UK wages grew by 7.3% between March and May, the fastest pay growth in 20 years. This sounds like good news – a welcome boost for workers struggling with devastating rises in the cost of living and a way for employers to increase their chances of attracting new recruits, as labour shortages continue.
Yet some financial experts suggest that these wage hikes are fuelling inflation and subsequent interest rate rises. The Bank of England previously indicated that pay growth above 3% would make inflation much harder to control. However, rising costs mean that even a 7.3% increase is a pay decrease for workers in real terms, after adjusting for inflation. Therefore to keep staff happy, remain an attractive proposition to new candidates, and essentially keep their businesses afloat, employers have had to increase pay – and increase it beyond 3% - to try and stay in line with the cost of living. Without doing so, they run the risk of losing their best staff and struggling to replace them. But is it short-sighted of businesses to not look at the bigger picture of employee engagement?
There are of course many nuances to such arguments around the current economic climate. As a champion for the frontline workforce and part of a business which is built around increasing flexibility, reducing stress and generally boosting happiness of deskless staff, I would always preface any conversations around pay and benefits by underlining that pay matters. And fair pay matters, more so now than ever. But while ongoing strikes in various industries have highlighted long standing pay inequalities, they have also highlighted other deep-rooted issues that arguably matter just as much – lack of training and development opportunities, poor communication, no flexibility.
In the face of such a dramatic rise in the cost of living, pay rises have been essential for many businesses, and greatly welcomed by workers – yet salary increases alone rarely improve motivation nor encourage retention in the long-term. And while there are conflicting reports on the factors that increase engagement amongst the youngest members of the workforce (‘Gen-Z only want to work for companies that share their values’, ‘Gen-Z are only motivated by pay’), our own State of the Frontline workforce study compounds the argument that money is just one ‘piece of the puzzle’ for employees of all ages. Our survey of 3,000 UK-based employees, working in retail, hospitality and logistics-focused roles (transport, warehousing), revealed that having a more flexible schedule, being given more recognition for their work and improved communication with bosses were the biggest motivators for staff, only slightly behind higher pay.
Similarly, of those who said they were thinking about quitting their current role, 33% cited ‘feeling stressed’ as a reason, the same number as ‘wanting a higher salary’; 31% blamed ‘feeling undervalued’.
The current economic climate presents ongoing challenges for business leaders, yet without engaged employees, there is no business. Creating a happy workforce often starts with a focus on improving communication, perhaps an ‘open door’ policy to find out how workers are really feeling - what would make the biggest difference to them right now? Are they being giving opportunities to progress? Are they able to provide input when processes aren’t effective? Tech solutions can take some of the load; streamlined tools for scheduling automation and task management can save time and reduce stress all-round, while giving employees more ownership of shift patterns and resulting in the work-life balance they need.
There’s no denying it’s tough out there, but thinking beyond the black-and-white and taking a wider look at employee engagement is more vital than ever for businesses, regardless of size or sector. The ones who listen to what their employees really want and need – including pay, but looking beyond it too - are likely to reap the benefits in the long-term.
Toma Pagojute is chief HR officer at workforce management solution Quinyx.