More pay isn’t only way to help with cost of living - Nikki Slowey
Increasing wages, or additional bonus payments are one way employers can support staff. But there are alternatives – in particular making sure employers have properly explored flexible working – that can also make a difference to workers’ finances and wellbeing.
Direct financial support
Figures from the CIPD suggest a third (36 per cent) of UK employers plan to raise wages to help staff with the cost-of-living crisis. Similarly, several big names brands, such as HSBC, John Lewis and Virgin Money O2, have announced bonus payments totalling between £500 and £1,500 to lower paid workers.
The most generous we’ve seen is Scottish print firm McAllister Litho Glasgow, which is giving staff £500 a month for seven months – a total of £3,500. The company is also a Living Wage employer, so staff are guaranteed a better income than many longer-term too.
Of course, not all employers have extra cash they can give out. But there are other ways they can support staff.
Exploring greater flexible working can make the biggest difference. Earlier this month we heard from Jack Evans, senior policy adviser at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, a leading poverty and social change think tank, who said: “Being able to flex work around people’s lives is the biggest enabler for people to flourish and exit poverty.”
Many employers have already embraced greater flex after Covid. But there are still pockets where take-up remains low, particularly in lower paid and frontline roles. And we’re hearing of some employers now asking people to return to the office after years of remote and hybrid working.
Allowing people to work slightly different hours can mean they don’t have to travel during peak times. Or switching hours around, for example changing three full days for five shorter days, could mean no need for wrap-around childcare.
Working from home means people don’t have to travel at all. While there’s been concern about whether home working itself increases energy costs, for most people these costs are more than offset by savings in travel, food, and childcare.
Most people only want relatively small amounts of flexibility, such as a bit more home working, or to slightly change their start and finish times.
Given that the business case for flexible working is strong, with improved staff engagement and productivity, reduced sickness absence and benefits to recruitment and retention, employers from all sectors should explore whether they can give workers a little more control over when, where and how much they work.
Sign-posting support and benefits
Other ways employers can support staff include sign-posting existing benefits, such as discounts with local shops or gyms, employee assistance programmes or salary sacrifice schemes for season ticket loans, or bicycle payments. You can also sign-post external support from Citizens Advice or the Money and Pensions Service.
Support with food
Another very practical measure is to create a store cupboard of free food items in your office or site kitchen. We know several organisations are already doing this including IT security and defence firm Leidos, which has an office in Glasgow, and the Independent Living Fund (ILF) Scotland, a public body that distributes funding to help people live independently. People who can afford it bring in items such as tinned soup, sachets of pasta and fresh fruit. And people who need a little support can help themselves to make lunch, or even take items home.
Regardless of which options feel like the best fit, the starting point for all employers should be honest conversations with their teams. Employees themselves may have quite different ideas about what they think would make the biggest difference to their finances and wellbeing. Managers don’t need to come up with all the solutions.
Nikki Slowey, co-founder and director of Flexibility Works
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