The coronavirus pandemic has caused a wealth of anxiety for employees in terms of job security, money, health and wellbeing, as well as the mental toll of being separated from family and friends.
With UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announcing that pubs and hairdressers among other businesses can reopen from July 4, more staff will be returning to work next week if they can’t do their role remotely.
This news comes as research from Cartridge Save found that a third of UK employees are scared of returning to work, claiming they don’t feel it is safe to go back.
While ten per cent of survey respondents thought it was too soon to return, they felt that they had to go back for financial reasons.
The data unearthed that those aged between 45 and 54-years-old were the most afraid of returning to work.
The UK Government’s response to the pandemic and the subsequent advice that has been issued was also said to have hugely affected people during this testing time.
Three per cent of respondents thought that the threat of the pandemic had gone, while 44% admitted that they didn’t know how they felt about the prospect of returning to work.
Ian Cowley, Managing Director at Cartridge Save, said: “The Government may be easing lockdown rules, but we’re still fully committed to protecting the health and wellbeing of our team. And for us, this means continuing to work from home.”
The fears that some staff hold were corroborated by Bupa Health Clinics research which found that as many as 65% of people in the UK are anxious about returning to the office.
Cover Magazine reported that the most common concern for returning staff was around appropriate social distancing measures in the workspace (46%).
In addition, Cartridge Save’s study also polled HR professionals to find out how they felt about returning to work. Beth Williams-Lally, HR Manager from Algeos, told Cartridge Save that it is important to consider how employees are treated and how they will feel towards their employer in the long-run.
“It’s not an easy task running a company in this era, ensuring the safety of your employees and trying to ensure the survival of your business. I’m hearing a variety of experiences across my HR community and it’s clear compassion, flexibility, communication, clarity and transparency are key,” Williams-Lally added.
If employees are afraid of returning to work, and don’t feel that their employer has taken all of the necessary steps to make the workplace safe, then this is a cause of concern for HR departments.
Acas updates guidance on the return to work
The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) has updated its coronavirus guidance to include HR best practice around facilitating a safe return to work.
The website said that, where possible, staff should continue working from home if they can and that employers should consult with staff about when they can return to the workplace.
Planning the return to work
Employers should consult with staff and consider their thoughts and concerns when returning to work. Each employee will likely have different worries and situations to deal with.
Trade union representatives, employee representatives and health and safety representatives should also be involved in talks.
Employers should be mindful of any agreements that they have with trade unions or employee representatives to see if they need to formally consult them.
Creating a safe workplace
Ensuring that the workplace is safe for staff to return should be a top priority for employers. Therefore, Acas said that employers must carry out thorough ‘risk assessments’ and take reasonable steps to prevent it, as well as adhering to the UK Government’s COVID-secure guidelines.
In addition, the guidance shares information on how to communicate these plans with staff, particularly if they are anxious about going back.