How to help staff when times are tough. (A post-Budget blog.)
There may be some light at the end of this dark economic tunnel – energy prices appear to be falling, and they’re taking inflation with them. And this week’s budget included, amongst other things, a short extension to the energy price cap for homes in England and some good news on the horizon for those needing childcare. But very little of this is immediate or dramatic enough to help those who are really struggling financially now.
Nobody likes to think of their colleagues, peers, or direct reports being in that situation, but the simple truth is that many are. Is there anything that leaders or Internal Comms folk can do to help their people through periods of financial difficulty like this?
It can be a real dichotomy: nobody wants to feel like they’re the only one struggling, but our financial situations are also deeply private and personal affairs, meaning that many of us don’t like to talk about our money worries. Some believe they are failing as a parent, partner, or provider. Some are profoundly embarrassed about their personal situation. And many will assume that everyone around them is somehow doing better, utilising savings or leaning on financially better-off partners or family members to help out.
For this reason, any comms or conversations about the subject need to be handled carefully and with sensitivity. However, as you can barely escape the topic right now, demonstrating awareness, understanding, empathy, and a willingness to help is the right thing to do.
Here are some suggestions that should be possible across many organisations and that could just offer something of a lifeline to colleagues that are struggling.
If your organisation has an Employee Assistance Programme of some description, now is a great time to remind your people about what it is, what it can offer, and how to reach it. It’s also a good idea to outline what people should expect when contact is made.
Issue some comms to remind your people that it is external (if it is) and anonymous (assuming that it is!), and you may just embolden some of those that need help to reach out. Sadly, it’s not uncommon for fear of the unknown or mistrust to stop people from using this kind of service. A reassuring reminder can work wonders.
If you have colleagues who have used them in the past and are willing to share their positive experience, be that anonymously or by name, then a personalised case study or two can provide unbeatable promo.
If you don’t have an EAP to signpost, consider creating a designated area on your intranet or social platform with links to helpful organisations and reputable charities. CitizensAdvice.org.uk and MoneyHelper.org.uk are great places to start.
Share financial knowledge and money-saving tips
Offering formal financial education or counselling can often be received as patronising, but if you have employees within your organisation who have relevant experience or expertise, see if they would be willing to share that knowledge via brief, friendly workshops. Alternatively, they could record short informative videos that can be streamed or downloaded without the viewer having to surrender any anonymity. Your finance team members may be a good place to start looking for this kind of knowledge.
Similarly, why not create a digital space for people to share their own top tips, money-saving ideas, or links to useful offers and bargains. Sharing top tips learned from Martin Lewis, the ‘Which?’ organisation, or just the location of a local retailer offering a rare deal could help colleagues out. Why not create this in the same place as your links to reputable charities.
(Re-)promote your benefits packages
If there’s anything within your organisation’s benefits package that could help people save a bit of cash, then shout about it now! Some employees may not be fully aware, or will have forgotten about what’s available to them. Any discount partnerships with retailers, available support with childcare, lift-sharing incentives, lunch clubs, buy-back-leave schemes etc. are always worthy of fresh promotion.
As with the EAP promo, contextualise and humanise these benefits using testimonies from colleagues who already benefit from them. If anyone is willing to create or star in a short video about what they use and how it benefits them, you can use this to promote the benefit with maximum credibility, relatability, warmth, and authenticity.
(Now might be a good time to re-evaluate partnerships with third parties and/or seek to add to the offering. If a partnership with a retailer or external service provider hasn’t had much take-up from your employees, can a more useful or universally appreciated one be secured?)
Similarly, if your organisation offers one, a salary-sacrifice scheme that reduces the amount of tax and NI paid in exchange for non-cash benefits (such as bicycles, low emission vehicles, pension contributions) can help some colleagues if that benefit is right for them. However, as the name suggests, these reduce take-home salary, so they may need careful examination and explanation.
If your organisation offers half-days or early finishes as bonuses or rewards, could these be substituted for cash (of a similar value) so that those earning the reward can choose between the time off or a few extra pounds in their pay packet?
Ask how you can help
This may seem like a really obvious one, but you’d be surprised how many leaders either wouldn’t think to ask, or would be afraid to. Consider setting up a central mailbox or, even better, offer an anonymous Q&A and suggestion platform where people can ask for the help they would like with the comfort of anonymity.
Ensure managers are fully aware of what is (and isn’t) available to support their direct reports. For example, it may be that more flexible working arrangements can be agreed to help with travel or childcare costs, or that expenses can be paid more frequently to ease individuals’ cash flow. It may be that the business can offer loans, advances, or emergency funds to help colleagues deal with unexpected costs or financial emergencies.
What these things all have in common is the significance of a robust and up-to-date internal comms strategy that is fit for purpose. You need to be able to reach all of your people, regardless of role, location and work hours, with the information, help and advice they need. If you’re not sure that yours is quite right, or you’re still playing catch-up after all the changes the pandemic inflicted upon you, health-check yours now.
None of us can can remove the financial pressures that this cost of living crisis is placing on our colleagues, but we can show understanding and empathy, and demonstrate that we are willing to do what is within our powers to help.