The cost of living crisis needs no introduction or explanation from me. Inflation is at a 40-year high, energy prices are up around 40% (and set to rise again before winter bites), and it now costs well over £100 to fill the tank of the average family car. These are troubling times for many of us. And it is the lowest earners that are feeling the tightest squeeze.
Is there anything Internal Comms folk can do, without the aid of a magic wand or that elusive money tree politicians like to talk about, to help their people through periods of financial difficulty?
At times like this, nobody wants to feel like they’re the only one struggling. But our financial situations are also deeply personal affairs, and many people don’t like to talk about their money troubles. They may feel like they are failing, or be profoundly embarrassed about their personal situation. Some will assume that everyone else is somehow doing better than them, that others have savings or financially better-off partners or families to help out. Therefore, any conversations about the subject must be handled carefully and sensitively.
That said, you can barely escape the topic on the news or in the media right now, so showing awareness, empathy, understanding, and a willingness to help is the right thing to do. Here are some suggestions that should be possible across most organisations and that might just offer something of a lifeline to colleagues that are struggling.
Signpost external support
If your organisation has an Employee Assistance Programme, now might be a good time to remind your people about what it is, how to reach it, and what to expect when contact is made. Comms out a reminder that it is external and anonymous, and you may just encourage some of those that need help to reach out. Often, fear of the unknown or mistrust put people off from using this kind of service. A reassuring reminder can work wonders. And if a colleague who’s used them in the past is willing to share their positive experience, anonymously or in name, then a personalised case study is a brilliant promo.
If you don’t have an EAP to signpost, could you create a new, designated area on your intranet or social platform with links to reputable charities and helpful organisations? CitizensAdvice.org.uk and MoneyHelper.org.uk are good places to start.
Promote your existing benefits packages
If there’s anything within your organisation’s benefits package that could help people save a few quid, then shout about it. Some may have forgotten about or be unsure of what’s available to them. Any discount partnerships with retailers, support with childcare, buy-back-leave schemes etc. would be worth some fresh promotion. As with the EAP promo, wherever possible, humanise and contextualise the benefits using testimonies from colleagues who already benefit from them. If anyone is willing to create a short video about what they use and how they benefit from it, you can promote the benefit with maximum warmth, credibility, relatability, and authenticity.
Similarly, if available, a salary-sacrifice scheme that reduces the amount of tax and NI paid in exchange for non-cash benefits (such as bicycles, ultra-low emission vehicles, pension contributions) may help some colleagues if that benefit is right. However, as the name suggests, these reduce take-home salary, so they may need careful explanation.
Share knowledge and tips
If you have people within your organisation who have expertise or prior experience in debt management or matters of personal finance, see if they would be willing to share that knowledge. This could be via brief, informal sessions, or short informative videos that can be viewed without having to give up any anonymity. Finance team members may be a good place to start looking for this expertise.
Similarly, why not create a digital space for people to share their own top tips, money-saving ideas or unexpected bargains. Sharing valuable tips learned from Martin Lewis, the ‘Which?’ organisation, or just the location of a local retailer offering a rare deal could really help colleagues out. This could be located in the same place as your links to reputable charities.
Ask how you can help
You could consider setting up a central mailbox or offer an anonymous Q&A and suggestion platform to ask people what help they would like. Ensure managers know what is and isn’t available to support their direct reports. For example, it may be that time in the office can be reduced to help with travel costs, or that expenses can be paid more frequently to ease individuals’ cash flow.
Look out for signs of burnout
I’ve written quite a few times over the past two years about how important it is to look out for each other. And I don’t think that has ever been truer than now. I wrote here about the causes, effects and solutions for employee burnout. Making our managers aware of the signs and what they can do to ease the burden on their people can be hugely beneficial. Money worries at home will only be amplified and exacerbated by (potentially avoidable) stresses at work. And we know that, if left untreated, stress will quickly lead to disengagement. Burnt-out colleagues will eventually see leaving the company as their only option for survival, even if the stress didn’t start there. Therefore, employers that don’t proactively support the wellbeing of their people will suffer from lower performance and higher staff turnover.
What these things all have in common is the importance of having an internal comms strategy that is fit for purpose, and that you can reach all of your people (regardless of role, location and shift pattern) with the information, help and advice they need. If you’re not sure that yours is, or you’re still playing catch-up after all the changes Covid inflicted upon you, health-check yours now. We can’t take away the financial pressures that this cost of living crisis is placing on our colleagues, but we can show empathy and understanding, and that we are willing to do what is within our powers to help.