Workingmums.co.uk has been running virtual roundtables with employers for the last few months, with the aim of sharing best practice. We’ve covered everything from diversity and inclusion – including the impact of Black Lives Matter on this – to mental well being, the impact of Covid on gender in the workplace and older workers. There have been some amazing examples of initiatives given that show employers are really trying to figure out how best to support their employees in very difficult times.
What has been most impressive, though, is the thought and effort that has gone into what they are doing. Many HR teams have pulled out all the stops, encouraging team leaders to regularly check in with people on an individual basis, providing communications channels, intranet pages and webinars, doing endless pulse surveys to gauge how people are feeling and generally engaging with staff. Many have been very flexible and have recognised the individual challenges workers might be facing. Even so, there are challenges as employers have to consider redundancies, who to bring back from furlough and who not and, for frontline services, virtual onboarding as demand has risen.
And we still have six months – or more? – to go of this uncertainty. At the same time as we listen to and report on best practice, workingmums.co.uk is only too aware that the pressures of the Covid situation are not equally shared. Some employers have been able to function more or less as normal while others have not even been able to reopen and are now being declared ‘unviable’ even though they were doing fine before the pandemic and will do again after the pandemic.
There are also many examples of poor practice emerging. We have been receiving a lot of requests for advice from our employment and HR experts and we anticipate this will keep rising. We have heard, for instance, of employers being extremely inflexible. One mum just wanted to be able to move her lunch hour because her after school care was not open so she could pick up her son. The employer said that would create a precedent. What happened if everyone wanted to move their lunch hour to 3pm? The best employers absolutely recognise the need to take each request on its merits. They realise that each employee will be facing different challenges and that they need to flex to help them, particularly now.
What has become abundantly clear is the big gap between those employers who are engaging with employees, explaining decisions, working with them, and those who adopt a more command and control, top down approach. The latter perhaps works in the short term, but it is surely not sustainable in the long term if you want to keep any kind of experienced workforce and improve productivity. After all this is over, despite the likelihood of a labour surplus, a motivated team will be one of the keys to survival and fear is surely not as motivating as a sense of team spirit.
In the same sense that there is a divide between those employers who are engaging with staff and those who aren’t, there is also a divide opening up between certain employees, for instance, those who have been furloughed and those who haven’t. A report by the Boston Consulting Group yesterday showed furloughed employees feel not as valued by their employers. That needs to be addressed. Employers in our roundtables have spoken about getting furloughed employees to speak together about their experiences so they gain trust and speak honestly. A second session follows where employees are mixed up and a session leader draws out the different emotions they may be feeling, from furloughed workers feeling less valued to non-furloughed workers resenting those who have been paid to stay at home so everyone understands where people are coming from. The idea was that these kinds of feelings are better aired and confronted so that teams can rebuild and move forwards.
Many things will be learned from Covid and there will be many consequences which will require action, including from Government which has a vital role as a regulator of good practice. We need to be aware of them so that we can address them and make the case for better ways of working in the future.