Lucie Mitchell explores what rising fuel bills mean for homeworkers and whether employers should cover some of their costs.
With energy bills rising exponentially this year, for the millions of people still working remotely, home working expenses will be mounting too. Given that remote employees are having to foot the bill for energy costs that would have normally been incurred in the workplace, how should employers be supporting their home workers with rising household bills?
Research would suggest that many employers aren’t currently offering enough help. A new survey by workingmums.co.uk and The Changing Work Company revealed that 71% of remote workers said their employer did not pay for things like work-related phone calls.
Plus, according to a recent report by social enterprise Giki, many organisations are not providing enough guidance or support to home workers on keeping energy costs down, with just one in 10 employees stating they have received advice from their employer on how to reduce their energy bills.
“Now more than ever, businesses have a role to play in providing advice and support to staff to reduce their own energy bills, both on an environmental and a staff welfare level,” says Jo Hand, co-founder of Giki. “We’re seeing first-hand that it can be team building and very motivating when staff come together to tackle an environmental issue collectively. There’s also an argument that some companies should even contribute towards the energy bills of those working from home.”
However, employers are under no obligation to contribute towards household bills for remote workers, remarks Kate Palmer, HR advice and consultancy director at Peninsula.
“In fact, many employers may also be feeling the effect of higher outgoings, so may not be in the position to offer assistance in this regard. Yet they can support their staff in other ways, for example offering an employee assistance programme or extra time off. Employers should, however, recognise the impact the increased cost of living has on an employee’s financial situation. It’s understandable that when financial pressures mount, individuals experience other symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression. Therefore, it’s imperative to provide adequate support for an employee’s mental health and emotional wellbeing.”
Employers should therefore think carefully about contributing towards energy costs if they are in a position to provide support.
“They may wish to consider looking at whether to provide homeworking expenses, which could include gas or electricity charges for employees who need to work from home – as well as things like computers, office furniture, internet access and stationery,” comments Palmer. “Employers must be aware though, that if they are providing homeworking expenses for their employees, they have specific obligations when it comes to tax and National Insurance reporting.”
Katie Fletcher, senior HR projects adviser at Howarths, warns that failure to effectively support home workers could have far-reaching consequences. “Disengaged employees, lack of motivation, detrimental financial situations, ill mental health and increased staff absences are just some of the consequences businesses might have to manage if they fail to provide adequate support to help employees work from home.”
The energy price hike is now prompting many remote workers to reconsider whether working from home is the best option, due to the financial strain on many households. A recent survey by Electric Radiators Direct found that 49% of employees are concerned about the increased cost of their home energy bills and this has significantly influenced their choice of working location.
“Employers have faced resistance in previous months when asking employees to return to the workplace after periods of homeworking,” remarks Palmer. “However, the rising cost of living and household bills have made employees rethink where they want to work from, with many preferring to be back in the office to avoid paying for their heating to be on all day. Indeed, employers may see an increase in flexible working requests where employers are asking to change their place of work from their home address, to be on-site. It is unlikely employers will have reasonable grounds to refuse this, so a return to the office could be the easiest and most effective solution for all.”
Despite this, there are still going to many workers who continue to work from home, so what else can employers do to support them?
“Employers must recognise that employees may face different challenges as a result of increased cost of living,” says Bryonie Madine, consultant at H2R Selection. “Employers could undergo a benchmarking exercise across the business to ensure they are offering a competitive package in line with the market. Work-life balance is part of this, so potentially they could look at a buy/sell holiday scheme to ease pressures on employees. Also, employees who have been working from home can apply for a tax rebate worth up to £125 per tax year, to cover extra costs incurred.”
Palmer says that employers can remind employees to take practical, small steps to save energy when working from home. “This can include switching off laptops overnight instead of leaving them on standby, and only heating the room you are in rather than the entire building; these steps will go some way towards helping to keep costs down.”
Fletcher concludes: “Employers should be supporting their employees wherever and however possible and creating a culture that actively encourages employees to speak up if they are experiencing problems or have financial worries. Employers can also ensure they are signposting employees to where they can find support.”