Will 2024 be the year we finally see an end to the cost-of-living crisis? While some forecasters are predicting that financial pressures are set to ease – at long last – in 2024, Christmas 2023 is still likely to be an expensive and stressful experience for many UK households. What’s more, new data reveals that British workers are more likely to be feeling the pinch this festive period than their overseas counterparts.

A recent Quinyx study polled over 3000 shift and non-desk-based workers – in industries including retail, distribution and logistics – to gain a fuller understanding of how the cost-of-living crisis is affecting employees across Europe. The majority (56%) of UK frontline staff said their wages barely cover living expenses, never mind being able to stretch to meet the cost of Christmas. This is a higher figure than elsewhere in Europe, where 39% of Germans, 31% of Nordic workers (Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Finland) and 29% of Dutch contemporaries said the same.

A cash-strapped Christmas

Sadly, the research also showed that despite trying to make up the shortfall – with employees in all countries saying they’ve worked more hours in 2023 than in previous years – unrelenting financial pressures means many have had to accept help just to cover the basics. Around a third of UK workers said they’d received financial support from family and friends to pay bills, and more than one in 10 (11%) have turned to food banks.

Unsurprisingly, around half of all workers expect to get into debt this festive season, while a similar number think there’s too much pressure to spend money. More than a quarter (29%) of UK workers say they’re dreading the holidays because of the associated costs.

It’s certainly a pretty bleak picture for a significant proportion of the workforce – here’s hoping those future-gazers predicting a happier new year have got it right. On the plus side, it doesn’t have to be all ‘bah humbug’: 39% of British workers say they like working in December because of the festive cheer. What’s more, there are a number of positive steps business leaders can implement to help lift workers’ morale before we all clock off for a final time this year.

Here are my key pieces of advice for creating a happier, less stressed workforce as we head into 2024:

Pay matters when it comes to employee wellbeing – but other factors are important too

Fair pay should be a given, but we know this isn’t always the case, unfortunately – as ongoing strikes in various industries this year have highlighted. Yet while strikes have drawn attention to long-standing pay inequalities, they have also underlined other issues that arguably matter just as much to staff wellbeing and happiness: a great workplace culture, training and development opportunities, good communication and flexibility.

The annual State of the Frontline Workforce (SOFW) global report – which looks at the behaviours and attitudes of more than 10,000 deskless staff – found that having a more flexible schedule, being given more recognition for their work and improved communication with bosses are among the biggest motivators for frontline employees, only slightly behind higher pay. And of those who said they were thinking about quitting their current job, a third gave ‘feeling stressed’ as the overriding reason, the same number who were leaving for a higher salary.

Use tech to help minimise understaffing (but don’t overdo it)

One of the main reasons cited by frontline staff for feeling stressed at work is being understaffed. Many sectors are still struggling to fill vacancies – so when already-lean workforces face heightened customer demand, and workers book annual leave for additional family commitments, it’s no wonder that a feeling of being spread too thinly is common at this time of year.

Workforce management technology can certainly help with this – AI systems can provide up-to-the-minute staffing forecasting, taking into account likely periods of peak demand and helping to ensure resource is allocated in the most efficient way possible. There’s also the option to keeping some shifts open and flexible, so that employees can choose and book their own shifts themselves.

A word of warning when it comes to tech: of course, we live in a digital world and most frontline workplace interactions now happen via technology rather than in person. Yet it’s crucial that any work apps and other digital tools have a purpose and are genuinely helpful, or there’s the risk that they’ll actually create more stress for employees. 

Give the gift of flexibility

A large proportion of frontline staff still have no flexibility at all regarding their working patterns – and unsurprisingly, this is another leading cause of stress at work (often exacerbated at Christmas time when employees have more family commitments to contend with).

While it’s true that flexible working can be harder to implement for frontline staff than for office-based workers (who are less likely to need to be physically present at work to do their jobs), it shouldn’t become an excuse to deny deskless staff any element of control over when they work. Without greater flex, staff are likely to look elsewhere for a better work/life balance.

It can start with small steps – as mentioned above, this could be enabling staff to switch shifts between themselves via an app. Scheduling, shift swapping and leave requests can all be managed via the touch of a button with workforce management tools.

Introducing a flexible leave policy is likely to have a positive impact too. Flex around medical appointments, the ability to request a mental health day without embarrassment, even longer-term breaks or sabbaticals – these might all be considered, and in turn are likely to improve productivity, engagement and retention, while reducing absenteeism and staff turnover. 

Offer career progression for a brighter 2024

In our SOFW study, three in five (60%) frontline staff – across all sectors – said they would stay longer with their company if they had more development opportunities, but sadly as many as 41% reported that their job offers no chance of progression.

While it’s true that there will always be a proportion of ‘frontliners’ using their role as a stopgap, as a Christmas job or who are happy to stay where they are, many also want to know that there is opportunity to climb the ladder. So when considering the overall employee package being offered, firms should look beyond pay and ensure that workers know what development paths are open to them – whether that’s mentoring opportunities, formal education, training and/or promotion.

The result is likely a retained, happy workforce, which benefits the business too, of course.

Ask employees what they really want (for Christmas and beyond)

While managers may be unable to help make workers’ worries disappear completely, putting some time into an employee engagement strategy can make a big difference – whether that’s investing in career development initiatives, considering flexible work policies, or introducing streamlined tools to avoid the stress of understaffing (while also avoiding tech overload).

But employee needs and wants are rarely ‘one-size-fits-all’, and so it’s worth taking cues from Santa himself and checking in with each member of staff to find out what really matters to them. What are their individual goals and markers of success?

Demonstrating a willingness to listen, and providing ways for workers to voice their opinions on key issues – e.g., via pulse surveys that can be run on workforce management apps like Quinyx – can help identify employees’ biggest stressors.

And giving workers the opportunity to share their hopes for the future can only be a positive move as we see out 2023.

Here’s to a very Merry Christmas, and a more prosperous 2024 for all.

Toma Pagojute
Toma Pagojute
Chief HR officer at Quinyx

Toma Pagojute is chief HR officer for Quinyx, a leading AI-powered workforce management software that makes the complex tasks of scheduling, time reporting, communicating, budgeting, and forecasting deskless workers simple. Quinyx helps more than 1000 companies around the world reduce labour costs, remain compliant, and improve workforce efficiency - all the while boosting their bottom line, employee satisfaction, and retention.