Why employers need to step up engagement after Covid

Peninsula HR has been very busy during the pandemic as employers, particularly SMEs, have sought help in a very challenging situation. In the first of three articles on some of the issues facing smaller businesses, Kate Palmer talks about decisions around returning to the workplace or not.

Woman holding hand to ear


Employers need to be careful about how they approach the issue of hybrid or office working with the number of grievances rising, according to an HR expert.

Kate Palmer, HR Advice and Consultancy Director at Peninsula HR,  says that now is “a very challenging time” for employers, particularly smaller employers. While redundancies have fallen in recent months [but could rise when furlough ends this month], she is hearing of more grievances and allegations of discrimination.

“There is a feeling of general unrest related to how people have been treated on furlough and about returning to the workplace,” she says, predicting that conflict in the workplace will be a major trend in the next months. Palmer expects tribunal cases to “rocket”, although the back log in the system might put some people off or increase pressure to settle beforehand.

There has also, she says, been a definite increase in people resigning. “People have realised over the pandemic that they want to move on,” she says. This is, and will continue to be, a problem for employers as people choose to change jobs more and the number of skills shortages and unfilled vacancies rises. It is already particularly acute in areas such as hospitality and logistics, but, says Palmer, it is and will be a problem generally.

That will mean employers have to be more creative about how they get people through the door and attempt to stand out from the crowd. That means a more engaging website, a focus on corporate social responsibility issues, on people and culture and a depth and warmth in the recruitment and onboarding process.

“Every business has to step up,” says Palmer. She recognises that it is difficult for SMEs who haven’t got the resources of larger companies, but says it is about the everyday things, working conditions, thanking people for a job well done and so forth.  “It’s the fundamental things – how you treat people and knowing your team, what makes them tick, showing them that you care, being firm but fair… – that make the difference,” she adds.


When it comes to anxiety about returning to the workplace, it is all about sitting down and having conversations with individuals to “get under the skin” of what might be making them anxious rather than just ploughing forwards. She says that through knowing what the barriers are, employers can seek to address or alleviate them. For instance, they could suggest just coming in for a day to meet colleagues, they could keep all their Covid safety measures such as masks, distancing and one-way systems to reassure people and they could step back and really think about remote working.

Does everyone need to return to the workplace, have individuals worked just as effectively or more effectively, will you lose someone if you don’t offer remote working…”There is no one size fits all approach,” says Palmer.

She is very much aware that talk about remote working is polarising, as so many Covid-related issues are. “You can’t please everyone,” she says, “but you need to listen to people, reflect and explain your decisions candidly.”

*Next week: the end of furlough and making hybrid working work

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