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The voice of Scotland’s vibrant voluntary sector

Published by Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations

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The time to lean in is now: leadership and the cost of living crisis

This opinion piece is over 1 year old

Lindsay Fyffe-Jardine on looking after staff in the toughest of times

It’s hard right now not to feel a bit scunnered as a leader right now, isn’t it?

As a living wage employer, I always felt that salary was an area of our people welfare I could let go and do its thing so we could focus on other parts of their wellbeing support. I knew we were doing right by our people and while it wasn’t necessarily a breeze to live on the real living wage, it did allow some hope for the future. Reasonable expectations of life, not aspirations, like buying a car, getting a mortgage, going on holiday and getting married.

When reports on the energy crisis began to circulate in January this year, I sat with my leadership team at Edinburgh Dog and Cat Home talking about autumn preparations to support our team, and how tough things would get for people. Not just for our team but the tens of thousands of pet owners and pets that we support through our outreach. How wrong I would turn out to be on my predicted timings. To say I felt blindsided, when in the spring things began to squeeze and become difficult for our team, would be an understatement. The worry was etched on their faces and the feeling we were sliding backwards as an organisation felt beyond frustrating. I was enraged.

While becoming a living wage employer has made complete business sense, my motivation was to be able to hold my head high and look my team in the eye when it comes to paying them a fair salary for the incredible work that they do. So we set out first by holding focus groups with those most sharply affected by the crisis. Those staff eking out their last tenner, those not filling their car up with petrol and those who would be making major sacrifices just to be able to cover the weekly shop. I knew that if we didn’t act then that we would begin to see a spiral of really great people who work for us not be able to stay at a job they love. We would also see an escalation of isolation and in-work poverty, which the real living wage is there to help combat.

So as part of our first steps to try and get this right for our team we have introduced the following: parachute payments to those who earn £25,000 or under which involves extra salary top-ups dropped in three times between June and December to help people top-up or save aside for bills. We’ve held an information session with a Citizens Advice Edinburgh advisor for the whole organisation and will be offering one-to-one private appointments during work time so that staff understand they are getting all the support they are entitled to. We’ve tried to introduce some softer stuff on site in preparation for the even harder months ahead, things like meals in the freezer to have a hot lunch and toiletries and towels in the shower areas so that staff can get ready at work should they wish. Our staff 'thank you' events during the year will focus on providing an evening out, which involves food and treats. Everyone deserves to kick back, relax and have fun.

While none of these things will stop this crisis from happening, my only hope is that our team feel they have us in their corner and that we’ll fight to support them. This is the exact time that as leaders it can be hard to work out which way is the right way to turn and what we can do to help when it all feels insurmountable.

I really believe in talking to our staff about what might help and then offering what we can within the limitations of our funds or reach. If we don’t, we risk losing amazing people who can no longer afford to do a job they love. That will have far-reaching effects on both our recruitment budgets and the performance of our organisations without those critical staff to deliver what is needed most. So, I’m working to reduce the chances of a further crisis happening within my own organisation.

Only time will tell whether we have got this right or whether it’s been enough. But all we can do is get up each day and ensure we can look our staff in the eye while we thank them for the amazing work that they do.

Lindsay Fyffe-Jardine is CEO of Edinburgh Dog and Cat Home.