Saturday 4 July will see a large number of businesses open for the first time in several months as the government continues to ease lockdown. Overall, it has been estimated that nearly two-thirds of Britons will return to the workplace by the end of August.
While this is undoubtedly a positive step forward for the economy, it will mean some organisations will potentially need to address some of the issues currently affecting employees for the first time.
Childcare, for example, may well be an issue for some employees when they re-enter the workplace. With some school-age children not due to return to the classroom until September and many childcare options still unavailable, this will need to be taken into account when planning employees’ return to the workplace.
Research published by Bright Horizons this week, for example, found that 70% of the employees surveyed would like more long-term help or support with childcare from their employer, while a further 64% expressed an interest in back-up care for family emergencies.
Further research by job board Totaljobs, meanwhile, found that 30% of respondents would like to see a strengthening of their employer’s parental leave policies post lockdown.
With many employees unable to defer returning to work or to step away from the workplace due to financial reasons, and with working from home not an option for all individuals, employers may find they are increasingly asked for support in this area. Of course, with many businesses currently struggling to survive, providing such assistance may not always be possible.
Mental wellbeing may also be a key area of focus during this initial period. The Covid-19 pandemic will have impacted all individuals differently; while some will be pleased to return to work, others may well be uncomfortable or anxious about returning, particularly if in a public-facing role. Legally, if all required safety measures have been taken and an individual chooses not to return, an employer is entitled to class this as an unauthorized absence. Providing channels for employees to access support or talk through their worries, however, may go some way to helping them address their anxieties and concerns.
Of course, in many industries, where widespread redundancies are becoming common place and organisations are battling to survive, it may be easy for employers to focus on individuals who are happy to return to the workplace. However, will this approach result in the retention of the top-performing talent pool necessary for long-term business recovery and success?
And as organisations begin to redefine and reshape both their culture and employee experience, would a more supportive approach ultimately prove more beneficial in the long-term?
As the UK continues to emerge from lockdown into the ‘new normal’, such issues will continue to arise for employers to address. In many cases, there are unlikely to be easy answers as everyone works to make sense of, and adjust to, new ways of living and working during a difficult period. Overall, the consensus seems to be that organisations which take a long-term strategic view to workforce planning and support will ultimately reap the rewards.