Blog: Why keeping close to your employees retains talent in a challenging marketplace

In our latest blog Anne Elliott takes a look at how to retain and recruit employees as the cost-of-living crisis deepens.

Many thought we were through the worst, but maybe this is just the beginning. Post-pandemic, we now face eye-watering rises in the cost of living, not to mention escalating operational costs for housing organisations. So, how do you recruit (and retain) talent in such challenging times?

Housing associations have it tough on all fronts. As you wait for the government to decide the permitted percentage rent increase for April (which almost certainly won’t match inflation), your operating costs face increases everywhere you look. Utility costs and inflationary pressures are soaring.

Meanwhile, you’re losing staff to better paid roles. People who stayed with you throughout the pandemic are now after more cash. So, what changed?

Pay tops the 2022 survey

The September 2022 Mercer report, rethinking what we need from work, tells an interesting story. Twelve months ago, physical health and fitness was the most significant need cited by a sample of over 4,000 employees. Today, it’s being able to cover monthly expenses.

Right now, people need more pay in their pocket and that’s influencing their attitude to the workplace. In fact, Mercer says one in three employees are currently considering leaving their employer.

Inflation in the UK is hitting 10%. Beyond April, nobody knows what fuel prices will look like. And petrol is hitting the £1.70-mark once again.

We’ve had three prime ministers in a matter of weeks, with talk of taxes falling, then rising.

Is it any wonder workers fear this immense uncertainty with the cost-of-living rising like never before?

Housing associations under pressure too

If you had magic wand, you might just wave it around and pay everyone more. But it’s not that simple. Your expenses have escalated too, and on the face of it, your salaries match industry benchmark packages.

Yet, recruiting and keeping talent has become a huge headache – not just for housing associations, but many sectors of industry.

And now, it feels like the goal posts have changed again – everyone wants more cash.

Lateral thoughts can shake up rewards

Remember the cost-of-living crisis is not indefinite, but employees are looking for quick financial solutions to overcome immediate money issues.

There’s no doubt the flexible approach you developed during the pandemic must continue to adapt. Understanding what’s going on in your employee’s lives is crucial.

What matters most to them?

What are they struggling with?

How can you make their lives better?

It’s time for some lateral thinking. We’ve noticed several constructive approaches that might help your organisation.

Reinventing your flexible benefits package

What benefits do they actually need? Car allowances, private health cover and even gym membership might have been great perks, but when financial ends don’t meet, some might prefer the cash.

When you add up all the benefits your package might be competitive. But what if they could strip out those of low value to them and have more pay instead? Such adaptability might just give your employment terms the edge.

Cost-of-living awards

Some organisations are opting to give everyone one-off payments of £500 to £1,000. It’s less permanent than a pay rise and might just help people through the winter months whilst you assess the future.

But if you have a large team, this can be costly to achieve. And you must be able to afford what you do.

Adapting the working week

Four-day weeks have many advantages. One is a 20% reduction in commuting costs. This keeps cash in employee pockets whilst offering them a better work-life balance.

Tipping the hybrid balance in favour of working from home achieves the same objective. But remember, solo working doesn’t suit everyone. Some people might prefer travelling to a warmer office this winter instead of surviving in their chilly spare room.

Different generations need different things

Today, we have more generations in the workplace than ever before. In fact, Generation C (Covid) are now joining us, with experiences and needs of their own.

Older generations might welcome a peaceful home environment to work in. Meanwhile, many younger employees find it tough. They want to work alongside peers to develop their skills and feel part of something bigger. They might become detached if work is too home centric, with feelings of isolation affecting their mental health.

Whilst everything changes around us, everyone – and every generation – reacts differently and has diverse needs. Switched-on employers keep close to their team, adapting their support and working conditions accordingly.

At every level, leaders must be quick to adapt, providing working conditions that attract and retain the skills you need to survive.

But not at any cost.

Getting the balance right

Sadly, you don’t have a magic wand. You have cost pressures and uncertainty over your April rent increase. Throwing money at your talent is not an option, but you must work out how to keep them.

By knowing what’s going on for all your employees – young and old – you can achieve a sustainable balance, for them and for your organisation.

When life feels so unstable, people want to feel safe at work. Yes, they want the best possible salary to meet their living expenses and save for retirement, but they also want to belong where they work. Somewhere that feels stable and futureproof. Somewhere that supports them with what matters most. Somewhere that cares about them.

Balancing financial rewards and working environment – and knowing when to adapt quickly – is how you can weather the perfect storm we’re in the thick of right now.

Embrace uncertainty

Who knows what will happen in the future. We’ve already seen the unimaginable, so nothing is off the table. The only future certainty is its uncertainty.

But don’t throw everything behind financial reward at all costs. We will emerge from the crisis and employees will rethink their work priorities as financial burdens ease. You still want them to feel you offer a great place to work.

We’ve no crisis end date so your leaders must step up their soft skills and go forward with humility and compassion. Mindful of employee fears and needs, they must react accordingly. And of course, they must always do this with your own financial sustainability in mind.

Not an easy path to tread, but you need to rethink how you recruit and retain talent in today’s challenging marketplace.

Anne Elliott, Managing Director, ema

Anne Elliot EMA Consultancy

Anne Elliott

Managing Director

01926 887272