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Employee management in the time of COVID: How to bring your workforce with you

Gateley Legal

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The coronavirus pandemic has been swirling now for the best part of a year and all of us are suffering, to a greater or lesser extent, with pandemic-fatigue. People are concerned about their health and those of their family and friends and they are feeling the effects of isolation from social norms.

It is sometimes all too easy for employers to approach employee-management issues with their ‘business’ hat on and to forget that they have a key role to play in promoting wellbeing and bringing the workforce along with them on the rollercoaster that has been 2020 so far. 

In part one of our series, we explored some practical actions for employers and highlighted problem areas. Here, we have set out some thoughts below on areas where employers and managers can have a real impact.

Outlining a clear development and supervision plan

In the majority of working environments, employees in more junior positions learn and develop by working alongside more senior colleagues. With many workplaces adopting remote working for the foreseeable, the value of face-to-face management and development may be lost.

During the early months of lockdown, it was easy to dismiss the pandemic as a short-term ‘blip’ with the hope that life would soon return to normal, but it is now clear that this is not the case. As a business, it would be short-sighted to leave your talent-pool treading water and without a clear development and supervision plan.  These employees are your future leaders and so it is vital to keep them engaged and motivated and to maintain their progression.  Ensure that any appraisal process is continuing to operate; consider using remote management tools and engaging remote trainers to up-skill and engage your junior staff members; consider setting-up virtual vertical learning and support networks so that employees of all levels have a ‘safe space’ to raise issues and discuss problems.

Health and safety obligations as an employer

Your health and safety obligations as an employer can often be focussed on physical safety but, as the concept of ‘workplace’ has changed beyond recognition for many, employers should remember that these obligations extend to mental health as well. There is a real opportunity for leadership and investment in your workforce in this respect over the coming months. It is an area of support which can be delivered at low cost with high impact. For those whose staff are working from home consider setting up virtual ‘coffee mornings’, providing meditation and wellbeing sessions and, if possible, independent support from an employee assistance service. This sort of support is generally low-cost, visible and will be of immeasurable value in terms of employee engagement. You want to bring your workforce with you through this so that you have a strong workforce ready to hit the ground running at the point of re-emergence.    

The importance of retaining and motivating your employees

From a financial perspective, it is unlikely that many businesses will be in a position to offer financial incentives and rewards to employees during these uncertain times – the focus for most is on survival! However, it remains important to retain and motivate your employees. Businesses may have to get creative in order to do this. Longer term incentives can foster loyalty and also push the financial impact down the road to what are hopefully more positive times. Long term incentives, deferred bonuses and non-cash benefits such as additional holiday could all be considered. Remember that if you are thinking of re-writing your whole reward package you may need to consider if there are any contractual implications in so doing: are any of your current bonus or incentive arrangements a contractual entitlement? If so, the consent of affected employees may need to be sought before changing or removing them and, if this is not forthcoming, a wider programme of consultation leading to potential dismissal and re-engagement may be needed. 

We can undertake a full review of your current management systems and contractual provisions to give you confidence that you have the tools you will need to effect real and positive change within your business.

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