U.S. President Joe Biden recently laid out his plans to combat inflation and the high cost of living. The average family is spending an additional $327 per month compared to pre-pandemic costs, according to a CNN broadcast May 10. At the time, the national average price of gas was $4.37. While the Federal Reserve can do more to influence inflation than the President, his announcement is welcome because people are suffering and some economists believe a recession is looming.
Under normal circumstances, the economy can cause burdens for HR leaders. In this case, businesses are still confronting uncertainty that comes from an ongoing pandemic, war in Europe, and a labor shortage. This is not to mention a mental health crisis and increased obligations for employers when it comes to employee engagement and experience.
The first step in addressing the negative impact of the economy is being realistic about the current situation and understanding how it impacts HR:
Some Can’t Afford RTO
Many companies are finally deploying their return to office (RTO) plans from 2020. Employees and leadership are at odds, in many cases, about whether to return or continue to work from home. One of the arguments workers have about WFH is that it is cheaper.
Some employees are quitting because they cannot afford the commute or lunch costs that come with returning to the office. Childcare, which has always been a problem for working parents, is another huge expense. In some cases, people end up paying to work, and it becomes more affordable to quit. HR must keep this in mind when considering wages and salaries.
Compensation and Benefits Packages
During this time of historic labor shortage, HR leaders are reassessing their compensation and benefits packages because they want to be competitive. Employees have leverage and higher wages has been one of the most requested benefits for obvious reasons.
“The talent shortage has boosted pay, but not enough to keep up with inflation,” according to The New York Times. “Wages grew 5.6% in the last year.”
Another obstacle for HR professionals is that increasing offers for new hires ended up creating an uneven divide between them and their veteran counterparts. Now, in some cases, loyal employees who stayed with their employers are earning less than new hires. With this kind of inflation, they may be lured by the prospect of higher pay elsewhere, which could continue the cycle of the Great Resignation.
Money is obviously not going as far as it used to go. Therefore, HR professionals should worry that this economic reality could cause budget cuts. For now, 79% of corporate finance executives say their budgets will be larger in 2022 than in 2021, according to Billing Platforms annual 2022 Trends in Finance Survey. With inflation as high as it is, they should prepare for cuts at some point. This could mean fewer resources for learning and development, employee engagement and experience initiatives, compensation and benefits packages, and more.
At the moment, most headlines point to Americans’ desire to get back on the road and see people face to face for personal and professional meetings. However, with gas prices and inflation this high, many budget conscious employers may pull back on travel budgets.
The United States is also preparing to confront another surge in COVID-19 cases. RTO poses risks, especially for vulnerable employees with comorbodities or those who live with at-risk people. In addition, parents of children under 5, who are not yet eligible for vaccination, have expressed concerns about both RTO and having to travel for work.
Every department in every business must face the reality of inflation and higher costs. HR is no exception. In the case of HR leaders, rising costs is a people problem. Employees will need more money to support their families and to make work valuable to them. In addition, the business itself will have to constrain spending in areas like travel and perks. Maybe those free lunches will have to stop.
Still, there are some solutions available to HR. Promoting people from within the company as opposed to hiring new employees is a way to save money and improve retention. Being transparent about the limitations on wage increases and offering other less expensive benefits to compensate are other ways to address the problem.
Of course, travel can be replaced with videoconferencing and digital events that can be conducted from home. HR leaders have had to stretch resources before and will certainly have to do it again in the future.