Employers being innovative with ways to help staff through cost of living crisis: Mike Picken

As the cost of living crisis continues to tighten its grip, with lower paid workers bearing the brunt of soaring food and energy prices, more employers than ever are stepping in to help staff, with innovative often low-cost benefits that are still making a big difference.

As a Yorkshire-based employee benefits business, we are currently seeing an unprecedented number of organisations across the region - of all sizes and across industries - asking for advice on how they can best put support in place to share the challenges of the current economic storm with their workorce.

While pay rises might be off the agenda for many private-sector employers, growing numbers are now implementing meaningful ways to help their staff beyond salary hikes.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The Covid-19 pandemic saw employers asked to prioritise employee health, but now it’s both health and financial wellbeing strategies that are coming under the spotlight as so many workers are struggling to pay day-to-day costs while potentially also having to negotiate lengthy and unpredictable waiting lists for NHS treatment.

Mike Picken gives his expert insight. Picture: Simon DewhurstMike Picken gives his expert insight. Picture: Simon Dewhurst
Mike Picken gives his expert insight. Picture: Simon Dewhurst

Ill health exacerbated by an embattled healthcare system and mounting financial problems are existential issues that caring and prudent employers are doing their best to offset. Relatively low-cost options that can still make a big difference to people who are struggling are seeing a rise in take up and are affordable even to smaller SMEs.

Cash plans, which used to be called hospital funds, have been around for donkeys’ years and from only around £50 per employee per year they are eminently affordable. On these everyday healthcare schemes, employees can claim back the costs of items such as prescription charges, eye tests and dental care. They also usually include an employee assistance programme, which provides mental health support as well as advice on things like legal and employment issues.

Interchange & Consort Hotels, the York-based company that operates the Best Western brand in the UK, started a cash plan a few years ago for their 93 employees and say it’s come into its own as an innovative way to help staff at a time when businesses too are feeling a squeeze on income.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Another way that employers are trying to help is through providing innovative benefits such as employee discount schemes which give staff money off supermarket shopping or discounts with local businesses. With the pressure on real incomes hitting millions of households, this kind of support can make a big difference to staff at a relatively low cost to the employer.

So while most employers are clear that responsibility for people’s finances lies with individuals and not the employer, healthy or poor financial wellbeing across a workforce can affect an organisation’s success and sustainability. In difficult times like these, essential employee benefits can also have a big impact on retention and recruitment of staff.

Employers we work with have reported a hugely positive response from staff to these innovative ways of softening the impact of the current economic gloom. Not only do such benefits make a real difference but by stepping in to help, employers are showing that they value their employees and care about their wellbeing.

Mike Picken is executive director of Leeds-based Aceso Health and Group Risk