Adnams has always prided itself on its enlightened and caring attitudes to its 600-strong workforce.

The celebrated Southwold hotels, pubs and brewery group emerged from the dark days of the pandemic hoping better times were ahead.

But like other employers across East Anglia it is now grappling with a new challenge. The cost-of-living crisis has gripped workforces and looks likely to test employer-employee relations in the turbulent months ahead.

But what can bosses do in the face of such enormous volatility?

Chief executive Andy Wood says attitudes among staff varies greatly according to their personal circumstances.

"Of course, they are all affected by this in very different ways," he says. "Some will be living at home with parents, some will be renting property, some will have families or relatives they are looking after. Some will be living alone.

"It's very difficult as a leader in a business how you get it right to provide support. Is it the role of business to do this? There's a recruitment crisis in hospitality but also in business more generally and helping our staff to get through this current crisis as it is now - or will be in October or January - is something we are really thinking about at this time."

With energy bills rocketing to all-time highs, the Bank of England predicting inflation will top 13% - and a 15-month long recession lying in wait, workers - and businesses - are racked with uncertainty.

But bosses like Andy are walking a tightrope between practical interventions they might make - and uncertainty around what any incoming new government is going to do. He must also balance the needs of the business - after all, it is also taking a hammering from the alarming rises in energy and other costs.

Adnams is an enthusiastic supporter of the Real Living Wage - which is set higher than the statutory minimum - but Andy recognises lower earners will still feel the pinch much more acutely. The government - once it emerges from its leadership election - may examine its election prospects and choose to act.

"It's a very complicated situation - we are monitoring on a daily basis," he says. "In many ways this is a global problem and a governmental problem,"

At the back end of last year, the company gave "significant" pay increases to employees on lower incomes "because we saw this coming", he says. Altogether the wage bill increase amounted to a seven-figure sum. The next wage review is due in October,

"It's fair to say some people are quite anxious about what's going to happen come the autumn," he admits. "There's a labour shortage. There's also high anxiety for people who have come out of a pandemic for two years and that has wrecked people's mental health."

At the moment, the company is looking at what it can do and considering options. "The types of things we are looking at is some form of winter support or energy allowance - but we have to work hand in glove with whatever government is going to do here."

Lee Bye is chef patron and director at Agellus, a privately-owned collection of East Anglian hotels and pubs which employs 90 staff across Tuddenham Mill near Newmarket, and the Lifeboat Inn and Chequers Inn at Thornham, near Hunstanton in north Norfolk. It is preparing to launch Quay House at Ely and Miller's House at Tuddenham.

The workforce is "dynamic", he says, with "superb skill sets" which enables staff to cross over into other roles as the business expands.

"Inflation has caused major concern across our group which has reinforced our approach to work more diligently and sustainably with local suppliers and local businesses," he says. At the same time, the group has seen huge rises in costs.

He sees "talking, and working closely with our teams, suppliers, and local community" as the way through the current crisis.

Carole Burman, managing director of HR and employment law experts MAD-HR, which has offices in Norwich, Ipswich and Chelmsford, has noticed employers are increasingly keen to show their support for and understanding of, employees feeling the impact of fast-rising costs.

“It’s to the credit of employers around the region, that many of them have been discussing with our team how they can make changes in working practices to better support staff against the backdrop of the cost of living crisis," she says.

A number of business leaders have begun reflecting that staff would rather come into the office less, and would prefer to work from home, as a result of the increase in fuel costs, she says, while others are considering specific access to financial support for employees who feel they need it.

But any changes to employee support must be implemented fairly, and not just applied for a specific member of staff or group of staff - or employers risk discrimination claims, she warns.

“It can be tempting for employers to want to make hasty decisions to support employees they know are having a difficult time, but there are implications for introducing approaches which aren’t then applied evenly throughout the workforce.

"Companies should carefully consider what support mechanisms they have in place, and perhaps what external guidance or advisory services they could point staff to.

"Ultimately, by understanding the position of employees and their families, companies will be more likely to retain staff, even against the backdrop of such testing times economically.”