What do you need to be doing as your employees return to the workplace?
With the nation moving through the Government’s roadmap to easing COVID-19 restrictions, many employees currently working from home across the country will soon begin their return to the workplace, if they haven’t already.
Some employees will be excited to resume face-to-face contact with colleagues, customers, clients etc., whereas others will be more apprehensive, with concerns about health and safety and the uncertainty of what the ‘new normal’ will look like. The numerous national lockdowns have been hard on the nation’s mental health and have reportedly resulted in increased stress levels for the majority.
So, as an employer, what do you need to be doing as your employees return to the workplace?
Health and Safety
- Conduct health and safety risk assessments to ensure and demonstrate that the workplace is COVID secure (for example, implementing measures to ensure social distancing, suitable ventilation, and regular and suitable cleaning, with access to hand sanitiser etc. as appropriate) and that you are keeping up to date with current Government guidance.
- Communicate clearly to staff what you have done to ensure a COVID secure workplace and what plans you have to transition employees to post-COVID working arrangements, including what your plans are in relation to employee COVID-testing (and, as applicable, vaccinations).
Working Practices and Culture
- Thinking longer term, are there any changes you may need to make to the workplace to facilitate a change in working patterns or practices post-COVID (for example, hot-desking as a result of hybrid flexible working) and any changes that will also make it a calmer, more welcoming space for your staff.
- Encourage employees to take breaks from their workstation, to take time to switch off outside of working hours, and to book some annual leave.
- Encourage managers to check in regularly with their employees to identify and address issues that may arise as lockdown lifts and we transition to post-pandemic working arrangements.
- Consider whether it would be beneficial for employee wellbeing, as well as your culture and staff morale, to introduce new resources such as access to employee assistance schemes or company memberships of wellbeing reward schemes or meditation apps; and/or appoint mental health first aiders.
- Consider implementing or updating your existing policies and procedures such as: Health and Safety Policy, Stress at Work Policy, Employee Wellbeing Policy, Flexible Working Policy, Remote and/or Agile Working Policy, COVID-19 Testing Policy or Vaccination Policy; and make sure your employees know about these policies, and when they’re updated, and have easy access to them.
- Regularly review and adjust working practices where necessary or appropriate on an ongoing basis.
- Work collaboratively with any employees who are anxious about a return to the workplace. Listen to their concerns and consider whether there are any reasonable steps you can take to address those concerns (e.g. allowing some form of hybrid home working or flexing start and finish times).
- Anxiety, depression and other mental health issues could trigger the need to make reasonable adjustments under discrimination law, so take mental health issues that have arisen in lockdown seriously and, if any occupational health assessments and/or adjustments are needed, then implement them.
- Equally, any application of updated or new policies and procedures should not be on a blanket basis, as this could be discriminatory against those with protected characteristics. The impact of such policies and procedures on each employee should therefore be considered individually and adjusted as appropriate.