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In the wake of the pandemic, we have held HR Groups across a variety of sectors to discuss the ongoing challenges faced by employers.

Here we explore the key agenda items emerging from those discussions, across sectors including Property and Construction Consultancies, Facilities Management, Mechanical and Electrical, Housing Associations, Residential Care and Healthcare, Water, Electricity Generation and Professional Associations and Institutes.

1. Employee wellbeing

All employers indicate an increased focus on the mental and physical wellbeing of their people. Some employers quoted holding a ‘Wellbeing Day’ to keep in touch, whilst virtual summer socials have offered an alternative way for organisations to try and maintain a collegiate approach and overcome the risk of fatigue from such a hiatus from the workplace. A greater focus has been placed on employee wellbeing, with monthly ‘wellbeing Wednesdays’ quoted and granting employees access to digital GPs and Mental Health first aiders.

Wellbeing is also being reviewed more holistically. Finance is a key area in which employers have increasingly offered support, for example utilising Salary Finance and Hardship funds. Other employers have also run monthly pulse surveys and offered access to websites and applications to support their employees facing the challenges of home schooling. Many have paid for employees’ equipment to work from home, with Facilities Management employers in particular discussing the importance of providing adequate facilities.

A key focus for many Care providers is their employees’ mental health. They fear that there will be a delayed reaction surfacing over the next few months, as many employees are understandably focused on the task in hand and on the residents they are caring for, not on themselves; Wellbeing Portals have provided a positive resource for employees.

Sickness levels have been quite low throughout lockdown. People could work from home, so why phone in sick? Others attributed this to presenteeism at home, but some employers reported that backache and headaches attributable to home working had become more prevalent. This is in contrast to March/April where people self-isolating pushed sickness levels up. Many are revising their sick pay policies to ensure people self-isolate in the coming autumn and can work from home if they are cautious about travelling to the office. Some employers have extended full sick pay from one to two weeks to cover the 14-day isolation period.

2. Employee communications

Strong senior-level communications may now be routinely expected. Bi-weekly or weekly CEO catch-ups, Senior Team virtual meetings and virtual Q&As have been offered across a variety of sectors. Some employers noted that their employee engagement scores have improved and suggest this is a direct result of the level of communication provided by senior management, uniting the workforce. For some it has highlighted the need for line management training, emphasising the importance of Line Managers being responsive to the teams they manage, particularly to address the lack of trust placed in employees working remotely.

Communications are also managing the process of returning to work. Employers have created videos to talk employees through revised safety features in the office, which has prompted some employees to become upset due to the emotional connection they have with work. For many, this brought the realisation that they are not returning to the work environment they are familiar with for the time being.

3. Pay trends

Many organisations already had their pay review this year between January and April, whilst some employers delayed pending their Q2 results. Many warn that tough trading conditions over this period will impact next year’s review. The effects of Covid-19 saw some employers impose a pay or hours reduction, which have mostly been restored in June or July.

Employee recognition remains a current and future focus for organisations, particularly for those who have had to work throughout the pandemic, with employers looking at different ways to acknowledge all they have done.

Some companies have paused their bonus payments until later in the year, whilst others have reduced or cancelled payments. Long-term service awards are widely used and many are turning to Total Reward Statements to underline the additional benefits they offer in times of constrained pay increases.

4. Defining the ‘new normal’

A return to the office

Protective measures vary from staggered hours and booking systems introduced to manage office capacity, to the introduction of ‘Covid wardens’ to monitor the effectiveness of health and safety measures. One customer is taking the opportunity to do an office refit, delaying a physical return to the office until the new year. Deep cleaning is reported, alongside one-way system offices.

Across the board, childcare considerations may hamper plans for any full return for the time being, whilst others report a reticence by employees to return for the moment. Some sectors are set to address the challenges this raises in the long-term with open conversations about their employee status, for example considering contracting.

Many feel there will be a ‘new normal’ in place from September and are working towards this through a staged return to the workplace. Many employers are focusing on opening for one or two days for the moment without pushing anyone into this. Introducing further safety measures and conducting risk assessments are in progress, with some considering how to manage high risk groups, where in employees with underlying health issues make their return to work difficult.

Flexible working

Once a key benefit, lockdown imposed flexible working across all sectors. Some see this as the opportunity to effect long-term positive change. Agile working has been widely discussed, with many employees pushing for greater access to more flexible arrangements.

Others are reviewing the use of office space – perhaps only needing employees to physically go to offices for collaborative projects and requiring the rest of work to be done at home. Employers are reviewing policies for smart working but are wary that it may take time for managers to accept greater levels of flexible working even after this period. Many employers have noted that this has been a stressful period for employees, as they use surveys to gauge views on what future ways of working to offer that employees will value.

5. The impact of furlough

Some employers have noted tensions between different employee groups (such as field-based and home workers) and those who have been furloughed and those who have not. Reintegrating furloughed employees, some of whom have reported feeling ‘unwanted’, is a key focus in order to minimise the impact on morale and the wider culture, whilst some have reported an ‘us’ versus ‘them’ mentality which has developed.

Others have tried to redeploy people to stem the need for furloughing, a practice particularly reported by Housing Associations. A number of employers reported not furloughing people as a way of building trust during these tumultuous times. Of the limited roles that some did furlough, most have come back over July/August.

Restructuring is a key focus for many organisations to weather the impact of coronavirus, as productivity levels remain impacted. Employers are reviewing redundancies, but many are trying to make operational efficiencies into the autumn, to balance the books in other ways. Other companies are reviewing internal efficiencies by aligning the terms and conditions into consistent policies; reducing the number of pension schemes; improving the accuracy of management information; and reviewing their grading and pay structure.

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If we can help shape your approach to any of the pressing HR agenda items you are tackling, give us a call today.

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