Inside Housing’s exclusive salary survey reveals that for most housing employees workloads are going up while pay remains stuck in the lobby. But there are signs the sector is finding new ways of rising to the challenges it faces, says Simon Brandon
‘It’s an interesting time for the sector,’ says Richard Gelder, director of social housing at recruiter Hays.
His opinion brings to mind the Chinese curse - ‘may you live in interesting times’.
Past headlines for this annual survey, conducted exclusively for Inside Housing by Hays Social Housing Recruitment, say it all. In 2010 it was ‘Pay day mayday’; last year, ‘Battening down the hatches’. This year isn’t much cheerier.
More than half of the 200 employees polled - 55 per cent - said they had not received a salary increase over the past 12 months, while 56 per cent said they did not expect an increase next year either (see graph 1: Salary increases). The number of those who did receive a raise is also set to shrink - while 45 per cent of surveyed employees did enjoy a fatter wage packet last year, just 40 per cent of the 270 surveyed employers said they expected to award raises to all staff members next year (see graph 2: Do you expect to award salary increases in the next 12 months?).
Overall, the survey shows that the national average of housing managers’ pay decreased by 0.5 per cent on last year. For housing officers, that figure is 0.4 per cent (see individual salary tables). Small decreases, yes, but quite a drop in real terms - according to the Office for National Statistics, inflation in September this year stood at 2.6 per cent.
While salaries are not keeping step with inflation, it seems workloads are. A large majority of employers surveyed - 80 per cent - admitted their staff were being expected to work longer hours for the same money (see graph 3: Workload).
How long can this trend continue? ‘People like working in housing,’ says Mr Gelder. ‘They are happy with their lot.
‘But beneath the surface, you get the sense that there is a pressure cooker effect,’ he continues. ‘There is pressure to keep salaries down while the cost of living increases, and at some point people will have to move if they want to earn more money.’
The survey suggests that many in the sector are already thinking that way. Although around two thirds (64 per cent) felt either very or fairly satisfied in their jobs (see graph 4: Employee satisfaction), 77 per cent of employees said they anticipated looking for a new job in the next three years (see graph 5: When do you anticipate you will next change jobs?).
But a rush for the exit isn’t the only possible future. These are not just ‘interesting times’, according to Mr Gelder - they are dynamic too. He believes the change in government in 2010 paralysed the sector to an extent, as employers were unsure what effects the coalition’s changes to benefits and funding would have. Employers have had two reasons to tighten their belts. But stability is now returning, Mr Gelder believes, and with it will come new opportunities.
‘Broadly speaking, from this year onwards there has been a sense that we have enough of a view on the future to be able to plan for it properly,’ he says (See graph 6: Key challenges facing employers over the next year).
As housing organisations become more commercially minded, different skills, such as financial knowhow, are becoming more valuable.
‘People might have to develop new skills, or maybe do a more enhanced or a different type of job as housing changes - but people in housing have been doing that for years,’ Mr Gelder says.
Nor is salary level the only thing on employees’ minds; 29 per cent said a new challenge was the most influential factor when deciding whether to stay in their current job (see graph 7: Moving on). Sixteen per cent, meanwhile, wanted an improved work-life balance (see graph 8: Benefits offered to employees). And nearly every employee surveyed - 96 per cent - said they would consider shorter working weeks, if offered (see graph 9: Cost-cutting measures).
So there could yet be a mutually beneficial route through the murk for employers and employees. Here’s hoping for a cheerier headline next year.