How To Help Your Teams Settle Into The First Few Weeks Back at Work
As increasing numbers of businesses begin the return to a ‘COVID secure’ workplace, we’ve pulled together some of our top tips and considerations on how to help your teams settle into those first few weeks back at work.
Have you considered your duty of care?
All employers have a duty of care to provide a safe working environment for their employees. The government has published detailed guidance for employers and businesses to follow to maintain a safe working environment during the coronavirus pandemic. Further details can be found here.
What if an employee says they cannot return to work?
It’s important to establish, through discussions with your employee, the reason why they are unable or unwilling to return to work. Once you have established the reason this will help you to determine the appropriate course of action to take. These are some of the reasons that might affect an employee returning to work:
- Health and Safety concerns
While the risk of contracting COVID-19 remains prevalent for us all, it is understandable that some employees may feel naturally apprehensive about going back into the workplace for fear that it places they or their loved ones at greater risk of catching the virus.
Speak to your employee to try and alleviate their concerns by detailing all the health and safety measures you have put in place to ensure a ‘COVID secure’ workplace and any additional measures you have implemented to limit the number of people in the workplace; such as staggering return to works or temporary amendments to work patterns. It’s important to show empathy and emphasise that the health and safety of your workforce has been considered and is your priority.
If an employee relies on public transport to get to and from work, this could be another cause for their concern. It’s important to listen to these concerns and try and find an amicable solution, which might include a temporary amendment to their hours of work (to prevent them from having to travel at busier times) or allowing employees to continue working from home where possible.
- High risk individuals
If an employee is in a high risk category (clinically vulnerable) that requires them to stay at home, then they may need to remain on furlough leave, work from home (if possible) or be offered the option to take unpaid leave or paid holidays.
- Childcare commitments
With some childcare establishments remaining closed or with limitations on who can attend them, and alternative childcare options such as seeking help from friends and family members not viable, some employees may find it impossible and impractical to return to work. There are a number of options available for you and your employee to consider in these circumstances such as homeworking, furlough leave, temporary amendments to working hours, parental leave or time off for dependants (typically unpaid), taking paid holidays or applying a combination of these approaches.
- No valid Reason
If an employee refuses to attend work without providing you with a valid reason, you may need to consider disciplinary action, however we would recommend speaking to an employment law expert first before taking this course of action.
You will find more information on Childcare and Covid-19 here.
How will you welcome employees back to work?
Some employees will likely have been physically away from the business for a considerable amount of time, for example those placed on furlough leave, homeworking or any other paid or unpaid leave. We’d recommend encouraging line managers to have one-to-one meetings with their direct reports when they return to work. Having a one-to-one meeting will provide the opportunity to:
- Welcome them back to the workplace;
- Establish any concerns they have regarding their return;
- Detail the health and safety measures implemented to facilitate a ‘COVID secure’ workplace and their requirement to adhere to these measures;
- Reiterate the requirements should any employees or members of their household experience symptoms of the coronavirus;
- Update your employees on any business changes and priorities, including any changes to their duties and responsibilities;
- Discuss any temporary amendments to working arrangements.
How will you keep lines of communication open?
The pandemic has impacted peoples’ finances in different ways. Some employees may have had less income in their household due to job losses or being placed on furlough leave, or short time working. This could in turn make employees apprehensive about their future job security. In these unprecedented times, it may not be possible to provide definitive assurances regarding job security to your employees. However, it’s important to keep talking to your employees and to update them on how the business is performing and the potential impact this could have on their role. Try to be as open and transparent as possible. Regular communication is key.
What will the re-adjustment period look like?
While some employees may have continued working from home during lockdown, others may have been completely detached from work for a period and some may have stayed working from their usual workplace. Others may have departed because of redundancy requirements.
When you suddenly or gradually start bringing colleagues back together in the workplace but the working environment is no longer the same, colleagues can’t readily get together for a catch up over lunch, with strict health and safety and social distancing measures in place. Duties and responsibilities may have changed to adjust to the business’s priorities.
Adapting to these changes will inevitably require a period of re-adjustment whilst colleagues get used to new and different ways of working. It is important to appreciate that everyone has faced different personal challenges as a result of the pandemic and whilst some employees may readily adapt to a changing workplace environment, others may take more time, or require more support, to enable them to adapt to the changes.
For more information or support on bringing employees back to work, please contact us.