From empathetic listening to identifying various resources, there is much you can do to help employees and their families affected by the government shutdown.
As the partial government shutdown drags on, it is having an impact on the 800,00 federal workers furloughed without pay and others in their families and communities. You may have employees, contractors, or other workers affected by the shutdown and not even realize it. It’s important to know how the shutdown is affecting people and what you can do to help them.
Day-to-day living. None of the 800,000 workers has received a paycheck this month. At the same time, the shutdown affects contractors such as cleaning crews who make lower wages and lack benefits. Many furloughed workers have had to tighten their budgets and cut back on spending. Some are struggling even more–Washington, DC-area pawn shop owners say they are seeing more customers seeking to sell jewelry and other valuables. Those living paycheck-to-paycheck may be skipping mortgage/rent, car, credit card, or other payments.
Home purchases. While some homeowners are struggling to make mortgage payments, other workers who were in the midst of buying a home are in limbo and unable to complete their purchases. It is estimated that up to 39,000 mortgages could be affected.
Debt payments. Federal workers, despite not getting paychecks, are still expected to pay their student loan payments on time. Defaulting on these or other debts are likely to result in hefty fees and credit problems for some people.
New loans. To survive the shutdown, some people may have to take out loans, giving them a new debt they will have to pay off.
Diminished savings. Many of those with savings will have to dip into them. This may affect retirement, children’s education, and other future plans. If the shutdown continues, savings are likely to dwindle even further.
Potential loss of government assistance for low-income families. While those receiving food assistance or living in low-income housing will be covered for the time being, as early as March programs like food stamps could be reduced or cut off; and some families could be at risk of eviction from their homes.
Some local and national banks are helping by waiving some fees or offering low-interest loans. Elsewhere, some credit card companies, mortgage companies, and lenders are offering opportunities for reduced or delayed payments, as are some phone and utility companies.
You can help by inviting employees affected by the shutdown to come see you with questions or concerns. You also can post lists of any local restaurants, stores, or other businesses offering free meals or discounts (search “federal worker relief” or “federal worker help” on Twitter for some resources, events, and services). There are even some organizations offering food for workers’ pets. Consider bringing in financial or legal professionals to counsel people one-on-one. Work with staff who may request extra shifts.
Don’t underestimate the emotional impact the shutdown may have on your employees, even if they aren’t affected directly. They may be worried about friends and family; or they are generally concerned about future impact on the economy, etc. Make sure employees know about their mental health benefits and encourage them to seek counseling if they feel anxious, stressed, or depressed. Consider wellness-related activities such as bringing in musicians for lunchtime concerts or holding a spa day with free manicures.
Above all, be a good, nonjudgmental listener; and keep an eye open for employees who may be suffering in silence. You can help ensure people can continue to work without distractions. They are likely to remember your support and kindness during this difficult time.