Employers have been urged to ‘play a more active role in tackling money stigma’, in new research that examines the impact of different pay cycles on workers’ financial lives. The whitepaper, Unlocking The Pay Cycle, reveals that financially excluded workers are increasingly opting to get paid more flexibly, with positive implications – but cautions that employers need to think carefully about how they communicate with colleagues around their pay cycle, in order to tackle misconceptions and stigma.

More than 20 million workers in the UK and US are now estimated to be paid flexibly[1] – meaning they are able to choose how often they get paid each pay cycle. Authored by Wagestream’s Emily Trant with advisory input from experts at Resolution Foundation, Money and Pensions Service, Nest Insight, RideTandem and PhD Economics researchers from University of California, Berkeley, Unlocking The Pay Cycle explores the impact of a flexible pay cycle across three areas: demographics, behaviours, and financial wellbeing implications. It is based on quantitative and qualitative research among 4,000 UK workers who access a flexible pay cycle through their employer.


The paper’s analysis surfaces nine key findings on the impact of flexible pay, and aims to begin a conversation on positive actions that providers, employers, and researchers can all take to ensure flexible pay cycles positively impact the financial wellbeing of people in work.


The key findings include:


  • Nine in ten (90%) report their financial situation is stable or improved, after switching to a flexible pay cycle
  • Flexible pay is proving most popular among financially excluded workers
  • Flexible pay is not just ‘for emergencies’ – its use cases are extremely wide ranging
  • A more frequent pay cycle can co-exist with a savings habit
  • Choosing a more frequent pay cycle is not inherently negative – but can surface pre-existing financial stress
  • Employers offering it should be tackling stigma by avoiding words like ‘advance’, ‘early’ and ‘for emergencies’, instead emphasising access, flexibility and choice


The paper also includes a ‘language guide’ for employers, when launching flexible pay for their workforce.


Do say Don’t say
Flexible pay


Having flexibility to choose is empowering and means individuals can set the pay frequency that works best for their circumstances.

Early wage access or wage advance


Choosing a different pay cycle doesn’t make it ‘early’ or an ‘advance’. This language is the language of borrowing, and leads people to feel that they are less in control of their financial circumstances.


Flexible pay is part of a financial toolkit


Flexible pay is one part of a sustainable toolkit for long term financial wellbeing. Acknowledging that different people have different needs, and that for some this is a vital part of the toolkit is important.



Flexible pay helps if you have an emergency


It’s true that flexible pay can help in a crisis situation, but this sets it up as a one time product and creates stigma for individuals who see it and use it as a regular and deliberate part of their overall toolkit.

Use settings to create a plan that works for you


This acknowledges that individuals know what works best for them, and are capable of making good choices. Our research shows that individuals have high self-awareness of any impulse control challenges.

Set responsible usage limits


This implies that regular usage or certain amounts of usage of flexible pay is irresponsible, when we know that it’s often part of a deliberate strategy such as replacing credit cards for everyday payments.



Emily Trant, Head of Impact and Inclusion at Wagestream, commented: “Flexible pay is becoming the standard way that shift and frontline workers want and expect to be paid. It’s encouraging to see this trend having a positive impact – but there is still more we can do. Most importantly, employers offering flexible pay have a key role to play: by using non-judgemental, choice-focused language, they can help tackle money stigma and make their colleagues feel better about their financial lives.”


Sarah Porretta, External Engagement Director at the Money and Pensions Service, said: “This welcome report shows just how vital it is for companies to examine whether their product is truly working for the people who rely on it. Flexible pay started as a concept many in the sector wanted to test, and now we can see the very positive difference it’s making to so many lives. When someone knows their full range of options, they can make informed decisions about their finances in a way that works for them. This can benefit them in so many different ways and with difficult times ahead, it’s never been more important. We look forward to our continued collaboration with the industry as we try to help everyone find their way forward financially.”