The Wellbeing Index represents the culmination of the first year of the Adviser Wellbeing Project. The purpose of the research was to better understand what helps and harms adviser wellbeing, what support is most appreciated and most lacking, and what changes will most improve adviser wellbeing. We also wanted to find out what the adviser experience was in areas related to their wellbeing: their workplace’s culture, policies and procedures, their working relationships, and their personal workload. 214 advisers participated in the research. 

This index paints a picture of the advice sector in Scotland. The results were inevitably impacted by the influence and impact of COVID-19 and related restrictions, but as we showed in our Spotlight Report, many of the issues facing advisers existed before March 2020, and have simply been exacerbated or shown in a new light by the health crisis.  

Morale is low, stress levels are high, and advisers fear the worst is yet to come 

Advisers throughout the surveyed period reported high levels of present and predicted stress; 60% of advisers experienced an increase in stress levels between October and January, while 73% of advisers predicted an increase in stress levels between January 2021 and 2022. Advisers are more and more stressed, and expect no reprieve in the next year. Much of this is to do with a feared spike in clients pushing already-stretched advice services past their limit. 

I expect that around 50% of our clients are going to be debt cases and I am the only Money Adviser, with a case load of 120 already. I do not have the capacity to keep taking on new clients.

However, capacity is an issue of more than just volume; increasingly complex cases and vulnerable clients mean cases are more time intensive.  

The impact of COVID-19 on personal finances means that the emotional and financial profile of people using money advice services has changed and broadened. 

Increase in number and complexity of cases. having to deal with clients who wouldn't have been in a debt position prior to COVID. Clients who have a low income aren't surprised to need debt advice. Clients who have previously had high incomes, that have been taken away from them, tend to be resentful of the whole process. They also tend to carry more hurt and upset with them at the situation they are in.

Even more pressing than the time and pressures of working with higher volumes of more complicated cases, auxiliary tasks take up a disproportionate amount of advisers’ bandwidth. Administration and bureaucracy harmed three quarters of advisers  

Money Advisors need to be able to assess the situation and advise accordingly they cannot do that when they are overloaded with the administrative side of things”

Advisers’ wellbeing needs aren’t being met 

With the exception of flexible working, uptake and availability of wellbeing activities were both low. Advisers are often placed in a position where they must decide between taking the time to care for their own wellbeing, or helping clients.  

Leaving advisers to choose between a client's needs and their own creates vicious cycle. 

The things we have in place at the moment for wellbeing provision is basically taking some time out which helps short term but the time taken out of work to look after our wellbeing or professional development only means we have an increased workload in order to catch up as a result of taking time out.

Relationships are vital areas of support for advisers; 65% of advisers were helped by feeling valued by their clients, and 52% were helped by their relationships with their colleagues, while 79% were helped by video conferencing technology enabling them to communicate with their colleagues. Finding ways to support these relationships is key. Advisers identified their relationships with their managers as highly important, but many felt failed by them, either because of the manager’s attitude to workload or wellbeing issues, or because their hands are tied in terms of providing effective support. 

Wellbeing provision is paid lip service to, staff surveys are completed and policies are in place but manager doesn't listen to what is being said in regards to wellbeing by the staff.
“Service manager skilled in this area and proactive about communication and supporting wellbeing and process of embedding this into how we do things is underway, but somewhat at odds with firefighting approach to demands that has been in place.”

Therefore, more than promoting organised wellbeing schemes, supporting relationships and giving organisations and managers the tools they need to provide effective help to their staff, could make a significant improvement to wellbeing. 

Advisers feel insecure and undervalued in their roles 

Over half of advisers did not have a clear career progression path.  

Some kind of career structure/ development opportunities or at least progression in pay to reflect experience and skills.” 

Others are anxious about their shorter-term career prospects as fixed-term contracts are increasingly ubiquitous across the sector, threatening job security for advisers. 

Job security is the number one issue, since three months of the year is spent wondering if there will be funding for the next year, and if not what will happen to my clients?

This insecurity naturally impacts career prospects; organisations which are put in the position of working within rigid structures to maintain funding, do not have the resources to provide career progression opportunities, while advisers often do not have the time to engage in professional development. 

These concerns about job security and career progression also boil down to feeling valued by their organisation: valued enough to be invested in for more than one funding cycle at a time; to be offered career development opportunities; to have their worth to their organisation demonstrated in meaningful ways.  

In my opinion, feeling valued by the workplace in real terms rather than just words would make a huge difference, as well as future - future in terms of job security and future in terms of ability to progress - would make a big difference in terms of wellbeing. Talk is cheap. Having something concrete is better.”

Looking ahead 

Our work on supporting and advocating for adviser wellbeing continues. Plans are underway for the second annual Wellbeing Index in 2022, and our training programme is continuing and expanding over the year. The changes necessary to enhance workplace wellbeing in the sector are wide-ranging and systematic – there are no quick fixes - so we will continue to elevate the voices of advisers and push for these much-needed improvements.  

About the Wellbeing Index 

This new research, our Wellbeing Index, is the first of its kind measuring workplace wellbeing in the Scottish advice sector. The index draws on the results of the three adviser wellbeing surveys conducted between June 2020 and January 2021; you can see summaries of the June and October results here and here. For more information, you can sign up to attend our launch event here.