Sponsor segment – Returning to the workplace

Thursday 10 June 2021

New freedoms and the COVID-19 vaccination rollout are prompting employees and employers to consider if, how, and when to return to the workplace. 

Over the past 14 months many have juggled the challenges of working, alongside childcare, caring responsibilities, home schooling and maintaining a work and home life delineation.

Around 60% of the UK is currently working from home but now employers are planning return to work strategies that will change the habits of employees adopted in the crisis. 

Overwhelmingly, organisations are favouring a flexible future, continuing with their working from home policies and considering alternative working styles. Salesforce has announced a ‘work from anywhere’ policy based on feedback from their employees. At least 90% of HR leaders said they plan to allow employees to continue working remotely, at least part time, post-vaccination.

The benefits of agile working are proven. If executed well, productivity can increase, costs (for everyone) can decrease, organisations can access a wider talent pool when recruiting, carbon footprints are reduced, and more elements of the elusive work/life balance can be realised.

There are, however, negatives. Ineffective management can lead to employees feeling isolated and disconnected from colleagues, and overly prescriptive management can lead to employees feeling they are not trusted. Workers may lose their corporate identity and operate outside of organisational scope and direction, creating a risk for an employer that’s difficult to rectify at a distance.

Return to work timeline

There remain many unknowns. The country is cautiously exiting lockdown and not all organisations will make concrete decisions on future work states until the vaccination programme is completed and restrictions are lifted.

One approach is to return employees in waves in a stepped programme, gradually increasing numbers in line with the Government’s COVID-19 roadmap out of lockdown. Although as government decisions are based on data, not dates, and these milestones may shift, so return to work or hybrid working plans need to be flexible. Employers need to be mindful of the risks related to commuting to and from work and recognise that some employees will be anxious and may be resistant to return.

Vaccination

Employers should encourage their workforces to be vaccinated. They are supported in this stance through imposed duties under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, which obliges employers to take reasonable steps to reduce workplace risks.

Employers should also recognise that while many employees welcome the opportunity to be vaccinated; others may be more hesitant. In some cases this may be due to medical, religious, or spiritual reasons.

As part of their approach to vaccination, organisations may want to consider whether it is appropriate or morally justified to ask employees if they have received the vaccine. Most organisations are adopting a non-mandatory position.

The Government has refreshed its ‘non-mandatory’ stance to vaccination. A consultation by the Department for Health and Social Care is inviting views on whether the COVID-19 vaccination should be mandatory for those working in certain care related roles. The outcome could have implications on employment contracts and recruitment processes across the care sector.

The past year has led us into unfamiliar territory. Organisations should use their response to the health emergency as an opportunity to reflect on operating models to ensure theirs is fit for purpose as restrictions are lifted.

Ashley Easen (ashley.easen@rmpartners.co.uk) is Director of Risk Control at Risk Management Partners. Ashley has been supporting public sector clients to raise defensibility, improve their risk profiles, strengthen safety standards and reduce their total cost of risk for over 20 years.  

 

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