“Hey Boss, can I talk to you about a private matter?”
Oh no! As an organization or team leader, you know what follows will rarely be a comfortable or easy issue to address. Experienced HR professionals, CEOs, executive directors and managers know this from experience. Fortunately, most employees know they are expected to leave their personal issues at home and not let them affect their work. The reality is, though, this is too often an impossibility for many workers. Relationship issues, financial struggles and health challenges are all personal affairs that intrude frequently upon the work day.
The first time an employee asks you for a paycheck advance, it can catch you off guard. A thousand questions rush through your mind simultaneously, including:
If I say “no,” will I lose this employee?
Am I really the only resource left for this employee to turn to for help?
Are there IRS issues I need to deal with?
Does HR even have the administrative system in place to track advances?
How dare he or she even ask?
Is this just the start of a series of advances?
If I give this one advance, will everyone start asking?
How much is too much? How much is too little?
Am I permitted to charge interest or an administrative fee?
Which state and federal regulations apply to payroll advances?
Would it not be easier for me to give an advance from my personal account?
With so many questions coming at once, and many more as soon as the employee leaves your office, you would obviously prefer not to have to deal with these issues in the first place. In such cases, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” or much more.
Whether or not you have had conversations like this with your employees, there are “ounces” of solutions, from education to counseling, that minimize, if not eliminate, their possibilities in the future. Employees differ in their responses to various forms of potential assistance or support, but you need to understand that far more employees than you care to admit feel lost when it comes to fixing their household financial problems.
If you have such an employee (and chances are high that you do), they may benefit most from intensive, one-on-one budget, spending, debt or credit counseling, such as that provided by nonprofit credit counseling agencies.
Other employees might be more do-it-yourselfers, so a series of online financial webinars like those available through Money Fit by DRS might do the trick.
Most employees, though, will fall somewhere in between and would likely benefit from a lunch ‘n’ learn, a Q&A (in person or remote), or some other live event.
Look for programs that offer certificates of completion, giving you a great tool to minimize the potential of future advance requests. Picture an employee asking you to front their next two weeks of living expenses in advance of payday. Instead of telling them to go find some budgeting help somewhere or, worse, not making any recommendations at all, you might say something like the following (I use Money Fit by DRS as an example):
“I understand you must be going through something pretty tough to need to ask for a payroll advance. I will be happy to help you out since you are a valued employee. So, I will pay you now for the current pay period. In return, though, you will do me this favor. Before the normal payday, would you please visit our Money Fit portal and take two hours of financial education/counseling sessions so that I can pay you again on the upcoming payday. Then, you can pay the company back over the next three pay periods. I already know that Money Fit provides their education/ counseling services online and by phone and will give you a certificate showing how many hours you have completed. Just email or hand me your certificates when you have finished.”
If you can add that your company has already arranged free or discounted financial counseling or education services for such occasions, your employee will take your recommendation more seriously. They’ll appreciate the fact that you are concerned enough about the personal affairs of your employees that you made such arrangements in advance.
As an eagle scout, I can tell you that the scout motto, “Be Prepared,” is highly applicable to business as well. Do you have an Employee Assistance Program? Do you know what counseling services are available? Do you know how many hours (in some cases, just minutes) of counseling are available to your employees through your EAP? Do you know how expensive such counseling services might be after the maximum allowed time is used up? Have you looked into free supplemental benefits programs through nonprofits agencies like Money Fit by DRS?
Today is the best day to look into these issues. Do not wait until an employee pulls you aside, stares at the floor, and sheepishly whispers they need your help fast. The best leaders make most of their best decisions long before they are needed.