Anxiety set to rise
While the recently imposed restrictions are vital to help prevent the spread of coronavirus, Peter Cheese, Chief Executive of the CIPD, has stated that this could lead to a dramatic rise in anxiety and stress levels among employees.
“With home working likely to be the default for many for another six months, employers must recognise that isolation and anxiety could become an issue for some of their workers,” he explained.
Due to this, Cheese believes that managers should increase communication with teams in order to track employees’ wellbeing from afar.
He continued: “To counter this, they should ensure managers are regularly checking in with their teams, are asking about their wellbeing and signposting to support services where necessary.
“It is also inevitable that these measures will further restrict business activity, particularly in sectors such as leisure, hospitality and transport. This is why there is a very strong case for the Government to consider extending the furlough scheme – but with a focus on supporting the hardest hit sectors.”
APSCo responds: 'Will impact business confidence'
In light of Boris Johnson’s announcement to the House of Commons that office workers should ‘stay at home if they can’, Samantha Hurley, Operations Director at the Association of Professional Staffing Companies (APSCo) commented:
“This year has certainly been tough for everyone and for staffing companies that have been hard hit during the original lockdown restrictions, this latest announcement will undoubtedly be of some concern. Our members were beginning to see green shoots of business activity over the last month as some normality resumed once again, with many returning to the office in some form. This move to remote working without a clear outline of support from the Government for already struggling companies will likely impact business confidence in an already difficult economy.”
“Unfortunately, this uncertainty looks set to remain for the immediate future at least as the Government tackles the spread of the virus. APSCo will continue to support its members with resources, guidance and updates as further developments emerge over the next few months.”
‘The PM’s message is clear’
An employment partner has said that the Prime Minister’s work from home message is clear.
Speaking to HR Grapevine, Nikola Southern, Employment Partner at Kingsley Napley, said that workers who aren’t able to complete their job from home should continue to attend central workspaces – which employers are now legally required to make ‘COVID-secure’.
Southern explained: “Given today’s announcement (and the sharp rise in positive cases of COVID-19), employees may be in a stronger position to refuse to return to the workplace, asserting a reasonable belief that there is a serious and imminent danger to their health if they do.
“Dismissing employees who refuse to return to work citing such concerns would potentially be unfair, leading to uncapped compensation.
“Whilst City firms may be able to adapt to working from home on a more permanent basis, this, combined with other recently announced restrictions and the end of the furlough scheme, will inevitably lead to job cuts in sectors like travel and hospitality in particular,” Southern added.
The legal expert warned that employers should tread carefully when making decisions around the return to workplaces, as well as redundancies, to avoid potential claims such as discrimination.
‘Fairness’ is a top concern for employees
As businesses now consider the impact of a second wave of COVID-19, and with the UK Government now encouraging people to work from home if they can, new research has found that ‘fairness’ is a top concern for employees.
According to a recent webinar poll of 102 people in 64 companies by HSM – across 30 countries including the UK – 37% are concerned about how caring responsibilities are factored into job performance, while 24% are worried about who should be in the office, verses who should stay at home.
This news comes as employers grapple with decisions about how and when to bring staff members back to the office.
Professor Lynda Gratton, Founder of HSM and Professor of Management Practice at London Business School, told HR Grapevine: “We know few people want to go back to pre-COVID days. A lot of research (including ours) has shown that flexibility is one of the main benefits of this new way of working.
“At the same time, we are now in a recession and there is a microscope on costs and productivity.
“Managers are facing many dilemmas and questions around how they manage flexibility, how they acknowledge caring responsibilities, the role of automation for certain tasks and home working versus office productivity.”
Prime Minister's statement
Johnson has confirmed that Brits should work from home if they can, in an address to MPs at the House of Commons today.
He said that office workers in England are being asked to work from home, yet if people needed to go into central workspaces to carry out their role they should.
Johnson said that staff working in retail and indoor hospitality venues will now have to wear masks. The same applies to taxis.
In addition, COVID-secure workplace rules will become a legal obligation for employers to follow.
Fines for failing to wear a mask or breaching the ‘rule of six’ will be doubled. These measures apply in England.
The Prime Minister also said that new restrictions would likely remain in force for six months.
Brits are set to be told to ‘work from home if you can’ as part of new measures to curb a second wave of COVID-19.
The Metro reported that UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, is expected to scrap his ‘back to work’ initiative when he shares plans later today on tackling increasing rates of the virus.
This news comes as the Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, has warned that the UK could see 50,000 new COVID-19 cases per day by mid-October, the BBC reported.
In an interview with Sky News, Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove explained that there will be a ‘shifting emphasis’ in the Government’s work from home advice.
Ahead of today’s announcement, he said: “They are reluctant steps that we’re taking, but they’re absolutely necessary because as we were reminded yesterday and as you’ve been reporting, the rate of infection is increasing, the number of people going to hospital is increasing, therefore we need to act.”
In August 2020, employers were given greater ‘discretion’ to return staff members to central locations.
New restrictions set to be announced today
Johnson is set to chair an emergency Cobra meeting and give a statement to the House of Commons before addressing the nation at 8pm tonight.
Tonight’s broadcast, according to Number 10, will be about “further ways we will confront the virus in line with the latest scientific advice, and the role everyone can continue to play in tackling the spread, including by following the social distancing guidance, wearing face coverings and washing hands regularly”.
A 10pm curfew on pubs, restaurants and bars in England - which will be table service only - is said to be, among other things, one of the restrictions that will be announced later today.
A Downing Street Spokesperson said that no one underestimates the “challenges” that the new measures will present to both businesses and individual people.
“We know this won’t be easy, but we must take further action to control the resurgence in cases of the virus and protect the NHS,” the Spokesperson added.
Santander’s former Future of Work Director shares insights on first lockdown
The first set of lockdown measures posed huge challenges to employers around the world which saw businesses permanently close and some employees lose their jobs.
With statistics from Simply Business highlighting that one-fifth of UK SMEs don’t think they can survive the impact of a second lockdown, it is crucial that they, in particular, build up resilience.
The FSC Advisor and former Director of the Future of Work at Santander, Hema Bakhshi, has shared insights on how the first lockdown period permitted more flexible attitudes to working.
Bakhshi told HR Grapevine: "You are always cognisant that things are going to change, but you never know how these changes are going to manifest. It is therefore important to foster this idea and allow yourself to be open-minded so that you can be responsive to change. I would say that this is much more important than focussing on predicting outcomes or trying to anticipate what is around the corner.
“We’ve long anticipated a change in attitude to work. Technology is constantly evolving, so really it was inevitable that this would impact the approaches we have towards our working lives.
“The impact of lockdown was certainly unexpected but it showed that, when needed, we do have the technology and facilities required to cope with seismic shifts to our lives. Subsequently, we are witnessing the evolution of corporate work before our eyes. People are becoming far more creative in how they both value the world and the work they generate. As result, the world is rapidly shifting away from the culture of a 9-5."