The pandemic has changed the way we do a lot of things both in our personal and professional lives. On a business level, organisations have had to think about how they would accommodate mass working from home, for those sectors that can, and the HR function has played a pivotal role in transforming the way we work. Fundamentally, at the onset of the pandemic, everyone was going through the same thing on a global scale, but we are now seeing a shift.
Countries are having to decide the different types of policies and procedures to put in place according to the needs of their employees, which differ from country to country. As we now transition to a hybrid way of working, the HR department is being looked at to continue adapting its existing policies to support employees, while simultaneously looking after the business.
There are a wide variety of challenges that you as an HR professional need to consider when thinking about how the business will continue to operate moving forward, and here we will take a look at two of the factors you should be aware of when it comes to creating UK HR policies in a mid-pandemic world.
Returning to the Office
When the pandemic hit, many organisations told their employees they would indefinitely be working from home, for those sectors that were able to do so. There was no question about it, and employee safety was the number one priority. However, with serious COVID-19 cases and hospitalisation numbers in the UK now decreasing, businesses are starting to think about how they would like to see employees return to the office.
Although safety is still at the top of the agenda, business leaders must measure this against the benefits that employees may see from a return to the office, and the high rent they are paying for empty offices. A YouGov survey from earlier this year shows that most British workers (57%) want to be able to work from home after the pandemic. This figure is made up of 37% who say they want to work from home some of the time, and 20% who say they want to work from home full-time.
When deciding what your new policy will be on the return to the office, you need to consider both your employees’ wishes, and how this will benefit the business. Ask yourself questions such as, have you seen productivity fall since working from home? Have your people expressed a desire to get back in the office and collaborate? What is the positive impact the business will see on employees returning to the workplace?
UK employees often feel shy having uncomfortable conversations, so you can gauge the answers to these questions by setting up a regular pulse survey which measures employee sentiment around returning to the office. There is no doubt that we will be seeing a shift to a hybrid way of working, but it is up to you to determine how many days a week you would like your people in the workplace.
This then needs to be reflected across your policy. You can either adapt or update your existing flexible working policy, if you have one, to include hybrid working as a specific category, or introduce an entirely new hybrid working policy. Make sure to consider a range of factors when creating this guidance, including which roles are eligible for hybrid working, how it can be requested, and if there are a minimum number of days you expect employees to be in the office.
C.R. Jolly, HR Specialist at a global organisation, said that companies “should not forget to consider those for whom hybrid working will not be an option within the organisation, as they may feel that they are missing out on what could be classed as an additional benefit (for example, savings on travel to work and less commuting time).”
Overall it is critical that you maintain open communication with your employees to ensure they are brought along on the journey with you. As mentioned, this is a great way for you to continue building trust with them, and they will appreciate the smooth transition to another new way of working.
Creating Vaccine Policies
In the UK, vaccination is not mandatory and the same applies for COVID-19. Although the vaccination forms just one part of the protection against the virus, for some employees it will be the make or break factor on how comfortable they feel coming back to the workplace. There are many rules and regulations to be aware of when it comes to implementing a vaccine policy. Primarily, the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 obliges employers to take reasonable steps to reduce any workplace risks, which gives you the grounds to encourage your people to be vaccinated.
For those who don’t want the vaccine, take the time to get to know the reason, if they are willing to share it — this could be because they can’t have it on medical grounds, they refuse for religious or spiritual reasons, and those who remain uncertain due to a fear of taking it. “There is always a need to tread carefully as vaccinations aren’t mandatory and cannot be enforced. Employees shouldn’t feel railroaded into having it and ostracised if they don’t,” C.R. Jolly said.
Although it is largely up to the government and public sector campaigns to allay these concerns, HR professionals play a vital role in increasing the uptake because you are in charge of the health and safety of your employees. “The benefits of taking the vaccine should be explained gently with the aim to dispel any fears or misconceptions,” added C.R. Jolly.
Indeed, as quoted above, the most effective way to encourage employees to get the vaccine is by communicating its benefits. UK employees prefer fact-based statements and a tangible approach, so make sure you lay the benefits out clearly and concisely — this should all work in your favour when persuading your people to get the vaccine.
When it comes to developing or updating a policy on vaccination, you should take the legal aspects into account, such as respecting discrimination claims, and providing your employees with information on data protection and health and safety duties. The policy will be used to lay out how you are considering employee health and safety, so it should be an actionable document which discusses how this will be achieved.
Businesses should follow a voluntary approach when advising employees on vaccination uptake. Although this isn’t the case for all organisations, for example, care workers have until 11 November 2021 to receive their mandatory second Covid vaccine, you need to consider what is best for your business. There are legal and financial risks associated with implementing a mandatory approach, and it also does little to build trust with your people. UK employees can be less trusting of business leaders than other countries, so you need to make sure you’re using this as an opportunity to build an even stronger relationship with your people.
These are just two of the issues to consider when it comes to dealing with the pandemic’s lasting impact. Although the policy for each challenge will be different, one thing is consistent: keep your people informed throughout the process, and encourage them to ask questions and let you know how they feel. This should help to improve buy-in and make the process a whole lot simpler.