Almost six months into the pandemic restrictions, we have seen the world of work shift and change as it attempts to adapt. Though the coming months are yet to be defined, we have nonetheless started seeing elements of a new ‘normal’ beginning to emerge. Some makeshift arrangements have become more permanent. Working from home, for example, has proven to be an effective means for many businesses to remain active, and has been adopted as a policy change by many. For employees attending a physical workplace, disposable face masks have been replaced by longer lasting and more financially viable (though, perhaps less effective), woven variations. And, unfortunately, some businesses with staff on furlough have had to consider redundancy measures.
Though we are seeing certain changes which are no doubt here to stay (such as the acceptance of remote working), it seems likely that it will be quite some time before the world of work truly stabilises. Many employees have shown themselves to be resilient and adaptable, whether coping with ever changing restrictions or dealing with angry members of the public. The impact of such changes to their working environment should not be underestimated. In a recent CIPD survey, 45% of organisations reported that employees were concerned about their mental health. It is clearly more important than ever that employers are doing all that they can to safeguard their employees’ wellbeing.
It is understandably difficult for businesses to remain on top of things at the moment, especially as policies and guidelines continue to change. We have therefore created a ten-topic audit to help employers remain on track and ensure they are not neglecting their duties to their employees. If you are an employer, we recommend you take some time out and sit down with a pen and paper to jot down the answers to the following questions. Allow yourself some time to really consider the questions before you answer them. Aim to complete the exercise at regular intervals, perhaps every six weeks or so.
10 questions to ask yourself
- What new challenges are my employees facing?
Consider firstly whether government guidelines have changed for your industry or business. Have such changes led to your employees working under new conditions or in a new environment? Have any employees had to change teams or working shifts, and how might that have affected them? What do you know about your employees’ lives outside of the workplace? Could the changes to their working patterns be affecting other areas of their lives, such as childcare? What processes are in place that will allow you to understand how employees are coping with these challenges?
- Have my employees been given new responsibilities or duties?
As guidelines and restrictions fluctuate from month to month, employees may have been given new tasks that they need to fulfil on a daily basis, such as maintaining hygiene standards or assisting vulnerable members of the public. Are these tasks being fulfilled adequately? Do these new tasks place any burdens on your employees from a mental – or physical – health perspective? Do any employees require further help, assistance or training with these? Again, ask yourself what you know about your employees’ lives outside of the workplace, and whether new responsibilities may be likely to compromise other areas of their lives. For example, they may live with a vulnerable person, which might cause them to be concerned about any extra interaction with the public their new responsibilities entail.
- If my employees are in a public facing role, how have members of the public been reacting towards them?
Anecdotally, we know that employees have been having to deal with a range of different emotions from members of the public. Have they been angry, or refused to wear masks? What effect has may this have had on your employees? What steps should you take to minimise the risk of distress to my employees?
- Do employees have adequate space where they can take a breather when needed?
For most workplaces, it would be impossible to have individual pods for every employee to take a break. However, if your workspace is lacking on this front, you can always create sectioned off areas where employees can take some time out. Consider whether there is space in your workplace that is not being used, and whether you can convert this into smaller, individual rest areas.
- Am I adequately supporting all levels of employees right through to senior management level?
Sure, you may have implemented measures for the general population of your workforce, but have you considered how your managerial staff are coping with new changes? How have your managers been engaging with any remote staff? Is there any further support that you can give them which could improve efficiencies? How have your IT staff been coping with the extra demands that have been placed upon them?
- What is the current review process for working arrangements and how is it working?
The questions on this list should help you in this regard. However, you should also implement regular review processes which managers can conduct of their own teams, if you haven’t already done so.
- Are my employees being kept in the loop regarding changes to their working arrangements?
You might say yes. Your employees might say differently. During the pandemic, guidelines have changed so frequently that sometimes it has been difficult to keep employees in the loop – especially when you might not know yourself yet how certain changes will affect the business. Put yourself in your employees’ shoes and think about what might concern you if you were them.
- How are these changes being communicated?
Are you thinking about all of your employees when you communicate these updates? Are you sending texts, emails, or calling your employees? Do you have an employee bulletin board or intranet? Do all employees have access to this? If you have staff who have been temporarily laid off, do they have access to their work emails? Do you have up to date contact details for all employees?
- What lines of communication are in place should employees need to raise an issue or ask a question about their working arrangements?
Do you have a HR department, or have you provided a designated contact person to deal with any queries that may arise? Some employees may be shy about raising issues, so lines of communication should be as open as possible. In practice, certain systems may prove more complex than they were originally conceived to be, so make sure that any new communications tools are being trialled properly.
- Am I aware of any potential implications regarding schools reopening – for instance, will my employees need to rearrange working hours to account for staggered drop offs and pick-ups?
Schools are also operating under new guidelines, and this may have an effect on your employees. What thought have you given to this? Is there anything that you can do to help facilitate changes? Some employees may be nervous about working with employees who are parents, due to the possibility of an increased risk of infection as children begin to socialise with one another again. How are you addressing these concerns?
The above ten topics should help you assess how you are safeguarding your employees’ wellbeing while at work. However, there are likely many other areas which may also require your attention. If you have any specific queries about these, or any other, topics, then please contact us for a confidential discussion.