Housing 21 refreshes benefits in the cost-of-living crisis

Credit: Housing 21

Now that many workplaces are au fait with talking about mental health and the menopause, is money management the last stigma?

Ian Hodson, director of people and culture at Housing 21, says: “It is the last taboo. People still won’t talk about their finances.”

In a cost-of-living crisis, this stigma around managing money is especially pernicious. It is a big challenge for many, especially those on lower incomes. Housing 21 employs just over 4,000 people, and around 2,000 of them are care workers.

“People are working in different locations all over the country.” explains Hodson. “From a motivational point of view, we know their pay is never going to be the highest, otherwise we would have to pass on increases to the residents. They are a tough group to reach, and it is easy for them to feel disconnected from things that are going on.”

The organisation is conducting a benefits refresh, with Hodson and his team considering new benefits to introduce, as well as considering how to make the most of existing benefits.

They have already achieved some quick wins, such as a bikes-for-work scheme, which has been rebranded as Cycle21, allowing employees to spread the cost of purchasing a bike and enabling them to do so any time in the year. Hodson and his team are also highlighting the advantages of existing benefits, such as the Blue Light Card, a discount card which all employees are entitled to.

Other plans are in the pipeline. Hodson says: “We are looking at bringing in a cashback card that colleagues can use as a prepaid debit card. They can put funds on it from their pay and that is their money for the shopping, or to treat themselves. It’s helping them to ringfence and manage their money.”

Also under consideration are benefits which will help people to save for the short to mid-term. Hodson explains: “We are looking at bringing in workplace [individual savings accounts] (Isas) so that people can benefit from cash Isas and lifetime Isas. We are ensuring people can save by setting the amount up as a direct debit from payroll. We are working with our provider to create something visual, where people can label their pots, then before payroll they can decide that, for instance they want to put £20 in their Christmas pot or £30 of overtime money in a rainy day pot.

“This is a chance for payroll to shake off its dusty old image. It’s an exciting opportunity for us to put the payroll team on the map as an outward-facing reward team, and for them to be seen as adding value to the business, rather than as a back-office function.”

Everything has to be underpinned by education. “Education is key around helping individuals to understand their pay and making it okay to talk about financial worries in the same way as we might now discuss mental health,” explains Hodson.

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For Housing 21, that means using events like National Payroll Week as an opportunity to educate people. It also means pushing out the reactive elements of the employee assistance programme, such as educational videos which are provided as part of the service.

Housing 21 is also changing the language around pay.  “Salary sacrifice is a terrible term,” says Hodson, who adds that he and his team are looking to change the terminology they use for that, along with additional voluntary contributions (AVCs) and pensions, which they are calling lifelong savings.