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Black Friday & the Cost of Living Crisis - Employer Perspective

It's Black Friday and I've been looking at getting an 'arm' I can attach to my desk to hold my monitor and laptop. I've found one that's on sale, and I've sent the link to my family with a strong suggestion *coughs* that I would like this for Christmas or my birthday (which is also in December). In my view, this is what Black Friday should be about...getting the things we were going to get anyway, at a discounted price.

But evidence suggests that it's not - that people buy things they wouldn't otherwise have bought. And, of course, that's what retailers (of both the virtual and bricks-and-mortar kind) are hoping. As a small business that works with other small and medium-sized employers, we totally get the need to boost sales. Ultimately that is what pays people's wages.

But it's worth balancing that against studies from the US which suggest people do shop whilst at work on Black Friday, and that there is a dip in productivity around this time. Check out our Twitter poll on this topic, too, to see what we found when we asked our followers.

As people who advise employers and employees, we do also have a niggling concern that people may be spending beyond their means. Perhaps it will be different this year, with the cost of living crisis biting people hard. Or perhaps, necessity (whether perceived or real) will mean that people will over-extend themselves financially anyway.

If so, this can have an impact for employers, as skilled and experienced employees may look for higher paying opportunities elsewhere. Additionally, financial worries have a very real effect on stress-levels, and in turn, people's ability to manage all aspects of their life to the best of their ability - including work.

It seems that employers and employees are trapped in a cycle of rising prices squeezing from both sides. It's also difficult to see an obvious way out, given it all seems in the hands of 'the markets' - a mysterious force that, like the Greek Gods of old, seem to have the ability to wreak havoc on the lives of us mere mortals at their whim.

Alas, the current state of affairs has experts in economics and geo-political matters scratching their heads, so we don't think we're going to be able to provide a solution to the world's financial situation on this blog. (Although, if you have any ideas, please submit them on a postcard...). But, we can suggest how employers handle some aspects of this with their teams.

Here are the three headline areas we think you may benefit from taking action:

1. We know Black Friday and the ever-extending events either side of it, can impact productivity - this has been documented elsewhere for the last few years. Research suggests people are more likely to be checking their phones, browsing in their breaks, or maybe not attend work at all. This is a relatively 'easy' one for us as HR professionals: we go to our toolbox for standard advice on managing people, and pull out a rote set of tools. You should: issue guidance on private browsing and internet use; manage break times; and ensure people follow your leave policies.

2. Talk to your employees about the cost of living crisis. If your business is being squeezed, because of market demands for example, it's advisable to explain this to your employees. Many will be really struggling to make ends meet, and will be looking for pay rises - or new jobs.

As a result, employees may be experiencing the effects of financial worries which can impact work, or you might see an increase in staff turnover. Ultimately, a large part of your decisions on offering pay rises will be based on where the greatest risks and benefits may lie in this balancing act. We'd like to think you will also factor in what 'the right thing to do' is.

But, you might not be in a position to offer employees an increase, even if you know might know that a failure to do so is likely to have an impact. If you can garner support through communication, it might encourage people to stick it out, and reduce your risk of losing employees who may have been wavering.

3. The run up to Christmas will be a difficult time for lots of people. You can help by providing signposting to support for employees. Signposting is free and can be an opportunity to show you care - it just takes a little bit of time to find out what support employees may be able to access. [We did an earlier blog post giving information about some sources of financial help that we know about]. If employees are suffering from stress, consider signposting to mental health charities or healthcare providers too. If you have an employee assistance programme (these sometimes come with insurance policies, so you may even have one without knowing it), then your employees may be able to access guidance, advice or even counselling.

If you'd like further advice on how to handle this with your teams, please do get in touch with us.

And, if you are tempted by a Black Friday deal, maybe ask yourself if you need it, and whether you can afford it...

About Jen Marsden-Lambert

Jen is the Founder and Director of Second Chapter, and is a Level 7 CIPD-qualified HR generalist with over 10 years' experience in HR leadership roles. She works with clients to improve employee and organisational success through an insight-led, multi-disciplinary approach. She also holds volunteer roles in mental health, community support, environmental conservation, and ending violence against women. She lives in Sheffield with her husband and two cats.

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