Are companies giving people the confidence to return to work?

by | May 12, 2020 | News

In one of those vivid dreams that many of us seem to be having at the moment, I found myself going into my office and discovering that something was different, something wasn’t right; it felt like I was in danger! All my co-workers were looking at me and then it dawned on me. Everyone was infected with coronavirus! Just when I seemed to be the focus of a frenzied zombie-like attack, I woke up and was thankful that it was ‘just’ a dream.

That dream made me wonder what life will be like when we get back to ‘normal’. What will I feel like that first morning when I need to travel on public transport and go back into the office, populated not by zombies but other nervous co-workers?

At the time of writing, Denmark, Ireland, Germany, France and Spain have started to set out how their respective countries will lift the lockdown. Currently for the UK, Boris Johnson set out on Sunday evening how the UK will follow suit, although unsurprisingly, a few of the ‘draft’ documents had been leaked earlier in the week.

Denmark has set limits on how many workers can return to their workplace, Ireland has a great matrix setting out how they will enable social gatherings in a staged approach, some regions of Spain plan to allow small social gatherings (up to 10 people) from Monday 11th May and France has commenced raising restrictions. A full return to work must surely follow? We will have to wait to see what the full proposals are here in the UK.

There is a lot of debate about the ‘new normal’ including how home working is here to stay and the positive impact on flexible working. But how realistic is it to expect ‘the new normal’ to be just that? In reality, will the number of home workers stay the same, will large numbers be required to return to the ‘office/work environment’ or will they simply drift back anyway?

In any case, the one thing that seems to be absent from all the debate is consideration about how people will feel when they walk back into that workplace environment. To me, this is a little surprising as I feel we have spent the last decade, or more, implementing great employee branding, staff engagement policies and processes and creating great places to work and yet, (apart from physical distancing), I have seen hardly any evidence of employers thinking about how they are going to bring back their employees in a positive way with high levels of engagement.

The draft Government strategy, apparently seen by the BBC, says “additional hygiene procedures, physical screens and the use of protective equipment should be considered where maintaining distancing of 2m (6ft) between workers is impossible”. However, the section marked PPE contains only a promise that ‘more detail’ will follow. Both the British Chamber of Commerce and Union Leaders have been vocal over the past few days on how workers can safely return to work.

There will not be a single solution that gets everything back to ‘normal’ and we will need a whole host of interventions to get the economy and our workforces back on top form. In a recent news briefing Boris Johnson referred to the British people having confidence going forward but surely that needs to extend into our workplaces including having the confidence that going to work is safe and that my employer believes in my safety.

A google search for Coronavirus “Back to Work kits” produced zero results. However, during a recent chance conversation discussing how we were supporting the return to work, I discovered one Company (just one!) that had been thinking the same and was supplying ‘Back to Work’ packs (I have been reassured that none of the PPE in the pack is diverting essential NHS suppliers).

People will need the confidence to go back to work and employers should be doing all they can to assist with that confidence. So what can we do to improve that confidence, create great employee engagement and above all have safe places to work?

Please do share your thoughts on generating employee confidence to return to the workplace by writing to us at keepbritainworking@reed.com

Adrian is a Talent Acquisition and Resourcing Leader who previously led large HR & Recruitment teams in GSK, RBS, Network Rail and the UK Civil Service. He currently advises public and private organisations on achieving great hiring results. You can contact him at adrian@art1.co.uk

Note: Share your ideas with us on how you believe employers could give people the confidence to return to work and let’s #keepbritainworking!

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