July 20, 2021 Flexibility and empathy; managing the return to work
“England’s freedom day marked by public restraint.” That headline comment from the Financial Times perfectly summed up the mood of the nation as various Covid regulations were set aside. Whilst some embraced the new freedoms others were more wary, preferring to retain their masks or continuing to embrace social distancing guidelines.
In all honesty, after more than a year of restrictions there was never going to be an instant reversion to pre-pandemic ways of life. It’s said that certain life events such as marriage, moving house, or even a holiday can make people question their priorities. It is inevitable that the pandemic will have done the same.
Perhaps it is of little surprise therefore that a survey commissioned by Acas revealed that 55% of employers expect to see a post-pandemic increase in staff working from home or remotely at least part of the time. The same survey revealed that 49% of employers expected to see an increase in full time home working.
In response to the survey Acas commented that: “hybrid working can help businesses attract and retain staff as well as increase staff productivity as the flexibility allows them to balance work and personal responsibilities.” However, they cautioned that employers looking to offer hybrid working should do so in a fair and open manner. Their suggestions include consulting widely with staff over the nature of a hybrid working policy, taking into account considerations such as technological and safety challenges, and ensuring that those working from home are not excluded from training and development opportunities.
Whether or not home working is available, employers might do well to draw up return to work protocols. These can be constructed along similar lines to those used following illness or maternity leave. In their return to work advice, CIPD make the point that some workers may well be worried about returning to the workplace; requiring reassurance about ongoing covid-safe protocols or, particularly for furloughed workers, needing help to readjust to the world of work.
When drawing up return to work protocols, remember that for some the past year may have been particularly traumatic, perhaps having to cope with the death of a loved one or taking on additional caring responsibilities. Some, as well, may be suffering from long covid symptoms and therefore may require additional occupational health or other forms of support.
Managing the return to work therefore requires a measure of flexibility and empathy. And we should also consider a final word of advice from CIPD: “Whatever policies you adopt for your business, you should make sure that they are effectively communicated to staff before they return to ‘normal’ working.”