Financial literacy with Rosalie McKnight, WSP Health Safety Environment Advisor

Rosalie McKnight

Financial literacy can be a game changer. In today’s world where inflation shows little sign of slowing, mortgage rates are increasing, and food bills are escalating, being good with money is even more important if we’re to keep our heads above water.

At WSP, the connection between healthy finances and overall wellbeing has centre focus for Rosalie McKnight, WSP Health, Safety Environment Advisor. WSP employees enjoy a complimentary financial literacy programme to support and promote their wellbeing. As Rosalie says, being financially literate can make a huge difference to the workforce and its people. When people are stressed and worried about their finances, concern filters through every aspect of daily life. Financial literacy helps employers encourage their employees to be in the best state of mind possible.

ACE sat down with Rosalie to find out why she thinks the programme has merit for everyone.

Rosalie McKnight
What is WSP’s Financial Literacy Programme? 

We’re partnered with Lighthouse Financial, an Auckland-based company, that offers onsite and online seminars on different financial literacy topics for WSP employees. In previous years, the programme has been quite condensed, whereas this year it’s taking place over 12 months. The format is different, but the content is very similar.

WSP also has an online wellbeing portal, My Balance, covering five main wellbeing pillars, including financial. The remainder are physical, emotional, social and career. It also devotes a month each year to financial wellbeing. This year’s month is February, which is nice timing for many, including those who might have overspent at Christmas and now face the start of the school year and its associated costs. My Balance is the research evidence-based content that is tailor-made for New Zealand employees, and we work with the provider to ensure the content is suitable for our staff.

When did you first introduce the programme and why?

WSP’s people team initiated Lighthouse about four years ago, before we had My Balance, and the health and safety team has since taken it over. Lighthouse provides good solid financial advice. Finances can be overlooked in terms of wellbeing initiatives. Companies often gravitate towards mental health and sometimes forget about the other pillars. If you’re not on top of your finances, it creates stress, anxiety and other problems that can affect mental health. It’s all linked. We all need to know how to look after our money because you need money to live. It’s like eating and breathing.

Although the offering of the programme is largely unchanged since its inception, every year there are people interested in what’s available and who want to learn more. The programme is constantly improved. For example, spreading it out over 12 months may provide more opportunity for people to catch the live seminars because WSP employees are often out on site at certain times of the year and may miss one. My Balance also has a monthly masterclass on finances so there is a resource available for those who miss a seminar.

Why did you bring in Lighthouse?

My Balance is our base website portal and Lighthouse is like the cherry on the top. It provides employees with education, a toolkit, and the option to seek further financial advice directly with Lighthouse if there is a need. Lighthouse is very agile with the market and how it affects New Zealanders. You’re talking to people living in it, which provides the benefits that come with local knowledge. WSP’s financial literacy programme includes WSP’s partnership with Lighthouse, and My Balance supports and promotes other local WSP wellbeing initiatives on the platform.

The WSP health and safety team also run a webinar series throughout the year, which I usually present, and these include wellbeing topics. Regarding the financial pillar, it’s not about how much you earn or wishing to be a millionaire or getting the biggest pay rise. It’s about knowing how to live within your means and being comfortable with what you’ve got. WSP, as a consultancy, are technical experts so we’re not at the bottom of the barrel for financial income. Therefore, it’s about making good decisions with what you’ve got. I think there’s a common misconception about having lots of money and life being better.

Who is the programme aimed at?

It’s for everyone because it includes numerous topics that hit different milestones. Research external to WSP suggests younger age groups specifically benefit from it. But we’ve also anecdotally had good feedback from staff preparing to retire. This transition can be difficult and quite daunting, especially for the likes of engineers who have been working in a field for decades and are held in high regard.

Buying a first home is also a hot topic. Will I ever get on the property ladder? The seminars cover everything for different financial stages. For example, we’ve had older parents with children in their twenties who want to understand the hurdles their children might face, or they’re consolidating and starting to think about retirement.

What role do you see in organisations running these programmes?

Issues of wellbeing are hard to measure because, although we run surveys and wellbeing checks, they may not pick up on the person’s perspective of their finances at that particular moment in time. I think anecdotally these offerings are appreciated and people respond well to it.

The seminars are run during the business day so all that’s required is a small amount of a person’s time. Why wouldn’t you do it? To me, your financial literacy and wellbeing is a personal journey because it affects your work, perhaps how you manage your day, and your overall wellbeing.

Financial literacy and education is associated with better mental health. It is personal to each individual but have you any examples of benefits that you’ve witnessed?

Times are weird currently with inflation, mortgages being reset much higher than previously and so on. But, if we can help lessen the burden on people’s minds around their financial situation, it’s the right thing to do.

The apparent lack of financial education young people receive at school may also be the reason external research shows us that it’s valuable for 18 to 24-year-olds. There may be an assumption that because you have a higher education, you know how to manage your money. This is not true, and we can all benefit from getting some tips and tricks on how to do things better.

Is there any advice you would provide to other firms considering offering something similar?

It’s just time and can make a huge difference to your workforce and people. When people are stressed and worried about money, it affects everything. You want to help your people, make sure they bring their whole selves to work, and come to work in a good state of mind.

If you were to challenge the industry to do one thing differently regarding mental health and wellbeing, what would it be?

I think the biggest thing any organisation can do is lead by example. Leaders must have integrity when talking about wellbeing. It can’t be only words. You can’t just give people written information and say: “Here’s wellbeing, go do it”, because they won’t.

People appreciate vulnerability. Therefore, if, as a leader, you can have those open and honest conversations, show vulnerability and listen, you’re going to get so much more out of your people. It’s okay to not always be okay. Our anonymised data shows only a small portion of our staff use the Employee Assistance Programme (EAP), which is private and confidential. It is always encouraged as an avenue if required, and the purpose of educating around wellbeing is to provide our staff with the knowledge to make good decisions for themselves. For some, education and resources may be enough, while others may need to reach out to EAP, which is great. Also, EAP is just one indicator, and we have other anonymised data available to gauge how our people are and where they may require more support in the future.

We’re all learning. Some things will work, and some won’t. You just have to try it, there’s not a one-size fits all. Everyone will have their own personal requirements and it’s a journey. I don’t think there’s a right or wrong.

How do you look after your own wellbeing? What do you do to relax?

I usually present on mental health and wellbeing. For me, my interest is horses. In a job where I’m largely sitting in an office, computer based, I really enjoy getting outside into the fresh air and seeing my animals. If I can ride all the better, but that’s not always important. Sometimes for me, just getting outside and breathing fresh air, taking a moment and appreciating what I’ve got, is real soul food. I often use my horses as an example of my happy place.

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