A Winter of Discontent: keeping employees on side in tough economic times

A Winter of Discontent: keeping employees on side in tough economic times

The UK is currently facing the worst cost of living crisis for a generation. At the same time, unemployment is at its lowest since 1976 and there is a war on talent – recruitment and retention. At a time then where real wages are falling, how do you motivate, retain and attract staff?

To address these issues, this week Portland was pleased to host a cost of living panel discussion, where we were joined by Kevin Green, Chief People Officer at First Group, Emma Stewart MBE from the Timewise Foundation, Jennifer Sproul, Chief Executive of the Institute of Internal Communications, and Anthony Painter, Director of Policy and External Affairs at the Chartered Management Institute (CMI).

Ahead of the event, Portland’s Research Team carried out extensive public polling to gauge consumer perceptions on the cost of living crisis and, specifically, how people think their employers should be supporting them at this time. The key headlines showed that:

  • Perhaps unsurprisingly, almost half (42%) of people stated that a salary increase was the main thing employers should be doing to support them in the workplace, however the challenge is that many firms won’t be able to meet this demand
  • More than a third (38%) of people said they would feel confident asking their employer for a pay rise – so this of course means tough conversations to be had and a clear opportunity to support leaders and managers in how to conduct these
  • We also found that most people (75%) are concerned about the cost of living crisis and how it will personally affect them – 61% were also are concerned about how the current cost of living crisis will affect their business, so there’s clearly a lot of uncertainty which needs to be addressed both at an individual and company-wide level.
  • When it comes to hybrid working, just under half (43%) work every day from an office and just under a quarter (22%) have a hybrid working policy
  • Encouragingly 50% felt that their place of work contributes positively to their overall mental health.

The economic crisis is evolving and the impact of rising energy costs, food prices and mortgages are probably yet to be felt fully. So, the debate around how employers can or should support their staff will likely intensify over the coming months. In this context, here are some of the key conversation points and thoughts from our expert panel:

  • In the current climate, it can’t all be about salary increases; employers need to consider all of the associated benefits and support their employees needs in this uncertain time
  • The labour market is a huge concern, with over one million job vacancies, employers face huge challenges in retaining and recruiting people, so the Employee Value Proposition becomes increasingly relevant
  • Leaders play a crucial role in engagement at all levels and leadership visibility is a must, while transparency in communications is paramount
  • The way companies should be talking to their people must be empathetic and human
  • The role of managers has never been more important, and companies must think about how they support them, given their roles tend to be overloaded with conflicting priorities. Managers will be the first in line to have difficult conversations, so they need to be equipped and supported to have these
  • Companies are still dealing with big changes in the make-up of job roles, with hybrid and part-time roles likely to increase to balance the impacts of cost of living (travel, childcare expenses etc)

Portland will be looking to host similar events in the near future. If you want to be part of the conversation or come along to one of our next sessions, please get in touch.

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