How best can I bring staff back to work?

With business and the economy reopening in the coming months, you will soon begin to return your employees to the workplace.

When that happens, it’s only natural that some staff will have reservations about returning.

There are, however, steps you can take to alleviate their fears. Here, we look at what you can do to make the return to work that bit easier.

Reassure staff your workplace is safe
There are many ways you can go about reassuring staff that your workplace is safe.

The number one way to do this is to align your health & safety policies with the recently updated Work Safely Protocol. The Protocol includes guidance on ventilation, vaccinations, and antigen testing, new areas of importance identified during the pandemic.

There are also other basic preventative measures you need to implement and communicate to staff, such as:

  • Physical distancing.
  • The use of sanitiser and masks.
  • Co-hosting teams or working in pods.
  • Ensuring the workspace is well ventilated.
  • Regular cleaning and disinfecting of workspace.

When communicating what needs to be done to employees, be as transparent as possible. Being open will build trust and confidence during what could be a difficult period for many. 

Understand why an employee may be reluctant  
First things first, get the root cause of why an employee may be reluctant to return.  

Jumping straight into disciplinary proceedings could strain work relationships or leave you losing some of your best people. If your employee is hesitant due to safety concerns, they could even claim for unfair or constructive dismissal.   

Talk to your reluctant employee and see what’s giving them second thoughts about returning to the workplace. What you can do to alleviate their concerns will depend on what the issue is...  

The employee is clinically vulnerable
If the employee in question has a serious health condition, it’s understandable if they’re anxious. 

They’ll want to be sure every precaution is taken, and you can help them. That might mean allowing them to work remotely to reduce risks in the workplace that they’re concerned about. 

The employee is worried about catching coronavirus
A common worry people have at present is catching coronavirus or passing it onto others. One way you can reassure, and involve your staff, is to conduct a COVID-19 risk assessment. In doing so, you can identify particular risks they’re concerned about and gain an understanding of their specific worries e.g., an employee worrying about crowding if everyone arrives at work all at once. To put their mind at ease, you could stagger shifts.  

Once your risk assessment is complete, share it with your team. Being transparent about your health & safety measures should ease worries about returning.  

The employee prefers working from home or has children
According to the Second Annual National Remote Working Survey, over 95% of workers now favour some form of remote working. Fewer than 5% want a full-time return to the office…

That means it might be time to consider ‘hybrid’ working. Hybrid working would allow employees to split their time between the office and the home, creating a schedule both employer and employee are happy with. This could be particularly beneficial to working parents or those with caring responsibilities.

Regarding parents, those who stayed home with their children during lockdown would have seen the savings they could make on childcare. While hybrid working is one option, you could also consider offering flexible remote work during school holidays. This has the added benefit of preventing annual leave issues as parents won’t need to rush to book the same days off.  

Consider a phased return to work
You may consider phasing employees back in small numbers to help you comply with certain Protocol measures. At first, that could include those you deem “essential”, perhaps managers or those who perform critical functions.

Spacing each returning cohort by two weeks will help identify any issues before your workplace returns to full capacity. You might also consider a flexible approach where possible by offering graduated or part-time returns.