With businesses across the country now being being encouraged to reopen workplaces to employees who cannot work from home, HR will be required to manage the needs of employees with particular circumstances that make it difficult or impossible for them to return to work, such as health concerns, childcare or transport issues.

Applying a blanket approach to all employees will not be appropriate, and a return to work challenge for HR managers will need to be addressed and reassure a possible anxious workforce of the new “norm”.  To top it all off, HR Managers will be expected to forecast and realise graduated return plans for the workforce and also workout complicated flexible, furlough pay.

Employee Mental Health and Wellbeing

Although this is an ongoing, extremely important factor in the workplace, never has it been so challenging since the coronavirus outbreak started.  A high level of anxiety about returning to our lives and work, in a safe manner, is to be expected and understood.

Many may have a lot of mixed feelings about coming back to work – it may be exciting and something staff have wished for or they may be angry and full of uncertainty that they are being forced back too fast and this another return to work challenge for HR Managers to overcome.

An Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is a service provided by an employer as a benefit and is a worthwhile resource to tap into. Professionally trained consultants are available to help with a multitude of issues that may be affecting your employees personal or work life.

As a HR Manager taking time to check in with your teams and be aware of the possible mental health challenges in returning to work.  Thinking about ways you might be able to reconnect with colleagues within the rules – socially distanced walks or meet-ups are good ways to start thinking about work again.

Adapting to Change

Adapting to the new normal – The “new normal” is a phrase that employers are becoming familiar with, but we are all uncertain as to what that new normal will be and how it will effect us.  Although most realise that a change is unavoidable, adjusting to this will take time.

Some employees have embraced the chance to work from home and have enjoyed the flexibility that this has offered.  Others have missed the structure and workplace culture and interaction with colleagues.  As a manger, you will need to recognise individual needs and changes and work accordingly to alleviate concerns.

What HR Managers  must not do is dismiss any requests for flexible working.  These requests will be more challenging as the employer’s who have a view about how they want their company to run, may differ from the employee’s view. More importantly many employees will be able to prove that working alternatives do actually work and therefore organisations may find it more challenging than before to decline requests.

Annual Leave

Employers, employees and workers should be as flexible as they can about holiday during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and also staff returning after furlough. It’s a good idea to talk about any plans to use or cancel holiday during coronavirus as soon as possible and discuss why holiday might need to be taken or cancelled and to listen to any concerns, either from staff or the employer.

The government has introduced a temporary new law allowing employees and workers to carry over up to 4 weeks’ paid holiday into their next 2 holiday leave years. This law applies for any holiday the employee or worker does not take because of coronavirus, for example if they are self-isolating or too sick to take holiday before the end of their leave year or if they’ve had to continue working and could not take paid holiday.

“Reasonableeness” is a key word that we would encourage employers to think about. For example, it’s no good having a blanket approach to cancel everyone’s leave post Covid lockdown, if employees stand to lose thousands or have a special holiday planned.  Equally, to make everyone take leave if they are saving it for a special occasion later on, could also be seen as unreasonable.

Health and Safety

Another return to work challenge for HR Manager is of course health and safety within the workplace. Whilst we all understand a need for heightened measures, the actual practicalities of this will differ from one organisation to another. Space will play a huge part in this and as an employer, you must protect people from harm. This includes taking reasonable steps to protect your workers and others from coronavirus. This is called a risk assessment and it’ll help you manage risk and protect people.

Some of the practical measures could include putting in place social distancing measures, staggering shifts and of course providing additional handwashing facilities. Communication is key and by consulting and involving people in the steps you are taking to manage the risk of coronavirus in your workplace you can successfully explain the changes you are planning.

The need to work safely and make sure the changes will work will be helped by employees offering their ideas and feeling a part of that change, to enable you to continue to operate your business safely during the outbreak and afterwards.

Managing People

Finally, actually managing people at this time of uncertainty, when people are anxious, coupled with the fact that businesses are trying to survive, we have found  it is not unusual for employers to have a short fuse with employees.  After all, employers are anxious and worried about losing their businesses just as employees are anxious and worried about catching Covid 19 or losing their jobs.

Employers should always be reasonable in their approach and ensure that they think through and exhaust all options before making any final decisions, especially if this is to take disciplinary action or potentially make the move to make redundancies.

For more advice and assistance in overcoming any return to work challenges for HR Managers, please contact us here call us on 03333 660567 where our team of specialists are on hand to help.