The cost of living crisis – what can local authorities do to support their staff?
We know that the rising cost of living has been a concern to local authorities for some time.
The majority of attendees at Trowers Tuesday on 6 September said helping employees through the hard financial climate was their priority for the Autumn. While the introduction of an Energy Price Guarantee from 1 October will do something to alleviate immediate concerns about energy costs, inflation and rising mortgage costs are obviously a major worry for many.
So what can local authorities do in practical terms to help their employees? There are a number of different options to consider, some of which are:
Giving employees a real living wage and salary increases, though this may not be feasible. We know some of our clients are planning unconsolidated bonus payments over the winter to help. Other ideas include providing subsidised meals at work, facilitating public transport loans or for a yearly parking permit which could then be deducted monthly from employees' salaries. Salary sacrifice schemes can be used to offer childcare vouchers, cycle to work schemes and additional pension contributions.
Another possibility is offering one-off bonuses to help alleviate financial pressures; this might be optional where the effect is an impact on Universal Credit or Tax Credits. Please note that employee loans can be subject to consumer credit law. Consider implementing a financial wellbeing policy, in addition to other communications, so that staff know what help is available. Helpful hacks that don't cost money are also popular. Some employee assistance programmes can provide financial advice as well as financial assistance for those who are experiencing stress as a result of financial pressures. If not, just signposting to saving money hacks is a good way of engaging with staff on this issue or introducing useful help – such as toy and children's clothes swaps in workplaces.
You might also want to consider more flexible working practices to save the cost of travel or conversely opening up offices to accommodate workers who find working from home expensive because of energy prices.
Local authorities should also consider their approach to employees working in second jobs. Where previously this might have not been looked on kindly, maybe this approach should change? You should consider confidentiality and conflict issues if that's the case, and also ensure that you continue to be happy with employee performance. Also please note that it is technically an employer's legal obligation to ensure that employees shouldn't work more than 48 hours a week, wherever they work.
Local authorities need to recognise the strain on mental health that the situation is having. Some employees will be experiencing heightened stress and anxiety as a result, and existing mental health conditions may be exacerbated. Ensure that your employee assistance programme is well publicised, especially any counselling services offered as part of that. Consider what other support could be made available for employees to discuss the difficulties they are experiencing. It may be possible for local authorities to take measures such as paying for employees' medical prescriptions (to an upper monthly limit).
It's important to facilitate a culture in which employees can have open conversations about their concerns. Managers should be well equipped, and trained as needed, to engage in empathetic conversations about financial matters.
Be aware of discrimination risks. For example, younger staff members may be on lower salaries than older employees, and women statistically are more likely to be paid less than men. These discrepancies should be taken into account by local authorities and any measures taken to alleviate the cost of living crisis should not discriminate against employees who share a particular protected characteristic.