Debt and Mental Health – Implications for organisations who employ staff dealing with debt recovery
The link between debt and people with mental health issues has been recognised for some time. According to the Royal College of Psychiatrists adults with debts has a mental health problem and one in four people with a mental health problem is also in debt.
2011 MoneySavingExpert.com survey shows that nearly half (44%) of people who have or have had mental health problems have severe or crisis debts and 38% had considered or attempted suicide. Just one out of ten people who have never had mental health problems have severe or crisis debts.
This means that staff working in the area of debt recovery or handling payment arrears are likely to be dealing regularly with people who have mental health problems. Some organisations have recognised the added responsibility this places on them in terms of the way they respond to customers with debt problems and the support that is available to staff.
What mitigating steps can an employer reasonably take if they have staff engaged in this line of work?
1 Identify staff that are affected and the types of calls that cause the most difficulty.
Identifying if there is a problem and the extent of the problem is a critical first step. Are short term or long term absence rates higher than average for staff involved in debt recovery? Are staff turnover rates higher than you would expect? Are stress levels higher than other parts of the organisation? Talk to staff about the types of calls that cause the most difficulty and, where appropriate, consult with mental health professionals on the most effective ways of responding to callers.
2 Consider options to develop the skills and confidence of staff to handle difficult conversations.
One of the most effective ways to increase the resilience of staff is to develop their skills and confidence to manage those types of conversations. If absence and turnover rates are higher than you would expect then training might prove a wise investment in the medium to long term.
3 Consider support systems that exist for staff.
Without proper support mechanisms, handling calls of this nature over time can have a cumulative impact on staff. If support is available do staff know how to access it and do they feel able to access it? Is there a need to provide additional support for staff working in debt recovery in your organisation?
As unemployment rates rise the next few years will see an increase in cases of financial hardship. It’s worth taking some time to consider the impact these difficult conversations currently have on your organisation and whether you and your staff are in good shape to meet the challenges ahead.
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