HR expert Sheila Attwood highlights the key areas employers must prepare for post-Covid
HR professionals anticipate a range of challenges as they ask people to return to work from home-working or from furlough arrangements after more than two months in lockdown, according to XpertHR's most recent survey amongst HR professionals.
With employers in England being encouraged to reopen workplaces to employees who cannot work from home, many organisations recognise staff are anxious about going back into work.
Despite some measures being put into place to protect workers, such as enhanced hygiene procedures, social distancing and staggered start and finish times, our survey highlighted several challenges that employers will need to overcome to reassure workers and for the business to return to as normal as possible.
Our survey identified the following top eight challenges for organisations:
- Transport plans - One of the first challenges is how employees get to the workplace. Organisations report some people are reluctant to travel on public transport. Companies are responding in various ways, including introducing a rota system for employees to drive in; asking employees who can walk or cycle to voluntarily return to the workplace first and ensuring those who would usually travel by public transport can continue to work from home.
- Health and safety - While talk of heightened health and safety measures in the workplace is widespread, employers expressed some concerns including: the practicalities of some of the measures that will be required; employee confidence in the practices adopted; the ability of the organisation to monitor the safety measures; and employee adherence. Having the space to implement social distancing protocols is highlighted by many organisations too.
- Preparing employees for the return to work - Some employers noted there was work to be done around planning the reintegration of furloughed workers and those who have been working from home. Although there is a great deal to do to ready the workplace for staff to return, employers are making sure they prepare employees too. Measures include ‘open days' for small groups of employees, surveys to gauge feelings and concerns, and introducing Return to the Workplace inductions.
- Settling back into work - For many employees, the workplace will not look or feel the same as the one they left several months ago. Some employers expect difficulties with employee engagement, especially around reduced wages and benefits and the anxieties around future of the business. Others anticipate a downtown in business, so may have to make redundancies.
One widely anticipated change is a shift to more homeworking. On the whole businesses seem to welcome this approach to working but finding the right working pattern for the business and employee alike is expected to be a challenge for some organisations.
- Employee mental health - Looking after employees' mental health and wellbeing has been a challenge since the coronavirus outbreak started, and many HR professionals see it as an ongoing one, particularly around managing employees' anxieties about going back to the workplace. Organisations have put in place a host of initiatives to help employees look after their mental health, from access to an employee assistance programme to online resources.
- Annual leave - Workers can carry over up to four weeks' annual leave into the next two holiday years, where it has not been reasonably practical to take it as a result of the coronavirus. Managing annual leave requests is on the mind of many HR professionals, often around ensuring that staff are taking a break. Having employees with accrued leave and trying to manage work schedules around this was also highlighted as an issue.
- Managing individual cases - Inevitably, there will be a handful of individuals whose circumstances have to be looked at on a case-by-case basis, and employers noted they were taking this approach to some of the more complicated cases. Most are happy for those who are shielding or have caring responsibilities to continue working from home. But some concerns were raised about employees avoiding the workplace by self-diagnosing or not feeling safe to return but who are not medically vulnerable or living with someone who is.
- Adapting to the new normal - The "new normal" is a phrase that employers are becoming familiar with, but not all organisations are certain of what this will look like. Many envisage that the workplace will not go back to how it was before, but one organisation described its main HR challenge as adjusting to the new normal of working in an office. Some will embrace the new-found flexibility in their workforce and welcome employees working from home more often. Others, however, express concerns about the loss of workplace culture and interaction and fear a workplace exodus they would rather avoid.
Sheila Attwood is managing editor, pay and HR practice at XpertHR