Podcast: How to communicate the cost of living crisis

Rising food, fuel and utility bills mean the cost of living is impacting everyone.

What is your organisation doing to support your colleagues?

In this season four finale episode, I’ve looked at the cost of living and what to be mindful of.

As ever, you’ll leave with one thing to know, one thing to do and one thing to think about.

Thank you to everyone who has tuned in this season, we hit the 50,000 downloads milestone last week. I love knowing the evergreen advice is waiting for you when you need it most.

Candid Comms How to communicate the cost of living crisis. Photo of Rachel Miller

This season’s episodes were:

I am currently planning season five, which will coincide with All Things IC’s 10th birthday in January 2023.

About Candid Comms

The Candid Comms podcast launched in January 2021. It is a weekly show designed to connect internal communication professionals to the advice and guidance, to help you thrive in your role.

You can find the Candid Comms podcast on your favourite player including Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify and Podbean.

Do let me know what you think of this episode and don’t forget to rate, review and follow, so other Comms pros can benefit too.

Resources mentioned in this episode:

Transcript of this podcast episode: How to communicate the cost of living crisis.

You’re listening to the Candid Comms podcast with Rachel Miller. Tune in for practical advice and inspirational ideas to help you focus on all things internal communication related.

Hello and welcome to the show. On today’s episode, we are going to be talking about the cost of living crisis. And as ever, you will leave with one thing to know, one thing to do, and one thing to think about. Let’s get started.

We are all aware from the news and our own personal experiences that the cost of living has increased. Whether it’s your weekly food grocery shop, your utility prices, or the cost of fuel for your car, we are all impacted in different ways.

So the purpose of today’s episode is to think about the cost of living and to examine what we can do inside our organisations. Now knowing the care that internal communicators have for their colleagues, let’s think about how we can help during this time when we’re all feeling the pinch.

Latest research such as the charity StepChange Debt Charity that was published in January 2022, estimates that 4.4 million people are struggling to keep up with household bills and credit commitments, and therefore they’ve been borrowing 13 billion pound to pay bills and make it through to payday.

Now that research was from January 2022, and I am certain as I’m recording this episode towards the end of the year that if that research were to happen again, that amount would be even higher.

Back in June, Phil Griffin, who is an internal communicator, Tweeted at All Things IC to say, “I’m just wondering whether other internal comms people are doing anything to support employees with the cost of living crisis.” And my colleague Dan Holden wrote a blog post in response to Phil’s question. So I’ll link to that in the show notes. So allthingsic.com/podcast.

Further reading:Supporting colleague through times of financial hardship.

But let’s kick off with what we need to know. I am having a lot of conversations about the cost of living crisis with my clients and with my comms friends and with my team. And it’s a topic that is on the edges when we think about internal communication in terms of responsibility. So is it our responsibility to talk about the cost of living or is it an HR responsibility?

My gut feel is if we have situations that are keeping our employees awake at night, that are making them worry, that are making them super stressed and impacting their mental health and wellbeing, then this isn’t a time to look at where is the edge of responsibility.

I think it’s truly, truly important as organisations and particularly for internal communicators who are people who typically care about organisations and their people that we do something. So what do we need to know?

Photo of Caroline Cubbon-King to promote the online '2023 Planning Masterclass for Internal Communicators'

I think we need to know what support is in place inside our organisations. There’s many different opportunities to talk about the cost of living internally and particularly to support your colleagues. For example, you might have an employee assistance programme in place.

Now we normally talk about employee assistance programmes or EAP when it comes to thinking about mental health and wellbeing. It’s normally a telephone helpline and could perhaps be a website. We normally point our colleagues towards resources such as these when things are happening inside the organisation.

For example, if you’re going through organisational change and perhaps if it’s redundancies or restructures where we know that our colleagues will probably benefit from support from a mental health and wellbeing perspective, then we normally point people towards those resources.

But thinking about the cost of living, what else is in place with your employee assistance programme? Some organisations’ providers also have financial help lines as part of that EAP package.

So something I think you need to know is what support is available to your colleagues that you can point them towards already. So have a look. If you do have a website that lists out all of the different things that are available, then I think you need to have a conversation with your HR business partner.

So if you don’t know who they are, that’s definitely something I want you to take away from this episode is an action to make sure you know who is the accountable person from your people team or your HR team when it comes to thinking about your employee assistance programme. Who is the person that you can go to say, “Help me understand what we have in place.”

And I am sure that your colleagues in HR, and maybe you are part of that team, or maybe you report into HR or maybe you’re simply a business partner structure model. So they’re colleagues, they’re peers, where you work alongside them.

Whatever that hierarchy looks like, whatever that structure looks like, I think it’s important that we spend time listening to those colleagues and getting advice and guidance from them in terms of what can we communicate, what is in place, is there anything that we can draw upon to really help our colleagues through this time?

You might also find that there are discussions that are happening internally, so something you need to know is what’s top of mind for your people. So what are the conversations they’re having?

We’ve certainly had it within my own team here at All Things IC in Team Teal, in our conversations on Teams particularly, where we’ve been sharing advice and guidance. We had a conversation recently about cards that you can pay for your groceries with and get cash back, for example. And we love a discount code as well. We’re always sharing codes between each other to help us save money on those household things.

So I think it’s important that we are really truly aware of what is keeping our employees awake at night. What are they thinking about? What are they worrying about when it comes to the cost of living crisis?

Let’s turn to what we need to do. And I think what we need to do is have good quality discussions inside our organisations and be mindful of what you’ve got in place perhaps to support your colleagues. I think we need to think a bit deeper.

So something that I want you to do is look at what’s ahead in the diary over the next 3, 6, 9, 12 months. In particular, I think it’s important to think about how to help our colleagues from a financial perspective.

Conversations that I’ve been having recently with clients in particular have included discussions about financial hardship funds. Often organisations have charitable giving where they will donate a certain percentage of money to people. So maybe that’s from employees’ wage packets where you have a contribution scheme where they will take a percentage of their salary and help other people.

Now often that’s a charity that is outside of the organisation, an external facing charity, but the conversations that I’ve been having with my clients recently have included the need to have a financial hardship fund inside organisations.

Whether that’s reducing the amount that people are gifting outside of their own pay packets or whether they’re putting that money, if anyone does feel able to still contribute to a charity that actually that financial hardship fund benefits other colleagues.

Also, thinking ahead to events and perhaps end of year events if people are trying to mark the end of the year or Christmas, if you celebrate Christmas. There’s conversations already that are happening inside organisations in terms of what feels appropriate.

Something I’ve noticed from my own experience is the school communications that I am getting. I’ve got three young children and very often they will ask us to support something that they’re doing inside the school. Normally it’s a dress up day.

Now normally around Halloween, they encourage people to wear costumes, and this year for example, there was a real noticeable shift because spending money on a costume that is only worn maybe once or maybe twice, clearly in this current climate that we’re living in, not a great thing to ask people to do.

So I noticed through the communication from my children’s school was encouraging the children to dress up as animals, for example. So it wasn’t encouraging you to go out and spend money on a costume. It was encouraging you to look at what you’ve already got and make a mask for your child to be an animal.

I also noticed that last year when it was Christmas jumper day, they didn’t do the Christmas jumper day in the same way. They said children could come in and wear bright clothing rather than their school uniform.

Think about that for your organisation.

What are you asking people to do? What are you asking them to spend money on throughout the year?

Is it time to pause, reflect, analyse and rethink? Is it appropriate if you are celebrating Christmas for example, to encourage your colleagues to wear Christmas jumpers and maybe that’s something that they would buy as a one-off and they wouldn’t wear again.

Are they able to spend money on that or is it more appropriate to say, “If you would like to donate to charity, if you’re able to do that, this is what we encourage you to do.” So rather than spending on a jumper, please can you donate whatever you can to charity and use that, because normally it is a fundraiser. Normally it’s used as a fundraising opportunity to support those in need.

For 2022 and beyond, we’re in a situation where actually the people who are in need are our colleagues, so be mindful of that, be aware of that. I encourage you to draw upon people you have inside the organisation who can help you make informed decisions. So that might be your networks, your eyes and ears groups, your comms champions, trusted friends inside the organisation.

What’s the temperature like? What’s the sentiment? What are people saying? What are they concerned about? If you are asking people to spend money on certain things, does that feel appropriate? And if it doesn’t, what are you going to do instead?

Be really open about it, comms friends. Be really upfront and really transparent to say, “Normally we would do X, Y, Z. However, given the context we’re living in, the cost of living crisis, this year we’re making X, Y, Z changes.” Or, “We won’t be doing A, B, C, we’ll be doing this instead.” So be really upfront, don’t just hide it.

Or think about if you have, sometimes people have a budget for end of year celebrations. So rather than putting aside 20 pound, 25 pound per colleague, for example, what would happen to that money? If you don’t celebrate at the end of 2022 in the way that you normally would then has that money already been budgeted for and where could it go instead?

Could it be that it goes into a hardship fund for your employees? Could it be that that money is donated to a local food bank instead, for example? Now is the time I think to have these sorts of conversations. Just carrying on doing things that you’ve always done might not be possible and also it might not feel appropriate. So that’s something I think we need to do is have those discussions internally.

I’ve also been having conversations with clients about the reality of what the cost of living crisis means for our colleagues, and I’m noticing more and more organisations doing things like having staff food banks for example. I’ve seen lots of examples online of NHS Trust, National Health Trust hospitals where they’re having food banks for their people where members of staff can come along and get food.

I’ve also seen examples and had conversations where organisations are providing sanitary products in toilets for their colleagues.

I wonder whether you are doing anything like that inside your organisation or if you’ve not thought about it, could you do that?

Other organisations are subsidising meals, they’re putting on more hot meals, for example. And even during the school holidays as well, some organisations are encouraging you to bring your children in to have hot meals. So it’s thinking wider about the situation and thinking about how can we support our colleagues day to day. How can we help them with the cost of living?

Now, some organisations are in a fortunate position to be able to give everybody a discretionary bonus or pay rise. However, that’s not the answer for a lot of organisations. They don’t have that budgeted to be able to do that.

And that’s causing a real tension where some organisations are able to do that and that’s brilliant, good on them. That’s great. If you’re able to really support your people and talk about the fact that we are giving you a one-off payment to help with the cost of living, great, but that’s not true for every organisation.

And I was having a discussion with a client the other day who was saying there are basically two main employers in the village where they live. There’s them and then there’s their competitor, and their competitor is having the edge at the moment because they’re able to give people a bonus, they’re able to give them a payment. It doesn’t feel right to call it a bonus, but that’s what they were describing it as. It’s like a cost of living bonus that’s a one-off payment.

And that is causing a real tension because people from their organisation are thinking about leaving to then go and get that additional money. That’s such a lot of money to have on top of your normal salary. It would really, really help with the cost of living and that’s the difference.

I talked about this in the last season, in season three of the Candid Comms podcast in talking about the recruitment market right now. People are making decisions based on what are the benefits, what are the opportunities inside an organisation. How can I get help with the cost of living is another item to add to that list in terms of what people are looking for when they’re joining organisations.

Further listening: Podcast episode: How to recruit an internal communicator

We are going to take a short break and when we come back, I will leave you with something to think about. See you in a moment.

Would you like to learn more about internal communication and would you like to study it at your own pace? If so, I’ve got the answer head over to the All Things IC Online Masterclasses. There is a whole range of courses for you to choose from, from how to be an internal communicator to how to write an internal communication strategy, how to write a 90 day plan, how to be a strategic internal communicator, and even how to be a comms consultant. And because you are a listener of the Candid Comms podcast, you can save 10%.

So head over to allthingsic.thinkific.com to explore all the options that are available to you. And don’t forget to use the code Candid Comms at the checkout to remove 10%. And I hope to see you inside one of those Masterclasses very soon.


Welcome back. In the final part of today’s episode, I’m going to share something for you to think about. And what I want you to think about is how you can possibly use your internal communication channels to support your colleagues at this time.

Now, if you work in an organisation where you have channels such as an intranet, for example, the internal website, how could you use your intranet to support your colleagues? I think an intranet done well, and I talked about this in another episode in this season of the Candid Comms podcast about how to create an effective intranet. Done well, an intranet is a source of truth inside an organisation and it helps to connect colleagues to each other.

So if you have an intranet, and particularly if you have Yammer or another enterprise social network where you’ve got some kind of forum where people can gather and share ideas and advice and guidance with each other, then think about the cost of living and how you can help create sources of truth.

So maybe for example, you could have a section on your intranet where you are collating recommended resources to help each other. So maybe there’s an opportunity there to share some regular tips.

I mentioned Dan from my team earlier. Dan wrote in an article for us about the cost of living and he shared some resources in the article, which I will link to in the show notes, and one of his recommendations was about sharing regular tips.

Further reading: Supporting colleague through times of financial hardship

Now, he’s really good at doing this in particular because he used to work in house at Which?, which is the consumer association group, and they offer lots of advice and guidance to help people.

So they have free newsletters and they have articles on everyday money saving tips where they collate all the things that they’re aware of. Could you link to something like that, for example? Could you signpost and share snippets on your internal channels? Perhaps you have your very own buy and sell board.

I know from my own in-house career how popular buy and sell boards are inside organisations. And these aren’t something for us to oversee as internal communicators, but can you provide an opportunity for your people to have a buy and sell board or a group in Yammer where you make it very clear that the person who is posting is responsible for the accuracy and it’s not about the company being involved at all, but you’re just creating a forum to connect your people to each other where they can buy and sell things.

That’s particularly helpful if there are certain times of year when people are buying gifts, for example, if you’re celebrating Christmas perhaps. That’s quite helpful, I think to have a forum where people can swap tips, swap ideas, and sell and buy items.

So think about how can you create opportunities for your people to have a source of truth where you are linking out to advice and guidance, perhaps from the government or perhaps from consumer associations where people can share codes and discounts and things that they’re aware of.

There’s probably also opportunities to be explored with your benefits provider. Particularly if you work for a large corporate, you probably have an employee benefit scheme, which has cash back vouchers or shopping vouchers. Have a look at those.

I know from experience whenever I worked in house in large corporates and I was given this website normally that was like, “You can benefit from this, this, this,” something that you’re aware of when it launches or when you join an organisation and you might not actually look at it again.

So dust it off, have a look. What are those sorts of schemes? If you’ve got something like that in place, then make sure you are regularly sign-posting to it, reminding your employees, peppering it throughout your internal communication channels. So do you know? Are you aware? Here’s a reminder. Here’s how to save X percent off whatever it might be.

So have a look, do your homework. Have a look around and see what is it actually that we’ve got at our fingertips already that we could point our colleagues towards.

Something else to perhaps consider is working alongside your colleagues in finance. If we know that our people are struggling with budgets at the moment, could there be some merit in having your finance colleagues running budgeting workshops where the focus isn’t on spending the organisation’s money wisely, which is what we normally do when we’re running these sorts of things inside organisations, but how can you flip it and help your colleagues think about their money externally.

And you need to get the tone right here. We don’t want to be preachy and we don’t want to be over the top. If you know from your listening activities that actually people are struggling to make their money last for the whole month or they’re struggling with budgeting, then how can you have support perhaps from your finance colleagues about here’s how to do a monthly budget, here’s what we recommend, here are some top tips. It could work really well.

Now, it comes with a caveat from me here. If I mentioned earlier about some organisations are able to pay some discretionary money or perhaps are able to offer loans for colleagues and perhaps able to do an uplift in terms of salary, if you’re not able to do any of that, if you’re not able to give a discretionary payment or offer loans to your employees for example, then the messaging around here’s how to help you manage your finances could really jar with some people.

So as ever, be tuned into your business. You know that I say a lot it is our business to know our business as internal communicators. So be really clear in terms of where are our people at, before we suddenly roll out something like budget training for example, or top tips for budgeting if actually the pushback from your colleagues will be, “Well, you know what would really help my budget? Is if I had more money from the company.”

As professional Communicators, it's our business to know our business.

So just be cautious as ever. Just be mindful in terms of what will resonate or what would really jar and would really upset and annoy our people.

I hope you found this episode useful. I’ve tried to share lots of top tips in here to help you think about the cost of living. If you are doing something inside your organisation that you would like to share with other listeners of the Candid Comms podcast, why not get in touch with me? I have 1,700 free articles on the All Things IC blog and I love hearing from in-house communicators.

If you’ve got a story to share and you’d like to share it with your fellow peers, why not get in touch at allthingsic.com/contact and let me know what you would like to write about, what is the story that you think would help other people.

Now, I love hearing from you. I love to know what you’re doing differently as a result of listening to the Candid Comms podcast. Do get in touch with me. You can find me on Twitter, @AllThingsIC. I’m on LinkedIn under Rachel Miller. Find me on Instagram, @rachelallthingsic, or why not send a note via the website, allthingsic.com/contact.

And remember, what happens inside is reflected outside. See you again soon.

Post author: Rachel Miller

First published on the All Things IC blog 16 November 2022.


  1. Vincenta Leyden says:

    I enjoyed your content

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