Last reviewed: 26 August 2022
Currently every day seems to bring further frightening news about inflation and the cost-of-living. Most of us have noticed higher food, fuel, and electricity prices. Winter looms in the minds of many as further predicted increases in the price of energy will mean higher heating bills. The news is full of people who might face a stark choice between eating and heating in the colder months.
This includes people in work. Employers might notice, if they have not already, a rise in mental distress in their workforce. While there might be little that managers and employers can do about rising costs there are ways to support struggling employees.
Spot the signs
First notice the distress. Managers can and should be on the lookout for employees who are showing signs of mental distress. This could be any uncharacteristic behaviour and in particular employees who are
- Quieter or more withdrawn than usual, who cry or might have been crying
- More irritable or aggressive
Spotting signs of mental distress can be difficult if employees are working remotely from their manager, so extra vigilance might be needed. An employee who no longer turns on their camera during a video catch up might, for example, be trying to hide distress or weight change. As the weather cools, employees might also be working from their beds or be wrapped in blankets to stay warm.
Other warning signs for HR or Managers might be:
- Uncharacteristic requests for additional hours or overtime
- Opting out of the employer’s pension scheme
- Declining invitations to social outings for lunch, coffee, or drinks after work.
- Requests to work from home permanently which might be because of the cost of travelling to work; or
- Coming into the workplace more frequently to reduce the cost of heating and electricity at home.
Disabled employees or employees who might recently have acquired a disability might
- Ask for an increase in working hours if they have been working part-time, perhaps as a reasonable adjustment
- Try to return to work sooner than medical advice recommends if they have been off sick and are no longer entitled to sick pay or full sick pay.
Some disabled people face additional costs because of their disability. They might have specialist equipment that uses electricity for example an electric wheelchair that needs to be charged or additional fridges for medication. Other disabled people might not be able to shop around for the cheapest food or fuel because of inaccessible websites or premises or they or someone in their family might be on a specialist diet which makes shopping from value ranges in supermarkets impossible.
See our consumer research for more information about disabled consumers’ experiences of shopping around.
Support employers can offer
Employees who have been off sick or disabled employees working part-time as a reasonable adjustment might need a phased increase in their hours so that they can get used to working for longer. Obtaining further medical advice or from an occupational health adviser, especially if an employee wants to return to work before a fit note signing them off sick has expired is recommended. Whether or not external advice is sought, employers should discuss adjustments disabled employees might need as they return to work or increase their hours. These might include (but are not limited to):
- Working different hours to allow for periods of rest during the day or a rest day in the middle of the week
- Working from home for some or all the time
- Working from a different location that is easier (and cheaper?) to get to
- Equipment such as ergonomically designed chairs or equipment and software on their computer
- Training if someone has been out of work for some time.
Employers might not be able to offer direct help with the cost of living and will themselves be subject to higher prices, but they could consider some of the following forms of support:
- Training managers on how to spot signs of distress and have sensitive conversations with employees
- Promoting support already available such as free Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) and health insurance benefits in webinars or newsletters that go to every employee.
- Providing, or signposting to debt advice services for employees struggling to pay bills
- Offering pensions surgeries which give advice on the pros and cons of opting out of paying into a pension. Many pension providers offer such surgeries to employers.
- Retaining subsidised canteens if possible and providing free hot drinks at work.
- Promoting any perks or benefits available to employees such as discount vouchers, help with the cost of eyesight or dental check ups or online GP appointments, cycling to work schemes or help with childcare costs.
- Workplace swap schemes for children’s clothing and school uniforms.
- Offering additional, paid hours while trying to ensure that employees do not over work. Rest periods are necessary and required by law.
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