As the UK continues to make progress against COVID-19, businesses are finally starting to see light at the end of the tunnel and kickstarting their plans to get people back into the office. Who knew we would miss seeing our colleagues this much!
However, there is still a good deal of uncertainty around the COVID-19 virus itself, the impact of the pandemic, and what the world of work will now look like.
While the ‘new normal’ includes new hazards, the good news is that most businesses already have frameworks in-place to mitigate them.
Organisations had to adapt quickly across the globe in response to the pandemic and we continue to see new and emerging effects which have been magnified by further headwinds such as Brexit and challenging insurance market conditions.
However, one key output which has been a constant is the resilience, adaptability, resolve and strength of organisations and its people.
And looking forward…..
So what are these new risks and how can your business be preparing to deal with them?
Legal restrictions may have been lifted but the threat of Covid infection still exists and many organisations are facing staffing problems as employees isolate.
Covid should be treated as any other hazard. Ask your health and safety leads to assess the risk and put in-place reasonable controls. Follow the relevant government guidance but also consider other sources of information, such as expert opinion or a spike in Covid cases in your region of operations.
Remember to set Covid in context. It is just one issue among many and depending on your operations, it’s unlikely to be the biggest risk. Make sure you remain focussed on key hazards and consider whether these have been heightened due to fewer staff or the need to remain socially distant.
Home and flexible working
The pandemic has opened the eyes of employers and employees to the benefits of flexible working. According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) 85% of adults currently working from home want to use a hybrid approach in the future.
The job market is now reflecting this shift in employee expectations: since May 2021 job adverts including the term ‘homeworking’ have increased three times above their February 2020 average. It is clear that employers are emphasising flexible working and the need for a good work/life balance as a way to pull in the best talent.
Internally businesses should now be setting out their stalls by amending (or creating) good, clear policies. Staff need to know what is expected of them but also what support they can expect from their employer. One of the key statistics coming out of the pandemic is that employees are working longer hours later into the evening. Make sure your employees know that they can turn off the laptop.
Of course with employees spending more time working from home there is also a greater likelihood of claims for musculoskeletal diseases and upper limb disorders. So your ergonomic policies need to be robust. Make sure that you assess the risk appropriately and where necessary provide suitable equipment, training and guidance to your employees.
Long Covid is a topic that is garnering more attention as we start to see the long-term effects of the disease. Common symptoms can include physical and cognitive fatigue, shortness of breath, headaches and chest pain. Less common symptoms include joint pain, dizziness and a cough.
Businesses must be prepared to treat this condition the same way as they would any other. Ensure that an employee’s fitness to work is assessed and consider making adjustments to facilitate a phased return. Sickness and absence policies should also be revised to allow employees the time needed to recover.
As always defending claims relies on evidence. As businesses start to put in-place policies and procedures to mitigate some of the above risks they must remember to record and retain evidence of your good work. When lawyers or the HSE ask questions, you want to respond with confidence.
Don’t believe the hype. Yes the ‘new normal’ will come with some challenges but it is unlikely to be the paradigm shift claimed by many. Businesses should keep calm, assess new risks, talk to their employees and above all, embrace positive changes.
Mental Health - living in constant uncertainty!
What have we learnt from the pandemic? We learn that our employees can be trusted and their trust has been rewarded with over 50% of employers reporting that their employees were more productive during the period of COVID-19 according to Deloitte 2021. By trusting your employees this will lead to higher engagement, lower stress levels, fewer sick days and more energy at work.
We learn that businesses can be flexible and can review employees on a case-by-case basis, rather than sticking to a one size fits all policy that did not work before the pandemic. This will hugely encourage a greater work life balance bringing in a much more resilient workforce and help employees perform at their best.
We have now proven that we do not have to work 9 to 5 or chained to our desks to be productive. Other great incentives such as ‘work from anywhere’ not only gives employees an additional incentive but also massively boosts morale and loyalty.
We learnt that our leadership teams and board of directors who displayed empathy and compassion all the way through this pandemic have drove increased engagement. Huge culture changes, leaders changed the way they communicated, they built workplaces that provided a sense of openness because of their openness, most provided stability, comfort and safety to employees and in some case extended to employees’ families. By leaders showing they cared, empathy ranked as one of the fastest-rising traits during the pandemic – along with resilience – in a report from CEMS.
We learn that mental health in the workplace is now rated as a top priority and that employee well-being has expanded beyond physical well-being. Future Workplace has identified seven pillars of employee wellbeing to guide leaders as they prioritise the well-being of their workers.
Building a culture of holistic wellbeing and at the centre of this is the growing need for flexibility in where, when and how employees work. The seven pillars of holistic employee’s wellbeing includes physical, emotional, financial, social, career, community & purpose.
Businesses must continue to ask employees about their health, wellbeing, wealth, happiness or any concerns. Ask them through surveys, one-to-one meetings, group discussions, what ‘good’ looks like and how you can help them work at their best. They should be part of the decision-making process so you can take the guesswork out of your wellbeing initiatives and ensure that your employees are getting exactly what they need
The pandemic has given employers a huge insight and visibility into the life struggles of their employees and has moved the focus from just business issues to individual human life experiences. Wellbeing is not just an employee benefit, but an opportunity to support employees in all aspects of their personal and work lives.
However, we are not out of the woods yet …
The continued impact the pandemic has had and is still having on talent retention and attraction is becoming a critical area of focus in order to cope with a return to pre pandemic trading. The temporary closure of businesses, furlough and reduced staffing needs has seen swaths of employees seeking alternative employment.
Organisations must now look at how to, not only attract this talent back, but retain existing staff in a world where options in relation to flexible working are reshaping the future of the workplace and providing greater choice.