’ route into the employee benefits sector. I joined WorkLife in July 2021 having previously worked in litigation funding and invoice finance, so the past few months have been a real learning curve for me, but one that I’ve very much enjoyed.
What drew me to WorkLife by OpenMoney was the team’s clear passion for making employee benefits affordable and accessible for all businesses, regardless of size. A big differentiator for us is our ability to serve the SME market as well as large corporates – having a strong employee benefits proposition can help ensure a level playing field when it comes to businesses recruiting and retaining talent.
Why do you think it is so important for employers to be providing proper regulated financial advice rather than financial education or guidance?
If someone is in financial difficulty it can lead to other issues – for example, if you can’t sleep because you’re stressing about your personal finances, this can affect your mental and physical health and wellbeing. Employers have a duty of care to their employees that’s not just about ensuring they know how to pick up a box correctly, but also that their overall wellbeing is taken care of.
Financial literacy is a big issue in the UK, particularly among younger people coming into the workplace. We believe that every young person should be given the tools to understand how best to budget and maximise their income along with their very first paycheck and offering free financial advice as a benefit through the workplace is one of the most effective and cost-effective ways to do this.
This isn’t just about young people either – financial advice can also be invaluable for employees approaching retirement, helping to ensure the money they’ve worked so hard to earn over the years is made to work as hard as it possibly can.
Why should employers be prioritising employee benefits and wellbeing right now, and where should they start when it comes to designing their effective wellbeing strategy?
In the face of ongoing labour shortages, having a robust and attractive reward package in place can really set you apart from the competition. Aside from this, it sends a message that you care enough about your staff to invest in their wellbeing – both in and outside work.
In terms of where employers should start when it comes to designing an effective wellbeing strategy, we encourage all businesses to ensure any package addresses the five key pillars of an employee’s wellbeing – financial, physical, mental, environmental and social.
It’s equally important to engage with employees on what they actually want and need, because what they initially needed when starting out might not be the same a year down the line. With this in mind, it’s essential to constantly review the strategy and build on any areas where additional resource may be required.
What positives have you taken from the whole lockdown experience?
It’s definitely made me realise what’s important in life. For example, before lockdown my husband was a chef and would work evenings and weekends while I typically worked 9-5. Post lockdown, he has totally changed careers and is now a postman. I guess he realised how much of life he had missed out on because of his career.
Another big learning is the benefits that hybrid working brings in terms of overall work-life balance. I once held a role in Yorkshire where I’d spend hours a day commuting – we’re now getting more time back, so can use it more effectively.
Who has single-handedly made your industry better?
I don’t think there is any one person in particular, as there are so many people who are showing what we should be doing and how we can improve things.
I think it takes a collective effort to facilitate change. There are bodies like the Financial Vulnerability Task Force who are doing hugely important work to ensure that firms and professionals within the financial services sector are looking after the best interests of their clients.
If you could give a younger version of yourself one piece of financial advice, what would it be?
Credit cards and overdrafts need to be paid back when university ends. The party is over, come graduation day!
What would you do if you were the head of the FCA for the day?
I’d make it mandatory for employers to provide free financial advice for their employees – or at least signpost people towards reputable guidance and advisers.
What is the one column or website that you use every day?
BBC News Northern Ireland so I can see what’s happening at home. Apart from social media, this is the main thing I check to see what’s going on.
What would you do if you received a windfall of £10,000?
I’ve not been abroad in two years, so I’d probably have a nice holiday if Boris allows it. Somewhere with a Mojito, probably!