Many schools have only just started to return to some level of normality following the global Covid-19 pandemic, but there is now a new pressure in the form of the cost-of-living crisis.
With inflation hitting its highest level for 40 years, the price of food, fuel and energy soaring, increased interest rates and the Bank of England’s prediction that the UK will be in a recession by the end of the year, there will undoubtedly be challenging times ahead – for both schools and their staff.
This note focuses on the staffing considerations of the cost-of-living crisis. In particular, it explores possible measures of support for staff, how to approach requests from staff to take on second jobs and it looks ahead at the possible impact of rising costs on pupil numbers, school finances and, in turn, workforce requirements.
Support for staff
The cost-of-living crisis will inevitably impact staff in different ways. Schools should recognise this and, where possible, implement measures to support staff whether that is financially, with their health and wellbeing or otherwise. To better understand the hardships being faced by staff and the types of support that may be useful, schools may want to communicate with staff – for example, via anonymous surveys.
While schools should ensure that any measures implemented are applied fairly and consistently amongst staff, it is also important to note that staff with certain protected characteristics may be more affected by the cost-of-living crisis than others. For example, younger staff tend to be on lower pay than older employees and staff with disabilities may need additional assistance.
What measures could schools take to support their staff financially at this time?
Boosting staff income is perhaps the most obvious way in which schools can support the financial wellbeing of their staff and will likely have the most rapid impact. However, many schools will not be able to offer pay rises mid-academic year, let alone in line with the current rate of inflation.
For some, a one-off energy payment bonus to help with the soaring energy prices over the winter months or tax-free vouchers to assist with rising bills and food prices may be an alternative to pay rises. Alternatively, some schools may be able to set up hardship funds to support staff who are struggling to pay their bills by offering interest-free crisis loans or perhaps even salary advances.
Any support offered in this regard would, of course, need to be balanced against the financial circumstances of the school.
How can schools support staff health and well-being?
Inevitably, financial worries can have a significant impact on the overall mental and physical health and wellbeing of staff. It is also possible that the financial pressures could result in low-paid staff cutting back on the essentials necessary for their physical health and well-being, such as food and heating. In both scenarios, this is likely to present an increased risk of sickness absence.
To support the overall health and wellbeing of staff during this time, schools could:
- Direct staff to resources to assist them in making decisions relating to their financial wellbeing. Many schools already have Employee Assistance Programmes in place which staff can access for support. As we navigate through the cost-of-living crisis, it may be sensible periodically for schools to remind staff of the support that is available to them and/or signpost them to other support services, as necessary.
- Implement a financial wellbeing policy that feeds into the school’s wider wellbeing strategy and recognises and values the importance of employee financial wellbeing – this could be as simple as signposting staff to independent advice and guidance on money and debt management and the importance of reviewing their pension arrangements. Taking steps to look after the financial wellbeing of staff will not only strengthen their financial resilience to help with the current cost-of-living crisis, but also help to safeguard their position for the future.
- Take proactive measures such as providing subsidised meals – if this is not already offered as a contractual benefit – or make free fruit and vegetables available within the staff room.
What other supportive measures could schools consider?
With schools undoubtedly feeling the pinch as well, implementing pay rises or cost-of-living bonuses may not be financially viable. However, there are a range of other supportive measures that schools could consider, which are as follows:
- Ensure staff understand the existing benefits that are available to them which may reduce their outgoings, such as season ticket loans or staff discounts.
- Raise awareness of existing salary sacrifice schemes – if schools already have salary sacrifice schemes in place enabling staff to purchase items before being taxed, they should be reminded of these and the financial benefits on offer. These schemes often include childcare vouchers or Cycle to Work schemes.
- Consider implementing a new employee benefit and/or discount scheme – while now may not feel like the right time to invest in new initiatives, offering a benefits package to staff can be a cost-effective way of enabling them to make considerable financial savings. For example, schools could source a package that includes cover for dental treatment, eye care and free flu vaccinations. They may also be able to offer discounted gym membership or cost savings with certain retailers and service providers.
Should schools allow employees to take on a second job?
During this difficult period, some staff may be looking not only for extra hours in their current role, but also for a second job with an unconnected employer to bridge the gap in their growing outgoings.
A recent report by the insurer Royal London revealed that 5.2m workers in the UK have been forced to take on extra jobs to keep up with the cost-of-living crisis, with an additional 10m planning to do the same.
If schools are asked to authorise an employee taking on a second job, what should they consider?
The first thing to consider here is whether, contractually, staff are permitted to take on additional employment without first requiring the school’s authorisation. Many school contracts contain an ‘exclusivity’ clause which restricts workers from taking on additional work with another employer unless they obtain prior consent from the school to do so. Failure to obtain consent in this situation, would likely constitute a breach of contract and could warrant disciplinary action.
Assuming prior authorisation is required, there are several factors that schools should consider when dealing with a request from an employee to take on a second job. While acknowledging why staff may feel the need to take on another role and seeking to support them, where possible, schools need to be mindful of the impact on them from both a legal and practical perspective. For example:
- Has the employee opted out of the 48-hour limit under the Working Time Regulations? The guidance on the Working Time Regulations indicates that the 48-hour limit on average weekly hours applies to an individual’s total working hours with any employer. If schools agree to an employee taking on a second job, they should ensure the individual has signed an opt-out agreement or advise them to ensure their weekly hours do not, on average, exceed 48 hours. It is a criminal offence for an employer to fail to take reasonable steps to comply with the limits on working time or keep the necessary records.
- Are there health and safety risks with the employee having more than one job? For example, does the individual drive as part of their role or operate machinery? If their work falls into one of these categories, or similar categories, schools should consider reviewing their risk assessments and decide whether to introduce extra supervision or breaks if they permit the individual to take on a second job.
- Is this likely to impact on the employee’s performance, engagement and attendance? Taking on an additional job could put staff at risk of burnout which may well have a detrimental impact on performance and attendance. That said, schools should be mindful that the stress of being unable to make ends meet could be just as detrimental as the strain caused by working multiple jobs.
Other considerations may include the nature of the individual’s role, the seniority of the employee and the number of hours worked.
There will be numerous considerations for schools and deciding whether to allow staff to take on a second role will, ultimately, involve weighing up the school’s interests against the needs and welfare of staff. If schools are considering rejecting a request from a member of staff to take on a second job, we recommend that they seek legal advice before responding. Whilst schools can potentially refuse to give an employee consent to work another job, they should exercise their discretion reasonably and ensure that any decision can be justified. It will also be important to ensure that any authorisation given to staff is applied in a fair and consistent manner to reduce the risk of potential discrimination claims. That said, there will inevitably be situations where it is appropriate to treat staff differently, based on the individual circumstances.
Balance is Key
It is important to recognise that schools are also facing price hikes meaning it is crucial that a balance is struck between the needs of the schools and their staff. The pandemic has already had a significant impact upon the independent education sector and the cost-of-living crisis and predicted recession will likely mean a further period of change and challenge for schools.
Schools will need to undertake careful financial forecasting for the academic year ahead considering the consequential economic turbulence (which is predicted to persist for some time) and the possible detrimental impact on pupil numbers. Fewer families able to afford independent education will mean fewer pupils with a direct impact on school income.
Strategic Workforce Planning
Following a review of their financial viability, schools may need to consider their staffing requirements. If workloads decrease significantly and are unlikely to pick up in the short term, restructures, redundancies or a reduction in pay and/or hours may be necessary. If following that route, schools must be mindful of individual and collective consultative requirements
While this is unlikely to be welcomed at this time, schools may also need to consider removing and/or changing certain staff benefits. If a school has been considering whether to remain an accepted school for the purposes of the Teachers’ Pension Scheme (“TPS”), for example, the cost-of-living crisis might well influence whether they, ultimately, remain in the TPS or determine that the cost is prohibitive.
In managing the mounting financial pressures, schools will inevitably have to make some difficult decisions from a staffing perspective and communication with staff will be crucial. Schools should, where possible, be honest and transparent with staff in respect of the difficulties they face and their intentions.
In summary, this will undoubtedly be new territory for many schools, and they will have to learn as they go, as they did with the Covid-19 pandemic. Where possible, schools should take steps to support their staff during the cost-of-living crisis whilst maintaining a stable but flexible workforce that is able to adapt to the challenges faced by the independent education sector. What we can say is that there will be change ahead, some turbulence and opportunities, and schools will need to take their staff with them if they are to succeed. The way in which schools responded to the pandemic was inspirational and we have no doubt they will weather this storm in the same way.