Out of touch? The stark reality of the cost-of-living crisis and the responsibility of the C-suite 

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As more employees report feelings of stress and overwhelm, Rob Russell suggests eight ways to help the C-suite play an active role in company culture

The cost of living in the UK and across the world has been on the rise since 2022, presenting unique challenges for businesses and individuals alike – and it’s not getting any easier. With 76% of employees reporting feelings of stress and overwhelm as a direct result of living cost hikes, there has never been a more important time for the C-suite to centre its attention on actively contributing to shaping company culture, employee wellbeing, and overall business sustainability. 

HR, L&D and the C-suite can best support employees by ensuring there is open dialogue between all levels 

In large organisations, the C-suite is generally far-removed from the lowest-earning staff. With limited daily interaction, it’s not surprising C-suite executives are perceived as “out of touch”. According to Gallup, 71% of C-suite executives believe their organisation takes care of mental health, yet 70% of frontline workers report burnout or feeling at risk of burning out.  

Poor proximity is no excuse. It is HR’s job, along with all leadership and learning roles, to look out for employees. In an evolving landscape of business leadership, today’s senior management teams are tasked to proactively shape workplaces that serve as magnets for top-tier talent, setting them apart in a competitive market.  

Here are eight key factors to consider when ensuring C-suite plays an active role in company culture: 


Deciding core values is easy. Embedding them into company culture is where the challenge lies. Sticking up a values statement on the wall is no longer sufficient; it should be a part of every aspect involving employees, used as a set of goals that guide every action within an organisation. When employees believe in the culture of a company, regardless of their role, it encourages productivity and engagement across the board. 


HR, L&D and the C-suite can best support employees by ensuring there is open dialogue between all levels. This should focus on work performance, but address external challenges too, such as communicating how the organisation is adapting to support employees during these difficult economic times. HR can also champion the case of employees when it comes to budget setting – in fact, as a CFO, this is exactly the kind of discussion we want to be having. 


Respect is a two-way street. The Great Resignation and Reshuffle movements compelled organisations to adjust to create more positive working environments, such as promoting a healthy work-life balance. This shift also emphasised an ethos that nurtures junior talent through to senior executives alike.  

Empowering workers involves the C-suite fostering a culture that embraces and celebrates the unique qualities each team member brings to the table. Importantly, leadership must integrate talent into decision making processes, encourage them to take ownership of tasks, and recognise their tangible contributions to company successes. 


Most companies are now hybrid but while coming into the office has many benefits (like enhanced collaboration), it can be expensive. In our experience, introducing a travel and food allowance for lower earners can have a massive positive impact. This example of flexibility highlights to employees that they are important, valuable assets.  


A recent study found that only 56% of employees think their company’s executives care about their wellbeing. The C-suite, however, has a very different outlook on this, with 91% believing employees feel their leaders do care about their wellbeing. This gap is substantial; therefore, a more impactful support system for employees needs to be instilled, as well as extensive training for C-suite and executives to understand the needs of their workforce.  

The C-suite can prioritise support by providing an individual employee training and development budget, to enhance employees’ skills and increase their earning potential. This strategic approach not only supports employees during economic hardship, but also contributes to the long-term growth and adaptability of the workforce. 


In today’s job market, employees are looking for (and deserving of) something better. Taking action is imperative and there are a number of initiatives HR can adopt to help bridge any disconnect. For example, higher earners could receive ‘inflationary-only’ salary increases, to prioritise giving other employees a higher percentage raise.  


Feedback is key. Conduct an (at least) annual engagement survey to assess how the company is performing with employee engagement. From here, leadership can identify issues such as pay and take corrective action, where required. This is also a great opportunity to see the initiatives that are making a positive impact for workers. This may include culture-enhancing initiatives beyond the desk, such as regular social engagements for team collaboration, family-friendly events, and extracurricular activities. 

Above all, this is another opportunity to understand employee wellbeing – which we already know is critical for the organisation’s growth and evolution. 


Ultimately, the C-suite sets the tone for the entire organisation; their employees define the success of it. Whether it’s communication, feedback, support or flexibility, consistency from the C-suite will improve employee’s confidence, belief, certainty and trust – building an all-round, world-class team that excels not only in individual expertise, but also thrives in collaboration. 

Rob Russell is COO/CFO at Virtualstock 

Rob Russell

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