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Best Companies, Dealing with the Cost-of-Living Crisis session at Best Companies Live Q3 2022 event
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Giving Something Back: Dealing with the Cost-of-Living Crisis

With the UK’s cost-of-living crisis set to deepen in the autumn of 2022 and into the New Year, how are leaders easing the financial pressures their employees are facing, as well as ensuring any initiatives are sustainable for their business? That’s the question we put to our panellists during August’s Best Companies Live event, where they spoke about their responses to the rising costs facing employees and how that’s impacted engagement overall.

In the following article we share the highlights from the conversation and look at some of the initiatives and support systems they’ve put in place, and how their colleagues have got involved. If you would prefer to watch the full session, please click the video above.

Data obtained from organisations surveying with Best Companies first indicated that there were upcoming challenges around ‘Fair Deal’ between October-December 2021.

The Fair Deal factor is one of the eight workplace factors that make up our methodology and looks at how well employees feel they are treated and how their pay and benefits compare to similar organisations.

Ordinarily, this factor is what we term a ‘hygiene factor’, meaning it doesn’t directly influence any other. However, since employees started to anticipate the rise in fuel and living costs at the beginning of 2022, it has, for the first time, started to influence the way they feel about both leadership and the company at large.  

So just how do organisations go about addressing the pressures that their employees are facing and instil confidence in their approach? And, with costs rising for businesses, too, how can leaders ensure that any measures taken are sustainable?

“These are tricky times and stressful for everyone”

For Andrew Mckinley, Director of Finance and Commercial Services at NHS Business Services Authority, the key to helping employees comes from asking what support they need.

“We undertake research with our staff and understand what's going to be important to them,” he explained. “Off the back off this, we've introduced a variety of financial wellbeing support, including giving loans to our staff, helping them to make savings directly from their pay into saving ISAs, and giving them financial advice through an employee assistance programme. These are tricky times and stressful for everyone, so having this advice and access to support has been really popular.”

McKinley said that the organisation has also initiated conversations with several internal working groups to understand what employees would find useful to help with cost savings when they are in the workplace.

“We spoke to our women’s group who said the cost of sanitary products was really challenging at times, and so we’ve introduced free access to these products in our offices for the people that need them,” he continued. “We’re also providing free access to food and drinks in the office.”

“It's really tough out there and we've been trying to think creatively”

Also providing free food and drinks to staff working in its offices and kitchens is food producer, COOK. Alison Payne, the company’s People Director, explained that this is something that is widely appreciated by its employees, particularly with the rising cost-of-living increasing in the coming months.

“We’ve always fed out colleagues twice a week, but since the pandemic, we’ve increased that to daily. It’s been fantastic and feedback going into the autumn is that this is incredibly important to our employees. Not only is it providing a hot meal, but it also means they don’t have to turn their ovens on to cook something when they get home.”

Payne explained that the company has been thinking outside the box to try and help its employees, whilst at the same time helping address issues with damaged stock and avoiding food waste.

“It's really tough out there and we've been trying to think creatively about what we can do to make it a good place to work and ensure we're looking after people in times that are really quite worrying and scary,” she said.

“We have surplus food as well as damaged goods we can't sell as a business, so now we offer surplus ingredients [to employees] through an honesty box. This means you can buy protein for one or two pounds, and you can make a meal for four people. It is the same with broken packaging; we’ve put any damages into a staff freezer and, again, provided an honesty box so people can have a meal for a pound a portion. It's cheaper than a supermarket ready meal and it's a good, decent meal. We’re trying to think like that – making small differences that we cannot replicate by pay rise – but that are very tangible every day.”

“It's more than just more money, it’s the whole package”

For Anna Blackburn, Managing Director at jewellery retailer, Beaverbrooks, the current climate is providing an environment where other organisations are trying to headhunt the firm’s employees with the offer of higher salaries. However, she believes that a supportive workplace in these times of financial difficulty comes down to more than just take-home pay.

“We’ve seen a massive increase in people being headhunted, and both recruitment and retention has become more challenging across the board,” she explained.

“However, I think this is where working with Best Companies comes in and building up our workplace culture. It means as much as people are having their heads turned by higher wages in the short-term, we’re seeing people wanting to stay that are passionate about the business, grateful for how we dealt with Covid, and are very loyal. It's more than just money, it’s the whole package including their wellbeing, work/life balance, and the engagement with the company they are working for.”

Blackburn added that Beaverbrooks’ investment in its people and culture is always taken with business sustainability and continuity in mind – to ensure it is offering the best long-term package for employees.

“Everything we do has to be genuine and has to be sustainable,” she continued. “Anyone can go out there and offer high salaries but then are they going to make cutbacks, or are redundancies going to follow? I think that job security and confidence is important for people as well. Everyone's got their bills to pay, and of course, as responsible employers we’ve got to make sure we do everything we can to support our people, but we've got to have that long-term view as well.”  

“We're investing in wellbeing, and we also want people to take the time to learn”

Challenges around staff being tempted by higher salaries is also something that David Little, Managing Director at technology firm, HSO, can relate to.

“Almost every single member of staff is being approached by an agency daily, being tempted by a higher ‘moving rate’, rather than the average ‘market rate’ for their role,” he explained. “However, they need to understand if they go for that rate, there's an economic price to pay, they'll be worked harder, and they won't have the same work/life balance.”

Steadfast in his belief that a job should offer more than just a high salary, Little and his team are dedicated to ensuring that a role at HSO offers a fair salary, but even better career prospects and work/life balance.

“We're conscious it’s a challenging environment,” he continued. “But we’re investing in wellbeing, and we also want people to take the time to learn. We're also investing in getting more people into the business so that their workloads will decrease. People can leave for more money, but they'll have to work hard for that and they're not going to get invested in. At HSO, we will move you forward, and you might have a better career.”

To enjoy this session in full, see the full recording here.

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