Employers’ responses to the COVID-19 pandemic prompts renewed thinking about working practices as the pandemic resets major work trends. Business owners/leaders need to rethink workforce and employee planning, management, performance and experience strategies.
As we enter this ‘new normal’ in the workplace and thoughts turn to how it will all work in the short, medium and longer term, we cannot be complacent when considering what and how we must change will be fundamental to how successful our businesses will be.
As a HR professional working with a range of different SME clients, it’s clear that many businesses haven’t taken the appropriate steps to ensure changes to the ways they work are embedded, as they continue to rely on their existing practices and policies. This is mainly unintentional due to increasing constraints on time and resources. The level of risk this creates for the employees’ engagement and wellbeing as well as the business’s bottom line should not be ignored.
Employee perspectives on returning to the workplace
The CIPD’s employee survey highlights that many are anxious about returning to work.
- 45% of those not attending their normal workplace were anxious about the prospect of returning.
- 35% also felt anxious about the commute on their return. Only 55% of respondents said they had been given adequate information about returning, and just 44% said they’d been adequately consulted in the process. Consulting with employees can reduce anxiety about returning to the workplace.
- 62% of people who didn’t feel adequately consulted were anxious about returning, compared with only 42% of people who had been adequately consulted.
When it came to health and safety, 62% of those attending their normal workplace were satisfied with the measures their employers had put in place during the pandemic. However, 21% were not satisfied. Concerns include not having the right resources to protect themselves at work (14%) and being unable to follow social distancing guidelines in their workplace (27%)
Prioritise your people
While some businesses have recognised the human impact of the pandemic and prioritised the wellbeing of employees as people over employees as workers, others have pushed employees to work in conditions that are high risk with little support — treating them as workers first and people second. Being mindful of the effects on employee experience, which could be long-lasting, and addressing inequities if remote and on-site employees have been treated differently, is an important first step. Having an employee wellbeing offering in your business is important and one that everyone can tap into when needed. This doesn’t have to cost the earth but will save you on having employees feeling unsupported and ultimately going off sick. A simple solution is to spend some time upskilling your line managers on how they can support employees better and better empathise with how employees are feeling. There are plenty of free resources out there for businesses to take advantage of.
Employee perspectives on health and wellbeing
The CIPD’s employee survey confirms worker concerns about financial security, isolation and managing work–life balance:
- 34% of respondents in our June survey said their financial security had worsened – this was especially the case among furloughed workers (55%).
- 44% said social connections inside of work had worsened, with 57% saying this has been the case with social connections outside of work.
- 2 in 10 said their ability to work was being impacted by a change in caring responsibilities due to the pandemic, impacting their work–life balance. 30% of workers said their physical health had become worse since the onset of the pandemic and 37% said this was true of their mental health. This was more pronounced for those with existing mental health conditions – over half of whom said their mental health has worsened (56%)
Ensure your company policies are up to date
Reviewing your company’s policies is understandably a long and arduous task, but nevertheless an important one to enable you to better support your employees. Most organisations will agree that their policies, contracts and staff handbooks are in need of updating, but don’t have the time or expertise to do it themselves.
By examining your policies, employers can ensure compliance with new employment laws, as well as develop new policies for example: Covid reporting – Business’ need to develop clear policies for coronavirus reporting when someone begins experiencing symptoms. Remote/Hybrid working – Since some employees will continue to work remotely, businesses will need to consider interim policies to address employees’ new ways of working. Wellbeing – creating tools, training and signposting support which is visible and available to all employees.
Engage your team to boost your business
Slowly but surely, we are heading back into the office. The world is reopening and we’re ready to embrace it with open arms. After months of lockdown, you might assume that employees are keen to return to work. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Trying to engage your employees, and keep them engaged, was hard before the global pandemic.
Nevertheless, the traditional methods that employers have used for years will still be effective and shouldn’t be ignored in your struggle to reengage your team. Reopening your office will take some getting used to after the lockdown. Trying to keep on top of the basic pillars of engagement will go a long way towards keeping your employees happy and motivated. Believe it or not, your employees want to engage at work. Nobody wants to be sat at a desk clock watching for a third of their life. Engaging your team will not only boost your business but make your office/home office a better place to work.
Ongoing Guidance on COVID-19
Covid has not gone away so policies should provide details such as:
- a statement on the commitment of the business to the health and safety of employees, workers and other persons specifically in relation to COVID-19 and what should be achieved through its implementation
- the responsibilities of relevant persons for specific actions to ensure compliance with any government guidance on COVID-19
- what arrangements shall be made by the business in practical terms in order to ensure the continuation of business during the pandemic where any employees become sick or need to self-isolate
- any requirements in relation to vaccinations, testing of employees or workers
- any requirements regarding the wearing of PPE/face coverings
- any data protection details relating to the provision of health data
This policy document can be used in conjunction with any of the following policies, documents and agreements which may be held by a business:
- a health and safety policy (mandatory)
- a remote work policy
- a sickness policy
- a grievance and disciplinary procedure
- a formal contractual remote work agreement
- a formal contract of employment or worker agreement
Your policies should be made easily available with and communicated to any employees and workers of the business. It is common to display workplace policies in an easily accessible public area so that any persons who may be connected with the business in any way can easily see the commitment the business has made to upholding standards of health and safety.
Please note that should any policy be revised or altered at any time, these revisions and alterations must be communicated effectively to employees and/or workers at the earliest opportunity. A business should also remember that COVID-19 rules and requirements can change very rapidly in response to any surges in COVID-19 and your policy should be updated accordingly in those circumstances.