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Managing people returning to work

Sir Cary Cooper, 50th Anniversary Professor of Organisational Psychology and Health, shares his views on what organisations need to be doing now to prepare staff for the return to work.

One: Re-induction sessions

Most people are still going to be working from home for the foreseeable future and will only come into the workplace when absolutely necessary. But just because staff are not physically in the office doesn’t mean that employers shouldn’t be explaining how they are going to manage them now and in the future. Organisations should run ‘return to work’ sessions with all staff outlining how they are going to deal with social distancing, personal protective equipment (PPE) for staff, and dealing with customers and suppliers.

Two: Social distancing

To maintain social distancing employers have to think seriously about how they are going to manage meetings and interviews, and what to do about communal areas such as canteens and staff rooms.

One option will be to stagger times when employees are in the office, while all meetings should remain virtual for the time being to minimise risks. PPE such as gloves, masks and anti-viral gel needs to be widely available. Reducing business travel both within and between countries to minimise the risks to your employees is another obvious option - much of this contact should be done virtually.

Three: Keep furloughed staff in touch

If you have furloughed staff it is important that you keep them involved in the business so that they still feel part of the team - even if you are not able to reassure them that their job is safe when the furlough period ends. Don’t withhold information, be open and transparent, communicate regularly with everyone. Be open and honest about the situation and engage workers in the decision-making that may affect their job.

Four: Watch workloads

Ensure workloads are not excessive and are achievable, and don’t overload people - especially if staff numbers are reduced in the business. Ensure deadlines are achievable and create a climate of trust and value for all in these insecure times. Remember that a recession is on its way so you need to support staff and make them feel valued. Particularly watch out for presenteeism. People who feel insecure in their jobs will try and work longer hours, come into work when they’re ill, and be sending emails all hours of the night and at weekends.

Five: Protect vulnerable staff

Organisations much protect those staff, such as those with serious medical conditions, who will be forced to continue to self-isolate even when the lockdown is lifted. You also need to protect those who have suffered bereavement as a result of the pandemic. Treat them with respect and find ways to support them.

Six: Recognise stress

Stress levels are likely to be high among many staff due to a range of factors such as job insecurity, their financial situation at home, and health concerns. Train line managers to recognise the symptoms of stress and ensure they have regular meetings with employees who are both working from home and who are now coming into the office.

Seven: Health and wellbeing

Looking after the health and wellbeing of staff who may have challenging issues at home such as juggling childcare and home-schooling, or maybe have financial worries if one partner is laid off, requires that EAPs (Employee Assistance Plans) or counselling or support is provided by the organisation. This can be difficult for SMEs to provide, but organisations must have an infrastructure available to help if people are not coping.

Blog posts give the views of the author, and are not necessarily those of Alliance Manchester Business School and The University of Manchester.

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