From 1st August employees have been encouraged to return to the workplace following a government relaxation of the lockdown rules. However, one of the major challenges facing employers is how to deal with workers who are anxious, reluctant or unable to return.
XpertHR’s latest coronavirus survey[i] revealed that 72% of organisations were predicting that their employees would be reluctant to the return to the workplace and 26% were predicting a fall in employee engagement.
As businesses adapt to new ways of working, promoting employee engagement is going to be key to supporting employees through this difficult time.
Sheila Attwood, XpertHR managing editor, says, “During the lockdown, HR professionals had to adapt quickly to having furloughed employees and widespread homeworking and learn what worked best for their organisation. They now need to put their experience into finding the right way forward as the lockdown – but not necessarily the threat from coronavirus – is lifted. Ensuring their employees are engaged as the situation evolves over the next few months will be vital.”
Survey respondents provided some top tips for promoting employee engagement:
Ask employees how they feel about returning to the workplace. Employees will feel more at ease if they are consulted, perhaps using employee surveys, to gather their views on returning to the workplace. For many, homeworking will continue for the time being. But now that workplaces are reopening, there may be a divide between employees who want to return and those who are hesitant. A flexible approach, with different options for different employees, is likely to be needed.
Be mindful of those returning from furlough. For those returning to work on full contractual hours, ensure comprehensive communications around return to work processes. Take the time to set out changes to the business during the period employees have been on furlough, and to set realistic targets/objectives for those returning. Employees who return to work part time and remain on furlough part time will need careful monitoring to ensure the rules of the scheme are not compromised but also that the stress of such an arrangement is acknowledged and addressed.
Reassure employees with information and training on health and safety measures. Providing detailed information on the health and safety measures your organisation has taken to ensure the workplace is safe will help reassure employees about their return. This might include providing information on floor plans, hand sanitisers, check-in systems, refreshments, canteen and tea/coffee making facilities, desk options, and cleaning programmes. Where PPE or other interventions are needed, training on health and safety measures may be necessary.
Offer mental health and wellbeing support. Be conscious of the impact of the lockdown on employees’ mental health and wellbeing. Consider further training for mental health first-aiders to deal with the specific challenges faced by employees during this time. You may also wish to offer sessions with mental health professionals to address anxiety around returning to the workplace and to ensure any ongoing issues are addressed. Additional resources such as top tips and information prepared by mental health charities could be provided using intranets or portals.
Look after line managers. Many line managers are facing their own challenges around homeworking, childcare or working conditions. Be mindful of the role line managers will play in transitioning the workforce from furlough to work, from homeworking to the workplace or a combination of both. Extra support and guidance is important to ensure they are clear on what is required and how they can best support employees.
Keep communicating. Receiving regular informative updates can reduce stress and anxiety – particularly for employees who are furloughed or working from home. But remember people have different communication preferences, so make use of as many platforms as possible to communicate with staff – making sure the messages are consistent.
For more information on XpertHR visit: www.xperthr.co.uk