Jen Faichney: How have employers supported their staff during the pandemic?

Covid-19 has thrown all sorts of challenges at HR departments. From the practicalities of helping people adapt to home working, where this is feasible, to distilling government and agency health advice; all at a time when individuals and their families have been facing considerable worries and stresses about the future.

For Energy Assets, the role of responsible employer was clear. We operate to a clear set of values and this provided, and continues to provide, the framework for supporting its people through the pandemic.

Of greater concern from a personnel perspective has been the impact on the lives of people suddenly facing huge disruption in their daily routines. These are challenges that are less visible: the worries around vulnerable relatives, the need to support children emotionally and educationally, and the isolation felt by people who live alone or are coping with an underlying health condition.

Everyone is an individual and they all are part of the Energy Assets family, so from the outset we framed our support founded on staying in touch, creating opportunities for colleague engagement, opening up channels for one-to-one contact, and underlining the physical and mental health resources we had put in place through our recently launch EA Health programme.

One immediate change was the flexibility to vary working hours to fit into home routines, but we also put in place a structured contact programme for all employees, shaped around monitoring wellbeing, staying connected to colleagues and offering additional support where needed. Our CEO sent regular emails updating colleagues on developments and thanking staff for their support, which included a video message from home.

However, we also focused on the softer side of staying in touch, through a community-focused programme that was social, engaging and rewarding.

We set up ‘Wellbeing Wednesday’ to enable people to share how they were staying energised during the lockdown, which ranged from home fitness sessions and funny photos to high-octane drum routines. There were quizzes, virtual coffee mornings, clap for carers videos and a one-minute silence for the key workers lost to the virus.

We celebrated the many examples of community support by our people: personal protective equipment (PPE) delivered to a local care home by our Sheffield team, prescriptions and food parcels provided to vulnerable people.

Now, as we begin to plan our return to work, slowly and responsibly, our guiding principle is ‘Safety first – always safety first’.

We have launched an intranet with a section dedicated to Covid-19, along with comprehensive location and sector-specific return-to-work protocols, risk assessments, safety plans and training programmes for all staff.

We have a dedicated team of Covid-19 champions in place to offer guidance, while our trained mental health first aiders are ready to listen to any concerns.

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After all this collective effort, the question is, did we make a difference? We have just completed a staff survey to sense-check our response to the crisis and this showed overwhelmingly that the collective voice of our people was firmly that they felt supported, cared for and had faith that the leadership team genuinely had their best interests at heart.

Jen Faichney is head of HR at Energy Assets