Last month I wrote about how many of us struggle with the idea of change and how LifeLine’ programmes evolve according to the needs of our ever changing communities. This month I want to highlight how charities are modifying and updating their employee support to reflect current issues.
When we made the switch to remote working, we quickly realised that we had to come up with ways to support our employees that felt isolated or overwhelmed. We had to design new ways to motivate each other, to interact and communicate with each other, and—most of all—to support the mental health needs of each other. Of course, once we got our heads around that problem, we had to move right on to the new challenge of reintegrating employees back into the workplace. And, right now, the cost of living crisis is our most urgent issue.
LifeLine, like many other organisations across the UK, has had to assess and review the financial wellbeing of its employees. According to Shifting Sands, a briefing produced by the Work Foundation at Lancaster University, 40% of UK employers have introduced cost-of-living support for staff and 66% of senior decision makers feel they have a substantial role to play in supporting their staff through the cost of living crisis.
Until recently, financial wellbeing was widely viewed as an issue that generally only affected people who couldn’t manage their financial resources effectively. But now, we see it affects far more people than we had thought. And, more so, we are only just now coming to terms with the impact it has on mental health. Shifting Sands states that 8% of the UK working population has taken time off from work due to issues relating to their financial wellbeing.
UNISON, the UK’s largest union, has more than 1.3 million members and only 6.5% of the membership work in the community and voluntary sector. It’s fair to say that the charity sector is not particularly well-known for its union representation and, until recently, the idea of strikes in the charity sector were nigh unheard of.
So why are there fewer strikes and lower union membership amongst charity workers?
I would say that this could be down to the fact that charity sector employees don’t feel a need for a union to protect them. Job satisfaction rates for the sector are one of the highest, at 77% versus a UK average of 72%.
In a survey of charity staff by New Possible, the responses make it clear that employees are looking for a greater sense of purpose from their work, along with flexibility and work-life balance. If this is indeed the case, there is a responsibility upon those that lead charities—particularly during this cost of living crisis—to provide a workplace that is not only secure, but also provides employment that is meaningful. Right now, our staff are more vulnerable so they need extra care to ensure they are treated fairly. We need to help them become financially resilient, confident, and empowered.
Ex-NCVO chief executive Karl Wilding said in an interview that “charities no longer have a monopoly on doing good”. Over the years, LifeLine has become accustomed to competing with private sector companies, whether its delivering payment-by-results programmes or tendering for contracts. In these cases, we have to compete in the same pool for competent yet compassionate staff.
Traditionally, employees do not choose to join us for the wages—they join because of the mission of the charity, to do something they believe in. And this is the advantage we have against our private sector competitors. Historically, we have used bonuses to top up wages when the money was available—to recognise the sacrifice our staff make. But, while this was great for the organisation and reduced the burden of our wage bill, the seemingly ‘random’ nature of exactly when bonuses are handed out didn’t give our staff the security they were looking for.
Our staff need to pay their bills. Regardless of dedication and belief in the mission, no amount of job satisfaction can make up for a lack of money.
As a charity, we’re faced with rising costs while our income remains roughly the same.
An increase in staff compensation is a priority factor in our bid tenders, which can make our offer look less attractive than our competitors.
We can’t afford to increase wages. Yet, we can’t afford not to.
Keep pay increases in line with inflation.
Carry out regular competitor analysis.
Ensure our pay and progression models are communicated clearly to employees.
Introduce non-financial benefits: job satisfaction, holiday, staff appreciation, wellbeing programmes, discounts, effective IT systems and equipment, staff days, and training.
For over two decades, we’ve been able to remain effective, internally and externally, due to our ability to adapt.
We’re always looking to improve—our systems, our methodology, and our delivery have come so far in the last two decades as well.
We have to ensure we’re offering competitive benefits package in order to get the dedicated and hard-working staff we need to help people.
We remain dedicated to taking care of our employees because it means they can take care of the people we serve.