Wellbeing Index Highlights 2021-22

The 2021-22 Wellbeing Index paints a picture of wellbeing in the advice sector over the year between January 2021 and January 2022. The index can be read in full here.

Stress levels continue to rise and advisers fear the future remains bleak

62% of advisers experienced an increase in stress levels in the 12 months prior to completing the survey – a very similar proportion as was found in all previous surveys, suggesting a continuous upward trend in stress levels. 62% of advisers also expected that their stress levels would rise in the coming year. Half of advisers attributed the rise in their stress levels to an increased vulnerability of clients.

“Increased vulnerability of clients due to the socio-economic impact of the COVID 19 narrative.”

Complexity was also a concern, and, looking to the future advisers expressed worry that they will see even more demand for advice services. This projected increase in demand was connected in part to resumed diligence following the end of COVID-19 related protections for people with debt.

“Next 12 months is also expected to see client demand for money advice, particularly those with rent and mortgage arrears to spike [due to COVID-19 protections ending]. These cases can be complex and high pressure”

The other reason that advisers predict an increase in demand and thus in stress levels is the ongoing cost of living crisis.

“Potential for increased workload due to financial climate in relation to benefit cuts and rise in fuel costs”

Advisers feel undervalued and insecure

Almost half of the survey’s respondents were in fixed term contracts, and nearly 1 in 3 respondents felt that their wellbeing was harmed by their level of job security. The lack of stability for many advisers in the sector makes it difficult for advisers and advice agencies to plan for the future. 57% of advisers felt they had no clear career path, which is possibly to do with this lack of security in the sector; agencies occupied with simply retaining funding cannot support advisers through meaningful career progress. Instability can also lead advisers to wonder how valued they are if they feel their role is perpetually at risk.

“Biggest issue is uncertainty over job due to it being fixed term 12 months, and worrying over whether job will be renewed every 12 months”
“Time and time again money advisers are starting to question if they are truly valued in their role if they are not given stability.”

Advisers can feel valued through a variety of ways: through their various working relationships, certainly, but also how they are treated in terms of contracts and professional development, as discussed above, and in how much they are paid. A third of advisers said they were harmed by their level of pay.

“I think the local authority debt sector is underpaid based on the industry and also has low holiday levels compared to most other companies.”

Managers play a crucial role in supporting advisers, and need support themselves

Despite the issues and pressures impacting adviser wellbeing, 83% of advisers reported that their role generally gave them satisfaction, and relationships with colleagues, managers and clients seem to play an important part in this.

“Excellent leaders in the third sector are, in my opinion the single most important factor to affect wellbeing”

 In particular, there is a correlation between whether an adviser is helped or harmed by their relationship with their manager, and whether their stress levels have increased – those who were harmed by this relationship were more likely to feel stressed than those who found it helpful. Further, 30% of advisers attributed their increase in stress levels to a lack of support from their line manager. This suggests that manager support has a major impact on an adviser, either as a protective factor from or a significant contributor to rising stress levels.

“[I need] more understanding from management (especially those who have never done client based advice work) of the complexity of the cases, the vulnerability of the clients and the time it takes to deal with these clients”

The importance of managers to adviser wellbeing means that it is vital that they, as well as advisers, are given what they need to provide vital leadership and support to their teams. The impact of the pressures affecting the sector is not limited to advisers, so it is important that interventions have a holistic impact on agencies.

“Challenges relating to funders, staff absence, high demand etc can hugely impact on operational managers which in turn if they are not effective, can be detrimental to whole teams of advisers. […] Client demand on service will spike and operational teams will require the focus, support and leadership of their management… who may not have the capacity to deliver”


What Next?

Our continuing research has shown that wellbeing is low in some respects, though with some surprising high spots. The problems affecting adviser wellbeing are not changing, and in fact are being exacerbated by external conditions such as the continuing impact of COVID, and the developing cost of living crisis. Our research will continue to track and explore adviser wellbeing during these extended unprecedented times. The methodology going forward will be enhanced by discussion sessions as well as a survey, to get deeper insight into the adviser experience.

We will also use the existing research to present a Workforce Strategy to the Scottish Government, which will set out a clear path to improve wellbeing in the advice sector by addressing the systemic issues that affect it. We are undertaking further consultation on this in the form of a session aimed at advisers and another at managers. These consultations will give advisers a chance to contribute their views, experiences and ideas to the Workforce Strategy, and can be signed up for here.

You can find out more about all aspects of the Adviser Wellbeing Project here.