There’s been much talk in the media in the last fews days about the easing of the current pandemic lockdown. Who ventures out from lockdown and how, may be clearer by this time next week. In the meantime, what should employers consider following a period of furlough or once the lockdown measures do start easing and employees start to return to work?

Employee well-being is paramount

The primary concern has to be safeguarding the health and well-being of employees. Many employees who have either been furloughed under the Government’s Corona Virus Job Retention Scheme, or working flexibly from home will be concerned about entering back into the physical workplace as well as travelling to and from work and/or travelling to other sites and locations. It is highly likely that social distancing will be the norm for some time to come, so employers will need to think about how they can accommodate this – both at work and travelling to and from work – either by considering shift or rota working, or continuing to offer flexible remote working for some time to come. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has produced guidance for employers who need advice on the health and safety measures they will need to put in place https://www.hse.gov.uk/news/coronavirus.htm It’s essential to carry out a Risk Assessment to identify any ‘flash points’ – for example any communal break out areas. Hot desking – any kind of sharing – might not be such a good idea going forward and maybe that much loved Coffee Machine might have to be ‘furloughed’ for a while. 

Feeling supported

To ensure mental well-being, it’s important that employees feel they are returning to a safe, inclusive, caring and supporting workplace. Managers need to be coached in how to manage their employees who may be naturally anxious and employees should be supported with regular 121s / check ins. Physical team meetings may also be a thing of the past for a while. Employee Assistance Programmes can provide support to both managers and employees and Mental First Aiders will be invaluable at this time. Employers should run virtual ‘induction’ briefings on the new ways of working before any return, so employees know what is expected of them, and what they can expect from their employer in the ‘new normal’ way of working. 

Another thing to consider is that if employees have been furloughed for a while, sleeping, eating and exercise patterns may be out of synch with the working environment, so providing employees with support in returning to work will be needed. They may have been home schooling children; caring for an elderly or vulnerable person; have financial challenges as a result of being furloughed; or maybe they know someone close who had Covid-19. All of these things take a toll. You can’t just switch the ‘on’ switch on a human being! Staggered hours may be a way to re-introduce an employee back into the workplace. There is also the psychological impact of what we are all going through – no one would be normal if they didn’t feel a little bit neurotic at the moment, and that can take time to pass. Everyone will have different concerns, deal with things different and cope in different ways. Remember, it will take time for all of us to adjust and recover. 

Will there be a Furlough – Phase 2?

The Government’s Corona Virus Job Retention Scheme (JRS) will run until the 30th June 2020. There has been calls from industry for this to be tapered off, rather than end in a cliff edge at the end of June. How work will be arranged on reduced hours will also be something to consider if employees return on a staggered basis either as a result of any second phase of the JRS, or as employees return from working remotely as they are return out of lockdown. 

Over of the rainbow?

It is without doubt that this current health crisis has severely impacted all of our lives. As a result employees will have new expectations about life, work and their employer. This is an opportunity for employers to think creatively about how work can be managed differently, and consider mental well-being during work. Who knows…. in the process you might just find a better way of working which improves both the employees experience of you as an employer, and at the same time, you may come up with a better way of working which benefits the financial well-being of the business. How you treated your people during Covid-19 and after lockdown may be what helps you build employee loyalty. 

If you are have any questions on Furlough, flexible working, or coaching managers for employees returning to work, please contact me at liz.jewer@hrthink.co.uk