Ireland has experienced a rapid increase in housing costs over the past few years, making it increasingly difficult for both Irish citizens and those coming to the country for work to find affordable housing. The most recent data available from the residential tenancies board showed that in Q2 2022, average rents for new tenancies in Dublin were €2,011 per month, and outside Dublin (non-Dublin), averaged €1,130 per month, and new rents nationally increased by 8.2% in Q2 2022 over Q2 2021 (1). The high housing costs have impacted employee morale, retention, and overall financial well-being. This article explores potential strategies that employers can adopt to help address high housing costs in Ireland and discusses the benefits and risks associated with these initiatives.
Employee housing assistance programs
One potential solution for employers is offering their employees housing assistance programs. These programs can come in various forms, such as rental subsidies, low-interest loans for home purchases, or even the provision of company-owned housing
The benefits of offering housing assistance programs can lead to increased employee retention, as employees are more likely to stay with a company that helps ease their financial burden. Additionally, these programs can improve employee morale, as workers feel more secure and supported in their housing situation. Research has shown that comprehensive employee benefits packages can be a key driver in employee retention and a differentiator for attracting top talent. It suggests that organisations that provide a robust benefits package tailored to the needs of their employees are more successful in retaining employees (2).
It is also seen that employees who feel cared for by their employer are ten times more likely to recommend their company as a great place to work. It was also shown that when employees feel valued and supported through benefits and other initiatives, they are more likely to be engaged and stay with the company longer. Research also reiterates benefits and assistance programs’ positive impact on employee retention (3). For example, Facebook has offered housing subsidies to some employees living near its headquarters in Menlo Park, California, to help alleviate housing affordability issues (4).
Employers should be aware of the potential risks associated with offering housing assistance programs, such as becoming overly reliant on the company’s support or creating a sense of obligation from employees. To mitigate these risks, employers can work with third-party organisations or financial institutions to provide housing assistance without directly owning employee homes.
Advocacy for government support
Employers can also advocate for government support and policies that address housing affordability. This can include lobbying for increased investment in affordable housing, rent control measures, and tax incentives for businesses that provide housing assistance to employees. In the United States, some companies have formed the Employers Housing Council to address housing affordability issues and work with local governments to develop solutions (5).
By advocating for government support, employers can help create a more sustainable solution to high housing costs, benefiting their employees and the wider community. This collaborative approach can also improve the company’s public image and strengthen relationships with local government and community stakeholders.
The success of advocacy efforts depends on the willingness of governments to implement the proposed policies or provide the necessary support. Employers should be prepared for potential setbacks and be patient with the process, as policy changes can take time to materialise.
Flexible working options
Offering flexible working options, such as remote work or compressed workweeks, can help employees cope with high housing costs by enabling them to live in more affordable areas outside of city centres. The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the feasibility of remote work for many industries, with several major companies, including Twitter and Shopify, announcing permanent remote work options for their employees (6).
Flexible working options can increase employee satisfaction, reduce commuting costs and time, and allow employees to find more affordable housing. This flexibility can also help companies attract talent from a wider geographical area.
Employers should consider the potential impact of remote work on team cohesion, communication, and company culture. To minimise these risks, companies can implement regular team meetings, clear communication channels, and occasional in-person gatherings to maintain a sense of connection.
Employers in Ireland have a role to play in addressing high housing costs and supporting their employees’ housing needs. By offering housing assistance programs, advocating for government support, and providing flexible working options, companies can help ease the burden of housing costs on their employees, ultimately benefiting both the company and its workforce.
(1) Residential Tenancies Board. (2022). Rent Index Q2 2022. Retrieved from https://www.rtb.ie/news/rtb-publishes-q2-2022-rent-index
(2) Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). (2019, October 28). Employee Benefits: The Evolution of Benefits. Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/benefits/pages/the-evolution-of-employee-benefits.aspx
(3) O.C. Tanner. (2018). The 2018 Global Culture Report. Retrieved from https://www.octanner.com/content/dam/oc_tanner/documents/pdfs/2018-Global-Culture-Report.pdf
(4) Dwoskin, E. (2016, August 19). Facebook Offers Employees $10,000 to Live Near the Office. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from https://www.wsj.com/articles/facebook-offers-employees-10-000-to-live-near-the-office-1471611000
(5) Employers Housing Council. (n.d.). About Us. Retrieved from https://www.employershousingcouncil.org/about-us
(6) Kelly, J. (2020, May 12). Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey Tells Employees They Can Work From Home Permanently. Forbes. Retrieved from
A modish topic, but sometimes less emphasised, facet of success is company culture. Culture is a catchall term, but it comes down to how organisation systems are formed and maintained. It is social in origin and totalising in dissemination. That matters because humans are not innate; we produce and reproduce these systems through learned behaviour, mirroring, and various institutions. Our institutionality may be the most significant in this regard and comprises hierarchal and horizontal models within which mores, norms and values spread. Whether through family, friends, school, religion, creative arts, hobbies, sports, government, society, or work, we spend most of our lives practising and passing on culture.
A parallax view
Defining company culture (also known as corporate or organisational culture) can be equally ambiguous. According to the Harvard Business Review, culture encompasses an entity’s collective attitudes, beliefs, logic, mission, ethics and values, plus the actions and behaviours that result. Because companies tend to function from the top down—i.e., from superiors to subordinates—company culture should equally emphasise how employees relate to the above.
At the executive level, culture leans toward leadership style, management and order. Although these facets relate directly to company culture, they have more to do with the structure of the entity rather than its employees. Shifting the view from bottom to top makes it possible to locate unseen or underutilised areas for improvement. This perspective emphasises an entity’s ‘feel’ and ‘philosophy.’ As a phenomenon, parallax is the change in an object’s position due to a change in the observer’s line of sight. Since we are using this term conceptually, it is a gap that may appear between strategic design and unexamined effects when altering the angle of observation.
To ascertain and harness what are, in essence, intangibles, we must therefore understand that company culture is potentially a limitless category. It entails compensation and safety, first and foremost. However, other factors include buy-in, intensity, morale, professionalism, the physical space, and employees’ responses to their quotidian conditions and your core principles.
Management’s ability to check the ‘temperature of the room’ and its reflexivity is essential. Every employee (to some degree) impacts functionality, planning, and overall performance. What is more, many intangible qualities do have material effects. For instance, research shows that companies with high-pressure work environments spend up to 50% more on health care than other organisations. We are talking about people as well as the bottom line.
Ecologies of communication
Company Culture is rooted in its social ecosystems and transmitted vis-à-vis the organisation and practices of a workplace. Every dialogical and structural component—e.g., discourse, the frequency and quality of communication, the chain of command, incentives, sanctions, etc.—augments or detracts from a sense of value. The refrain, ‘am I valued,’ is at the heart of many conversations, and employees communicate with each other directly and indirectly throughout the day. They communicate with clients and customers even more. What underpins these conversations—ultimately, meaning.
Operationally, company culture is ‘how tasks are executed’ and ‘how a workplace is managed.’ Meaning, however, has more to do with ‘how a workplace self-manages,’ which reflects the employees’ experiences, and ‘how management’s actions and ideals are received below.’ Critically, the former has much to do with a belief in the task at hand, that this or this role is vital, and the latter is affected by their experience by seeing things in practice, not just hearing them in rhetoric.
Company culture is felt most acutely at the bottom and may be sensed even by those outside a company’s walls. Clients and customers can also check the dial. To map or measure culture requires then formal and informal metrics. Besides reading the numbers, which can conceal certain aspects, the most direct way to get a feel for the workplace experience is to ask the employees themselves. Surveys can be a highly effective tool if written well and delivered in a way that communicates this is a priority.
Do not be fooled by shortcuts or rely only on incentives. Perks like extra vacation time do not matter if it entails burnout. Look at things long-term. Innovative policies that expand points of teamwork can create camaraderie. While offering merit-based leadership opportunities promotes ownership. These experiential elements contribute directly to company culture and help concretise a healthier workplace. There is no substitute for employees who believes in what they are doing, which begins during the hiring process, or their positive daily experience after that. If this criterion is missing, they must believe that change is possible. That belief comes from above.
Interpreting the numbers
Company culture affects performance on metrics such as finances, retention, innovation and customer service. Data compiled by Great Place To Work and FTSE Russell distills that the annual returns for the Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For have made a cumulative return of 1,709% since 1998, compared to a 526% return for the Russell 3000 Index. The ‘100 Best index’ outperformed the broader market by 16.5%, returning 37.4% compared to a 20.9% return for the Russell 3000 Index in 2020.
Gallup polls indicate that only 34% (and falling) of American workers are actively engaged with their work, a part of a longer decline since Covid. It seems unwise to assume that such levels of disengagement would not translate to client experience or customer service. It does. Related polls predict that customer slumps are likely to represent the next turn in a cycle defined by a record number of resignations and vacancies.
Among younger generations, retention figures centre around three key predictors: an organisation’s reputation, a sense of purpose, and a connection to one’s job. Further research by Great Place to Work reveals that Millennials are eleven times more likely to leave a company than Gen Xers if their needs are not met. Currently, those needs relate to wider experience and meaning. People want to be valued and feel engaged with what they are doing and, reciprocally, value wealth and lifestyle less enthusiastically.
Help your team stay invested in what they are doing. To this end, inclusive leadership behaviours and systems, enlarged platforms for sharing ideas, and receptiveness to change communicates meaning and engender a sense of ownership in what is at stake. Refrain from equating dissatisfaction purely with a lack of material gains. Although this Deloitte survey imparts that 94% of executives and 88% of employees believe that company culture is decisive for success, there was a noticeable deviation regarding what factors are most important. Financial performance and competitive compensation took precedence at the executive level, but these were the poorest scoring factors below. For those looking up, healthy or candid communication, recognition, and access to leadership/management scored highest. What can we infer from this data? Feel matters. Philosophy matters. Possibility matters.
Company culture is the personality of a workplace. It is what someone would say regarding what it is like to work here, not in principle, but in actuality. That has lots to do with consistency and norms, but do not lose sight of the role of ethics and values. An organisation’s chief asset is talent. Constantly reiterate purpose and recognise people through company culture.
Remember, culture is shared. Employees who do not believe in what they or those above them are doing, who do not think that they—and not just their performance—matters, or worse, that they are locked into an unchanging situation have a hidden drag effect. The usual metrics do not easily show what potential productivity looks like under the right conditions. They show what is there, not what is possible. To that end, company culture, in particular, is prone to misinterpretation. It is not just about what is there. Equally, it is about what is missing. Find ways to gauge the situation as it stands and foster conditions that are more beneficial on a professional and personal basis.
Looking beyond the numbers, in Conscious Capitalism (2013), John Mackey, a cofounder of Whole Foods, and Raj Sisodia of Babson College point out that purpose-based workplaces are on the rise in the corporate world and society at large because they generate productivity as well as because customers increasingly gravitate to them. If all stakeholders matter, a company that values its employees is more likely to value its customers. Thus, meaning translates to inside performance as well as outside pull.
In The Story of Philosophy, Will Durant (1926/1991: 98) intuits from the work of Aristotle, ‘we are what we repeatedly do.’ If his postulate is correct, and I believe it is, should that not have meaning? We can think of company culture similarly. We spend much of our lives at work. For that time to feel like a journey rather than a grind, our environment should feel responsive to our needs. Above all else, what you are doing has to have meaning.
Azagba, Sunday, and Mesbah F. Sharaf. “Psychosocial Working Conditions and the Utilization of Health Care Services.” BMC Public Health, vol. 11, no. 1, Aug. 2011, p. 642, https://doi.org/10.1186/1471-2458-11-642.
Deloitte. Core Beliefs and Culture: Chairman’s Survey Findings. 2012, https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/global/Documents/About-Deloitte/gx-core-beliefs-and-culture.pdf.
Durant, Will. The Story of Philosophy: The Lives and Opinions of the World’s Greatest Philosophers. Pocket Books, 1991.
Gallup. “Is a Great Customer Resignation Next?” Gallup.Com, 20 May 2022, https://www.gallup.com/workplace/392537/great-customer-resignation-next.aspx.
—. “The ‘Great Resignation’ Is Really the ‘Great Discontent.’” Gallup.Com, 22 July 2021, https://www.gallup.com/workplace/351545/great-resignation-really-great-discontent.aspx.
Great Place to Work. Best Companies to Work For – Top Workplaces in the US | Great Place To Work. https://www.greatplacetowork.com/best-companies-to-work-for.
Hastwell, Claire. “The 3 Biggest Predictors of Employee Retention (Especially Millennials).” Great Place To Work®, https://www.greatplacetowork.com/resources/blog/3-keys-to-millennial-employee-retention?utm_campaign=2021.08.seo&utm_medium=blog&utm_source=gptw-website&utm_content=text-link&utm_term=80943&utm_audience=prospect.
Mackey, John, and Rajendra Sisodia. Conscious Capitalism: Liberating the Heroic Spirit of Business. Harvard Business Press, 2012.
Seppälä, Emma, and Kim Cameron. “Proof That Positive Work Cultures Are More Productive.” Harvard Business Review, 1 Dec. 2015, https://hbr.org/2015/12/proof-that-positive-work-cultures-are-more-productive.
Watkins, Michael D. “What Is Organizational Culture? And Why Should We Care?” Harvard Business Review, 15 May 2013, https://hbr.org/2013/05/what-is-organizational-culture.
Yoshimoto, Catherine, and Marcus Erb. “Treating Employees Well Led to Higher Stock Prices During the Pandemic.” Great Place To Work®, 5 Aug. 2001, https://www.greatplacetowork.com/resources/blog/treating-employees-well-led-to-higher-stock-prices-during-the-pandemic?utm_campaign=2021.08.seo&utm_medium=blog&utm_source=gptw-website&utm_content=text-link&utm_term=80943&utm_audience=prospect.
When asked how he went bankrupt, a character in Ernest Hemmingway’s The Sun Also Rises responds, “Two ways. Gradually, then suddenly.” This description encapsulates so many of the changes that emerged as a result of the pandemic, most especially within the workplace. Plenty of the shifts we saw to working practices—such as introducing some form of home or hybrid working as standard—have already become accepted1 as part of the much-touted “new normal”. Others are still evolving, not least when it comes to the relationship between businesses and their employees’ health and wellbeing. One practice that has emerged as potentially pivotal in bridging the gap between personal welfare and workplace performance is that of mindfulness.
The Oxford Mindfulness Center2 defines mindfulness as “moment-to-moment awareness of one’s experience, without judgment.” Dan Harris, author of 10 Percent Happier3, describes it even more plainly. “I think of mindfulness as the ability not to be yanked around by your own emotions”. Whatever definition you use, the consensus is that mindfulness offers an array of benefits on a personal and professional level. Which is why it’s no wonder business innovators—some before the pandemic, many after— have chosen to bring it into the workplace.
A 2019 survey by LinkedIn4 found that nearly half of workers feel stress in their jobs, with 70% of them feeling it as a result of their workload and their work-life balance. Meanwhile Gallup5 found that 23% of employees feel burnout at work very often or always, and a further 44% reported feeling it sometimes. The fact that these findings are from before the pandemic makes clear that businesses had been dancing on cracks for a long time before the ultimate disaster struck, and that the system (or at least a stark number of the employees within it) were teetering on the brink. To call the pandemic the straw that broke the camel’s back would be to minimize its devastation. But let’s face it, the camel was staggering and stumbling for a long while before whispers started emerging from Wuhan.
Some businesses could see that. It’s why many of the leading corporate innovators had been incrementally introducing mindfulness techniques to their work environment through the late 2000s and 2010s6. Apple, Google, Twitter, and a whole host of other Silicon Valley movers and shakers were championing everything from meditation rooms to in-office yoga and mindfulness classes through mindful lunches. That was Hemmingway’s gradually. Then, in March 2020, came the suddenly. Worker welfare became unignorable. Mindfulness emerged as a clear solution.
Mindfulness productivity gains and profit
Reducing burnout and caring for worker well-being are some of the benefits mindfulness offers businesses. But to put the major tech players’ adoption of such techniques down purely to concern for their personnel may be to give them undeserved credit. While worker welfare likely did factor into their reasoning, they were no doubt also influenced by the numbers surrounding mindfulness’ productivity gains.
Aetna, a US health insurer that trained 13,000 employees in mindfulness practices, estimated an annual productivity improvement of around $3,000 per employee, as well as a reported reduction in stress levels of 28%7. Meanwhile SAP, a leading German software company, saw a 200%8 return on investment, based on data from a survey undertaken with the help of 650 SAP employees who underwent mindfulness training through the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute9 (SIYLI). Awareness around well-being and mental health has increased in prominence across society as a whole and the business world is no different, but it would be naïve to pretend the bottom-line numbers weren’t a major contributory factor—if not the primary one— in mindfulness’ corporate ascendency.
Of course, to give Silicon Valley credit for the benefits of mindfulness would be myopic in the extreme. These ideas are of an Eastern origin and have been around for millennia. Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of MBSR10 (mindfulness-based stress reduction), is often attributed with bringing mindfulness techniques westwards in the 1970s. Though it’s the advent of more modern technology—best exemplified by the then-unimaginable convenience of yoga and meditation apps— that has contributed significantly to the practice’s meteoric rise.
Spirituality integrates with business
While it may be tempting to presume that utilising these grand spiritual ideas for corporate agendas was a result of this move westwards, instigated by the monetise-at-all-costs instincts of Mega Capitalism, that assumption would be wrong. East Asian corporations such as Panasonic and Toyota have long been taking advantage of ancient teachings in a corporate context11. In fact, “zen”, a widely recognised if less widely understood concept relating to (and deriving from the Sanskrit translation of) meditation, is the foundation of the term “kaizen”.
Kaizen12 is a commonplace piece of business terminology in Japan, meaning change for the better or continuous improvement. It involves making the work environment more efficient and effective by creating a team atmosphere, improving everyday procedures, ensuring employee engagement, and making a job more fulfilling, less tiring, and safer. Its prevalence demonstrates that the marriage between mindfulness and corporate practice is no recent (or exclusively western) thing.
When looking at the benefits mindfulness offers, it’s easy to see why it’s an appealing prospect to all parties, east and west. Mindfulness has been found to help reduce emotional exhaustion13, to help foster compassion and empathy14, to improve decision making15, to reduce aggression16, to generate greater attention and focus17, to promote divergent thinking18, to reduce stress, and to improve short term memory19. It is a seemingly endless list of benefits, each impacting instrumental parts of our day-to-day life, personal and professional. What’s more, research20 shows that only short mindfulness sessions are necessary to achieve such results, rather than any dramatic lifestyle overhaul. A matter of minutes each day is enough. It’s no wonder businesses see it as an easy win. Even the US army is using mindfulness21 training to help soldiers better prepare for and deal with stress, before and after deployment.
How mindfulness works and how it impacts—and potentially alters—our brain has unsurprisingly been the intrigue of scientists and academics the world over. In their book Altered Traits22, Daniel Goleman, a Harvard psychologist, and Richard Davidson, a neuroscientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, found that mindfulness practices such as breathing meditation are associated with decreased gray-matter density in the amygdala, the region of the brain that initiates a response to stress. Researchers at the University of the Sunshine Coast23 in Australia found that mindfulness training increased the efficiency of brain pathways that process information coming in from the senses. In other words, participants in their study were found to literally see information more accurately24. The idea that mindfulness can genuinely re-wire our brains continues to enthral, and the evidence is mounting.
Scott Shute25, former Head of Mindfulness and Compassion at LinkedIn, author of The Full Body Yes: Change Your Work and Your World from the Inside Out, and upcoming guest on The 1% Podcast26, wants to mainstream mindfulness—in the workplace and beyond. Scott says that we should treat mindfulness in the same way we trat our physical health. “Fifty years ago, physical exercise was a strange thing. Now, every company feels good if they can provide gyms at work.”27 His argument is that in the same way we make time to exercise or go out of our way to eat nutritiously, we should also make the effort to strengthen our minds.
Considering the wide-scale proven benefits, the relatively little effort needed to achieve them, and the ubiquity of mindfulness apps28 offering free trials for curious parties, now feels as good a time as ever to start your mindfulness journey. One that will likely provoke change in two ways. Gradually, then suddenly.
More on burnout
- “The cultural obsession with productivity has led to an epidemic of burnout and stress in the workplace, and it’s impacting quality of life as well as businesses.” (Read more)
- “Reducing burnout and caring for worker well-being are some of the benefits mindfulness offers businesses” (Read more)
More on mindfulness
- “Mindfulness and meditation can help with stress and the ability to remain calm under pressure. Prioritising mental health is equally important as physical health and the items on a to-do list. Goals are important, but they also need to be sustainable.” (Read more)
- “Studies have shown that practising mindfulness and meditation can help with depression, chronic pain, anxiety, and a variety of other mental and physical conditions.” (Read more)
In a recent Financial Times article accompanied by the headline: “‘Big Brother’ managers should turn the lens on themselves”, Rana Foroohar, the newspaper’s Global Business Columnist, made a compelling argument for why the increased surveillance of workers is not the answer within our increasingly hybrid working world.
Stats such as the 13.5% increase in the number of meetings attended by employees during the pandemic speaks of industries and sectors ill at ease in affording workers more autonomy and trust, especially in settings where ‘clocking in, clocking out’ has been a core routine for decades or longer.
The remote work disconnect
Survey results from Microsoft, published back in September, pinpointed this friction, highlighting that while 87% of participants felt they were “as, or more” productive when working from home, a staggering 80% of managers disagreed with the very same statement. Speaking to the BBC, the company’s chief executive, Satya Nadella, urged companies to look beyond what he termed the “productivity paranoia” and seek real and practical solutions to fix this “disconnect”.
The number of companies using data surveillance software to track employee activities has doubled since the beginning of the pandemic, and Foroohar’s column put forward three challenges in response. Not only are workers more stressed and resentful of being monitored closely, but creative activities – vital in so many organisations – are much harder to quantify and reflect accurately by metrics alone. In addition, research showing that 70% of meetings actually keep employees from doing more productive work puts the onus on managers and our organisational leaders alike to do better.
The inner CEO
And that is where the work and insight of Jeremy Blain, Chief Executive of PerformanceWorks International, is worth considering. Backing up the long-held belief that workers tend to leave managers rather than companies when they switch roles, Jeremy’s excellent book “The Inner CEO: Unleashing leaders at all Levels” was one topic that came up during our broad-ranging conversation on the 1% Podcast.
Distribution of leadership
Jeremy advocates that developing leaders across all levels of a business is the most effective response for any organisation experiencing significant and fundamental change. In reality, he’s talking about the vast majority of companies right now as they not only embrace digital transformation but also try to address the enormous organisational shifts brought about by blended workplaces, remote working, the so-called ‘Great Resignation”, and our teams being more diverse in nature than ever before.
Business leaders trying to ensure the consistent implementation of a strategy – simply – are unlikely to have both the capacity and expertise to be the only ones to provide relevant guidance through the cultural changes required to embed these same plans. Why does that mean in plain English? It takes a group effort to sustain change. That alone requires honesty and self-reflection at the highest level within management but is also why empowering “inner CEOs” and focusing on utilising talent with a small ‘t’ helps to deliver ongoing and more permanent buy-in from employees.
Speaking to the 1% Podcast, Jeremy explained: “The scope and scale of transformational shift that leaders are dealing with is something I call ‘The Triple Now’. It’s a digital transformation that is happening, a workforce shift, and a piece in the middle of those that is about connectivity, new ways of working, and eco systems.
“All of these mean a leader can be stretched in areas that they potentially have zero capability in. And this is already a reason to include a sense of ‘how do we distribute leadership in a better way’ so that organisations can use the expertise and experience of people in their organisation in more strategic ways.”
Reverse mentoring was one example given during the podcast episode. It has been used to impressive effect by Citibank where millennials have been invited into the boardroom to share their insights around technology and social media, which has the dual consequence of giving younger workers greater buy-in and a feeling of making an important contribution.
Jeremy went on: “There is also a demand from employees for more human-centred leadership – more empathy-driven, more collective, and more empowering leadership. Employees are ready to help and want to be part of the solution. They don’t want to be told what to do all of the time.
“Saying that, leaders do need time. They are navigating uncertain futures right now so by empowering more people to think about what the next two or three years might hold, all this together allows for empowerment (of employees) to flourish.”
Jeremy’s book, The Inner CEO, includes specific tools, frameworks, and templates while providing a strong foundation for any leader looking for practical supports through the implementation of sustainable change in their organisation.
In creating a new sense of ownership, involvement, and trust within an organisation, such an environment will also serve as a motivational tool for its employees. Workers that feel part of the tribe will naturally have a vested interest beyond their specific duties, while the business will feel the benefit of being closer to clients, customers, industry trends, early warning signs, and potential opportunities alike.
Employee incentives are changing, and housing is next
It’s rarely been easy to buy a home in Ireland but for several different generations in 2022, the thought of owning their own property amid rising prices, interest rate increases, a war in Europe, and the general state of flux across the globe in the aftermath of the Covid pandemic, feels – quite literally – beyond their reach at this moment.
That feeling of heavy deflation is one reason why the recent announcement that the Ingka Group, the multinational investment firm behind Swedish furniture giants IKEA, are to invest €100 million in social housing over a three-year period in Dublin has both raised eyebrows and lifted the housing haze, just a little. What if there are other ways to tackle this issue? And what if our employers and business sector are part of an alternative answer?
It’s decades since executive recruiters spoke solely about salaries and annual bonuses. Even before the phrase “The Great Resignation” was first mooted, proactive employers understood the importance of an engaging work culture, presenting a “package”, and creating a “narrative” about company life to attract and retain the best talent.
Where health insurance and annual leave days once sat front and centre alongside base salaries, recruiters are now increasingly emphasising options around remote roles, wellness days, fertility support, menstrual leave, flexitime, four-day weeks, and bringing your furry friends to the office when needed. In their respective ways, these benefits reflect the needs of workers looking to make a move so there’s little to suggest that employer-assisted housing programmes are not the next step. In fact, the seeds of these kinds of programmes exist in Ireland already in many ways.
If you agree a move to Dublin, many multinationals will not only organise the relocation of your physical belongings, they’ll put a roof over your head for an initial number of months. From there, it isn’t hard to take the next leap – one that’s already commonplace in the US – and have companies help employees secure their own home.
Early in 2021, Amazon, which already has a significant presence in Ireland, announced a $2 billion equity fund to develop over 20,000 affordable homes for moderate- to low-income families in three US cities. Many of the company’s Irish workforce use their Amazon shares as a basis for mortgage deposits or home refurbishments, but consider this: what would happen if an employer was to provide specific financial support or a more affordable option directly? In the midst of the current housing crisis, that would be a hugely influential incentive for employees of almost any age.
The world’s biggest online store isn’t unique in exploring this kind of incentive either. Apple is escalating supports it pledged as part of a $2.5 billion package for affordable housing initiatives in California in 2019, while Google set aside $1 billion to help increase housing supply and combat homelessness in the Bay Area of the state specifically. Here in Ireland, Google announced in 2020 that it would donate 46 apartments within its Bolands Mills redevelopment to local public service workers at below-market rents in 2020, in recognition of its own long-standing tenure in the area. It’s well documented, of course, how rents in the same area of Dublin have increased and provided for bumper yields for local landlords… until Covid hit.
Facebook, for its part, also pledged $1 billion to support the construction of affordable homes in The Golden State, a place that is home to so many tech headquarters. So it’s no surprise that these companies and exact locations are also at the front line in the battle to recruit and retain the finest IT talent.
Not a new phenomenon
The move towards helping employees afford and secure a home isn’t a recent phenomenon though, just one brought about by necessity in key locations. Guinness offered housing for some of its workforce 150 years ago and it was commonplace for housing to be built near factories across Ireland, with the homes occupied by workers and their families.
What might the benefit look like in reality? A once-off contribution towards a deposit or something regular towards mortgage payments? Many companies already provide access to financial planners or pension experts, so this could easily be extended further to mortgage experts or specific educational resources for first-time buyers.
Providing some financial assistance would build on those initial incentives and would no doubt benefit from government support in terms of how such a benefit would be treated for tax purposes. Other possibilities could include specific annual leave entitlement for workers in the latter stages of the purchasing process and/or specific time for people moving or settling into new homes.
Of course, there is no such thing as a free lunch and like many employee incentives, companies making a significant investment do hope for a return. Employees that buy locally are less likely to relocate in the future and, hopefully, change jobs. Stability and security at home contributes to life satisfaction generally and, in turn, benefit their work life. Management would also hope such supports would encourage longer tenures amongst staff, greater loyalty, and contribute to being known as an employer that looks after their team. All of these outcomes are tricky to measure, but have a cumulative effect.
A survey conducted by finance company SoFi in 2021 found that 84% of employees believe employers should be responsible for their financial wellbeing, while 60% of participants wanted their company to add, improve, or expand homeownership assistance benefits. The research is US-based, but employees globally have greater holistic expectations of their employers than ever before in 2022, with a specific preference for feeling that their company genuinely cares for their wellbeing.
Are fully fledged employer-assisted housing programmes going to appear in Ireland overnight? No. But if the best recruitment incentives reflect what is happening in workers’ lives, then organisations need to begin to consider what might be feasible to offer around housing and start to plan accordingly.
SoFi at Work Study 2021