Nick Carter, who leads Capital People’s HR Consultancy, considers five ways employers can support their employees this unusual New Year.
As we enter the 2021 New Year, the vaccine is offering renewed hope and many of us will be considering how the world of work will look in the months and years to come. For now, however, things are still proving difficult across the UK, with further restrictions introduced in a bid to reduce the means of Covid infections. Schools’ closures, for example, can significantly impact workers with caring responsibilities. As employers, we should maintain a focus on our employees’ wellbeing and resilience, ensuring they have the support they need to effectively carry out their duties. So, what can we do?
Our people are working at home in a pandemic, they are doing all they can to deliver. Firstly, maintain an open dialogue and clear communication with your employees, keep them updated on any new ways of working and show your empathy in these tough times. In some cases, we cannot assume our people are familiar with agile working practices or what is expected of them in this time of virtual working, so inform and educate. Take time to explain and encourage people to ask questions or look at the best ways of working to fit their personal and professional demands. Nothing better than a solution that is owned by the person who has the issue.
It is often the case that workers with caring responsibilities feel guilty for not being able to commit their full time and attention to their work due to more pressing demands. Presenteeism often causes more stress and anxiety due to unclear communication on ways of working. Discouraging presenteeism would be something to consider and opt for more output-based assessments of their work. Agility and asynchronous working are evolving rapidly and becoming widely accepted as a means of working in these unpredictable times.
It is also important to review any policies, especially those recently amended due to Covid-19, to ensure they are resilient in response to broader and emerging people issues. To future-proof your policies, consider what impact changes aregoing to have once the pandemic subsides, as there is a significant move to a hybrid way of working. Canvass your people through pulse surveys to get a good understanding of what your people are thinking which can then evidence any changes to policy or process later in the year.
The right of an employee who has 26 weeks continuous service to request flexible working remains as this is a formal mechanism, which if approved can materially change the terms and conditions of the employee’s contract. Employers have a duty to consider the request and respond within three months and it is good practice to respond as early as possible. Considering rapidly changing demands, more informal means of managing flexible working, such as trial periods or temporary arrangements may be more prudent.
The law does provide time off for dependents, but it is often used in emergency type care situations and is often unpaid (unless the employer chooses to pay). Employers could consider using the furlough scheme where applicable to assist those who have particular care or childcare responsibilities. However, they must ensure that employees are informed of the merits and address any concerns if they were to enter the scheme for a temporary period.
Line managers have a crucial role in creating the right environment for workers to talk about and highlight any issues they are experiencing. Line managers have much to contend with, but ensuring they have the appropriate skills will ensure your organisation maintains operational capability. Take time to understand your team and individuals’ baselines, it is easier then to notice differences in behavior, particularly in a virtual setting. Chat through concerns with individuals and agree on positive ways forward, attach a timeline if appropriate, and agree on points to catch up and review their situation.