The UK is in the midst of a cost of living crisis. According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), 93% of UK adults have reported an increase in the cost of living for August and September 2022 a fact which concerns many people. Financial strain can often worsen mental health, increase insomnia and anxiety, and lead to depression. Whilst employers have a duty of care for their employees, not all companies can afford generous pay-rises to combat soaring inflation. So, how can employers support staff during the cost of living crisis?
The rising issues
To effectively help employees through the cost of living crisis, employers must first know how it may affect their staff. The ONS reported that low-income households spend a larger-than-average proportion on energy and food, so are more affected by price increases. Current government support is not targeted to low-income households, so it is likely these employees will be struggling to afford basic necessities. Certainly, UK food bank charities are more in demand than ever: the Independent Food Aid Network announced 90% of food banks had experienced high demand since April 2022, whilst 19% were forced to reduce their parcel size because of increased demand and reduced donations.
The situation is serious. Historically, financial strain can cause chronic stress and negatively affect both people’s physical and mental health. For example, housing instability can cause insomnia, stress, anxiety and depression; fuel poverty (where rising energy bills mean a household cannot afford to heat their home properly) can cause poor maternal mental health; and children in poverty are at greater risk of experiencing negative and potential harmful domestic behaviour.
The 2008 economic recession and the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted these issues, and the increased risk of suicide among bill-payers: especially middle-aged men. In August 2022, Mind and 16 other mental health organisations called on the Prime Minister to learn from the impact of these recessions.
A duty of care
With employees at such high, statistical risk, it is clear that employers have to act on their duty of care. This isn’t always easy. Whilst individual employees are struggling, companies are too, thanks to increased overhead hosts and a strain on resources.
However, some companies have already assisted their employees in meaningful ways. Some businesses like John Lewis, HSBC and Nationwide are offering one-off bonuses, whilst others are giving out pay-rises instead of lump-sum payments. Those not in a position to give either are instead providing staff with free meals, and some businesses have set up ‘hardship funds’ to support those who are struggling.
This level of assistance sounds wonderful but, according to Randstad, only a quarter of UK employees have received such assistance so far. More could be done. Sander van’t Noordende, CEO of Randstad, says, “While the economic environment may encourage people to stick with their employer, businesses mustn’t miss out on the unique opportunity to create a more content and productive workforce. Those who feel supported now are more likely to remain loyal even when times aren’t as tough.”
With this advice in mind, what can employers do to support their staff with the cost of living?
What can employers do to help the cost of living?
There are several, meaningful ways that businesses can support their employees through the cost of living crisis. If bonuses and pay-rises are beyond the realm of possibility at the moment, here are five useful alternatives:
Offering employee benefits packages
Whilst many businesses already offer employee benefits packages, those who do not should consider introducing them. Many packages include discounts on products and specific retailers, which often include supermarkets. Some packages even provide debt and financial planning advice, as well as counselling services to support mental health. Businesses that already offer benefits packages should consult with their benefits provider, and ensure their staff is aware of what’s available to them.
Providing a space for employees to voice their concerns
Human Resources is a useful department but not all employees will feel comfortable divulging their personal and professional issues there. That’s why many employers are introducing ‘mental health first aiders’. This supportive tool can guide staff through difficult issues that may be related to the cost of living.
Offering ‘holiday buy-back’ schemes
Holiday buy-back schemes offer the chance for employees to be flexible and economical with their paid leave. Employees with more holiday than they need can sell those days to employees who need additional time off. Successful ‘buy-back’ schemes have implemented a case-by-case basis framework, to ensure that all staff still have adequate breaks for their health and wellbeing.
Flexible work schedules
Flexibility with work schedules is one of the highest-rate perks among employees today. This is largely because it can provide a two-fold benefit. For instance, having flexible start and finish times may help with cost of commuting and childcare. For example, a later start may mean skipping peak rail fares and breakfast expenses, or an earlier clocking-off time might give staff the opportunity to avoid after school club or child-minder fees.
Likewise, flexibility with working hours themselves may help too. Staff with young or growing families may benefit from job shares, or holding team meetings during the day instead of the evening. Some companies even provide two ‘family fun days’ a year for employees with family, making a work-life balance easier to alleviate stress.
Affordable life insurance and family health care
In times of financial crisis, it is important that all employees feel supported. Whether companies facilitate affordable life insurance policies and inclusive family healthcare, or simply provide a way to mitigate their costs (perhaps through a benefits package), having such policies will create a family-friendly community environment.
Crisis management in action
Whilst some companies are already doing what they can to help with the cost of living crisis, some employees are being left to manage for themselves. The above suggestions are some of the most useful ways to support staff, but there are also cycle to work schemes and season ticket loans that may ease the financial strain.
Randstad surveyed 7,000 people across five sectors and found that 57% of employees were not expecting additional help in the next six months. However, if businesses consider the current ‘global talent war’ as a continuing factor, they may want to protect their interests by protecting their staff.
Ultimately, it is an employer’s responsibility to provide a supportive and inclusive environment for their staff. Offering the above support, whether some or all of it will assist employee wellbeing, and future-proof staff retention.
Useful ‘cost of living’ resources
Sometimes, knowing where to look is the first step in successful employee support. Here are some useful resources that may help employees combat the cost of living crisis.
Tax relief for work expenses
There are a number of tax relief options available to employees. If your employees — especially those working from home — need assistance due to work-related costs, they can find information about what’s available here: https://www.gov.uk/tax-relief-for-employees/working-at-home
Welfare benefit entitlements
Several benefits are available for workers, including help with childcare costs, one-off grants, and financial assistance for travel costs for employees with mobility issues. There are also a number of free online benefits calculators that can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/benefits-calculators
Mental health support
With 61% of UK psychotherapists reporting clients with finance-related anxiety, and 52% reporting clients with stress-induced insomnia, some employees may need professional mental health support or advice. The mental health charity Mind is currently providing focused support on the cost of living, which can be found here: https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/tips-for-everyday-living/money-and-mental-health/
Kirkwood Consulting would also recommend the services James Leverington of Pure-Minds as a potential in house support practitioner for your staff. James can be contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via the links found here: