It has become clear from the government’s briefings that we are not ‘out of the woods’ when it comes to the devastating impact of coronavirus. Strict rules on social distancing will need to remain in place until specific criteria are met. Whilst this news may be hard to hear, it’s important to remember how quickly change can be upon us. And that the current situation is not permanent.
Many people are keen to return to some sort of normality but might be feeling anxious and uncertain of what the immediate future holds. This is only natural given the circumstances. Alison Schreiber from the HR Dept in Durham looks at the ways in which you can manage this feeling in order to be the best version of you that your business needs.
Focus on what you can control
You may feel that you have lost some choice due to government policy, but it could help to view this period of lockdown as an essential challenge rather than a restriction. When else might you have considered remote working or pressure testing certain functions of your business?
Something that remains firmly in your control is conversation. If you are unsure about what your business is going to look like post lockdown, start having conversations with employees now to help inform your decision making. How are they feeling? What does a return to work mean to them?
Remember that if employees are on furlough leave, it is still a good idea to check-in on their mental well-being and communicate company updates, so long as they are not actively doing work whilst furloughed.
Plan your next move
The results from your conversations with employees will help to direct your planning activities. They may be unique to your business, but from our experience of people management and HR, there are a few items that we think you can expect to see on your list.
Requests for flexible working
Many employees are currently working from home, some even for the first time. If they are not working from home, you can guarantee they are hearing about it from everyone who is. Because of this you may start to see an increase in requests for remote working. Start thinking about this now. Is it something you would like to continue or perhaps introduce post lockdown? It could help to retain good employees, but ask first if it can benefit your business.
Concerns over health and safety
You may find that some employees are reluctant to return to work or carry out certain duties through a perceived fear of danger to their health. This is serious and carries significant risk for you as an employer.
Firstly, you must ensure the working environment is safe before asking employees to return. You should do this by carrying out an objective risk assessment and acting on any hazards it identifies.
Secondly, you must do what you can to reassure employees that it is safe to return to work, sharing evidence of your risk assessment with them. If you do not manage this correctly and it turns into a dispute, it could develop into an employment tribunal case.
A need for wellness benefits
Mental health is just as important as physical health, everyone has it and needs to take care of it. Just as employees will need a safe and healthy environment to return to, they may also need support to manage and maintain their well-being. Some people will have gone through life changing experiences as a result of coronavirus, with long-lasting aftereffects. You may want to pre-empt this and revisit your wellness strategy before employees return to work. Or indeed train your managers on how to support workplace mental health for when employees return. An Employee Assistance Programme which provides confidential counselling is an affordable and effective way to start, and there are many other ways in which to support employee well-being.
Employees that have been on furlough leave may need some refresher training when they return to work. Or perhaps their role has been modified due to essential changes to your business. You can save time by having them complete eLearning courses during their furlough leave. Just remember that they are entitled to the National Minimum Wage for their time spent training.
Your industry may look very different once the lockdown ends. In response, you may need to look at a workforce restructure including redundancies and/or lay-offs. It would be wise to consider this now, so that you have all of the correct paperwork and processes in place if the time comes.