A quarter made a bad debt decision during pandemic

Woman with hands on her head
  • 24% of workers feel they made a bad decision about debt during the pandemic, rising to 51% for those aged 18 to 24
  • Almost a third (29%) have had to borrow to replace lost income
  • However, Aviva study reveals those with poor financial wellbeing don’t necessarily think they are bad with money

Nearly a quarter (24%) of employees* admit they made a bad decision about debt during the pandemic, according to a new study** from Aviva that has examined experiences of personal, workplace and financial wellbeing since early 2020.

Worryingly, this figure rises to more than half (51%) of those aged 18-to-24, dubbed ‘Gen-Z’. Amid the turmoil of the pandemic, young people have emerged as one of the most vulnerable groups in society and have been some of the hardest hit.


More than a third (36%) of ‘Gen-Y’ aged 25-to-39 also feel they made a bad debt decision since Covid-19 struck.

Aviva’s report – Thriving in the Age of Ambiguity: building resilience for the new realities of work  – which launches today, reveals how our relationship with finances, work and our hopes for the future have evolved as we adapt to the ambiguity from the last 12 to 18 months. Conducted in collaboration with Business Wellbeing Specialists, Robertson Cooper, the research reveals that personality plays a key role in determining our preferences, behaviours, and outcomes – at home and work.

More than a quarter (29%) of respondents disclosed they have had to borrow to replace lost income, while 30% stated they are concerned their money will run out.

The research also shows a concerning number of employees (39%) agree their current financial situation negatively impacts their mental health, while 60% feel their finances control their lives.

However, the report also reveals those who suffer from poor financial wellbeing do not necessarily think of themselves as bad with money – challenging the stereotype that money worries arise from disorganisation or knowledge gaps.

More than two thirds (68%) of employees with poor financial wellbeing think they are organised with their money, and 64% always try to minimise debt. The research shows financial factors only account for half (51%) of someone’s sense of financial wellbeing; the rest is driven by other factors, including personality type.

The influence of personality

Aviva’s study shows personality type has a huge influence on individual behaviour, mindset, and personal outcomes. Employees who are thriving in adversity tend to be naturally more emotionally resilient and optimistic. Those with less natural emotional resilience regularly experience negative emotions, low financial and mental wellbeing, along with feelings of anxiety and struggle with debt.

However, employees of all types need personalised support. By accounting for diverse personalities in the modern workforce, Aviva argues UK businesses can better understand the likely impact when people are put in different situations or asked to make certain decisions to help them perform to their potential.

Laura Stewart-Smith, Head of Workplace Savings and Retirement at Aviva commented: “The Covid-19 experience has fundamentally altered our relationship with money, work and health. While some employees have been able to boost their financial wellbeing by saving more, with large swathes of the economy closed, others have found their income reduced and are facing larger debts or having to provide support for dependent family members.

“Our report shows many trends which have been gathering pace in recent years have now reached an inflection point, as new preferences emerge to shape the way we work, feel, think and plan ahead. Financial education in the workplace is nothing new, but now more than ever, there is a fundamental need for employers to provide tailored support for employees to ensure they can genuinely thrive in the ‘Age of Ambiguity’.

“Greater support is vital for employees to thrive in an increasingly ambiguous financial environment. We believe there is a crucial role that employers can play in facilitating this. One which introduces a new dimension of personality type.”

"Financial confidence can have a tremendous impact on mental health and personality type has a huge influence on behaviour and mindset too.

Iona Bain, personal finance expert, commented: “The last 18 months have had a seismic impact on the way we live, work, and manage our finances, prompting national conversations about everything from the role of the office to how we can find greater meaning in our lives. However, the pandemic simply accelerated existing trends and magnified our attention on developments that have been bubbling away for years.

“Sadly, there appears to be a mismatch between good intentions and reality. Aviva’s report shows businesses aren’t always grasping even the basic needs of their workforce, but with tailored support for employees based on their personality and life situation, fostering a top-down culture of genuine choice, and giving employees clarity and direction, there is hope that this might be reversed.”

"As we gradually move out of lockdowns and restrictions, employers and employees alike will need time, support, and expert insight to skilfully navigate this brave new world.

Aviva offers the following guidance for employers to help identify employees with different personality types in the workplace and support them all to thrive in the Age of Ambiguity:

  • Resilient completers – Employees who are disciplined, organised and confident – good under pressure but like a clear path with little unpredictability: help them to avoid complacency and over-confidence. They can often miss threats or risks coming down the track and can be supported by helping them plan for different versions of their future.
  • Impulsive worriers – Employees who are less organised and resilient – strongly motivated but need emotional support: provide them with knowledge in a consumable way, including concrete examples to show a positive future is possible. Help them think through planning for unexpected events and provide reassurance, so that their anxiety doesn’t get in the way of decision making. 
  • Apprehensive achievers – Employees who are determined and disciplined but can struggle when under pressure: keep guidance concise while providing them with structure and process. Ambiguous guidance where goals and objectives are open-ended and not fully specified would be troubling to them.
  • Spontaneous survivors – Employees who work well under pressure and in fast moving situations but can lack attention to detail and might struggle with self-motivation: They enjoy high pressure but informal work settings and thrive where detail and planning are not priorities. Look to their resilience in fast-moving, high-pressure situations, but don’t leave them with a lot of detail to wade through.


Research methodology:

*Throughout the release, employees/workers refer to people working in large companies (1,000+ employees)

**Independent research of 2,000 UK employees working in organisations with over 1,000 employees was conducted on behalf of Aviva by Quadrangle in February 2020, August 2020 and March 2021.

Link to report:

Thriving in the Age of Ambiguity: building resilience for the new realities of work

Media Enquiries

Fiona Whytock

Retirement, Savings and Investments

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