15 July 2022

What Can Employers Learn from the RMT Rail Strikes?

Last month’s RMT rail strikes made the whole nation stop and pay attention, Senior Strategist, Joe Hoppard shares his thoughts.

50,000 railway workers participated in three days of national strikes in reaction to ongoing pay freezes and plans to cut thousands more jobs.1 

We won’t speak to the rights and wrongs of strike action here. But it’s useful to think about the context in which this action was taken and whether that context might negatively impact your business and employees. 

Times are tough for regular folks. Whether it’s because of Brexit, COVID-19, or the effect of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the cost of living in the UK has shot through the roof. 

The ONS tells us that the Consumer Prices Index had risen by 9.1% in the twelve months leading to May 2022.2 That’s the biggest increase in the cost of living for 40 years3 affecting the price of things we all rely on like food, energy, and motoring. 

At the same time, average wages across the country have failed to keep up with these rises, increasing by approximately 4% in comparison to the CPI increase of 9.1%.4 

The distance between rising inflation and stalling salaries presents us with an uncomfortable truth: if your employees’ salaries haven’t increased by at least 9.1% in the last 12 months, then they may feel they’re being paid less than they were a year ago, notwithstanding the total value added by your C&B and Learning offerings.

Some of your people will be able to absorb that extra expense and will recognise that such things are tricky but inevitable parts of life. But it’s likely that some will find themselves under pressure and worried about their future.

Of course, financial stress won’t always result in strike action, but the negative effects of employee satisfaction are well understood; unhappy employees are less focussed, less motivated, less engaged and less productive, all of which have an impact on your company’s bottom line.

How can HR professionals support Employees and mitigate the pressure of the cost of living crisis?

1. Align

McCann Synergy recommends that HR professionals start by aligning with key stakeholders on where the limits of shared and individual responsibility start and end. Every business culture will have a different point of view on this, but aligning on these points will give you clarity on the concessions or provisions you are able to make for employees in need.

In turn, this clarity will mean you’re able to give the reassurance of clear communication and swift action once you open a dialogue with your people.

2. Listen

Next, take a temperature check and invite your employees to share their current experiences with you. You may find that your employees are stoical and optimistic about the future.

But if you find that’s not the case then be prepared to take action. Starting a conversation is great but failing to act is as good as a dismissal of any concerns raised.

3. Act

Before any necessary concessions are made, move quickly to communicate the fact that your business has heard what its people have to say. Then, depending on what you hear and your agreed policy on shared responsibility, there may be an opportunity to take action to relieve the pressure felt by your employees.

To make your actions meaningful, it’s important that you don’t shy away from looking at remuneration. Consider both permanent pay rises and temporary relief packages to support those most critically in need.

But we also recommend revisiting Compensation and Benefits to ensure that your offering is working hard to add value. As well as shoring up the content of your C&B offering, you may find that it’s useful to re-communicate what’s on offer to help improve understanding of the value added.

Your business is a community of people with shared values and objectives. As HR professionals, we have a duty of care to engage with the wellbeing of the people that comprise that community through thick and thin. Experience tells us that they’ll reward you for doing so.

If you’d like to discuss how you can make your Employees feel more secure and engaged with life at work, reach out – I’d be happy to chat. 

Joe Hoppard
Senior Strategist 
joe.hoppard@mccannsynergy.com 

  1. https://www.rmt.org.uk/news/rmt-launch-3-days-of-national-train-strike-action/#:~:text=7%20June%202022&text=The%20union%20will%20shut%20down,a%20negotiated%20settlement%20with%20RMT.
  2. https://www.ons.gov.uk/economy/inflationandpriceindices/bulletins/consumerpriceinflation/may2022
  3. https://www.theguardian.com/business/2022/jun/22/uk-inflation-rises-to-91-its-highest-rate-in-40-years
  4. https://www.statista.com/statistics/1272447/uk-wage-growth-vs-inflation/#:~:text=Average%20weekly%20earning%20growth%20in%20the%20UK%20compared%20with%20inflation%202001%2D2022&text=In%20the%20three%20months%20to,the%20same%20period%20in%202021

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