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The way forward? Back to work and the business battle with COVID-19

The slow easing of lockdown in this next stage of the COVID-19 pandemic, calls for bold thoughts and actions by business leaders and owners.

The slow easing of lockdown in this next stage of the COVID-19 pandemic, calls for bold thoughts and actions by business leaders and owners. Tom Peters back in 2003, in his book “Re-imagine! Business Excellence in a Disruptive Age”(1), discussed how business leaders needed to become more collegiate and overcome organisational barriers to inspire workplace innovation and change. His book back then, was a passionate wake-up call for the business world to re-imagine business enterprises and institutions, both public and private. This challenge is now even more relevant, as the UK faces an economic precipice as a result of COVID-19, and now needs to manage the slow release of the economic and social lockdown.

The questions that need to be asked are: “What do businesses need in order for them to be catalysts for change? How do they engage with their people to bring about this dynamic change?”

The advice currently from Government is for those employees who can work from home to continue to do so, but they have also announced plans for eight sectors about their return to the workplace. This sector specific guidance covers construction and other outdoor work such as garden centres, warehouses, labs and research facilities, offices, contact centres and similar indoor environments. The remaining guidance addresses working in other people’s homes, restaurants offering takeaway or delivery, shops and similar environments and people who work in or from vehicles, including couriers and lorry drivers. The Government hopes that this slow ripple effect will work its way into the economy and constrain, in some measure, the looming recession.

Support provided through the furlough scheme and its recently announced extension is offering some mitigation of the immediate effects of lockdown, but there is no Marshall Plan in evidence. The implementation of any actual workplace changes is being left at the door of businesses, who through no fault of their own are more focused on simply restarting their operations. The familiar cry of missed opportunities may come to haunt us as a society, as we all try to work out what the new ‘normal’ looks like.

The challenge for employers and business leaders is how to help their employees manage the blurred lines between work and family life setting and how to set new work-life boundaries.

There are positive signs that there is greater productivity in those sectors still working, as employees have put in longer hours and focus on delivery. For some people, the initial state of remote working would have felt like a honeymoon period – away from the daily grind, more family time, but the shine may be wearing off. Many people are working longer hours, and feel exhausted, having to not only deal with buffering interruptions, homeschooling of young children, working at a makeshift home office stations, but in addition having to deal with the effects of social isolation. In comparison, those employees returning into the workplace will have to deal with a new work environment. Different start times, new shift patterns, health checks, social distancing, worry about virus contact, and potentially reduced pay as salary cuts begin to be applied in many sectors. The big challenge for the long months ahead is how to keep employees safe and stop virus spread, so that another lockdown is avoided.

What all these employees have in common is that everyone has to manage and deal with increased levels of stress and anxiety, as well as maintaining their energy and momentum against the long-term economic uncertainty. Employers now need to review the benefits that they provide to their people to ensure that the benefit mix offers the right support and addresses the issues employees are facing.

Now more than ever, it is important to have benefits in place that recognise the performance and achievements of employees, through tools such as peer-to-peer recognition and reward programs offering retail discounts with the major grocery stores. Using a benefits platform can enhance employee engagement, as staff are able to access their benefits more easily. A benefits platform can also be used for communications at a time of remote working.

The aim of any benefits program is to positively reward and motivate staff. Services such as employee assistance programs (EAP) can aid the management of stress and anxiety. They also provide bereavement support and one to one counselling, which gives personalised help to mitigate against emerging mental health issues caused by COVID-19. EAP services are low cost and available 24/7 so provide an important benefit at a time of need.

To help support travel to work and keep social distancing, the cycle to work scheme may offer a practical solution in avoiding public transport and the costs of using cars. It can also be a practical wellbeing aid in keeping people healthy whilst gyms are still closed. This makes cycling accessible for many more people. The cycle to work scheme is also an affordable way to purchase cycles as it a Government-backed initiative which helps employees save 25-39% on the cost of bikes, e-bikes, cycling accessories, clothing and bicycle components by spreading the cost interest-free (typically over 12 months). Employees can choose from a vast range of bike brands available in the UK market. The employer will then provide employees with their chosen bicycle and take an equivalent amount of the employee’s normal salary as a salary sacrifice. Unlike the salary, employees do not pay any tax or National Insurance on the value of the bike, so there are savings for both the employer and the employee.

The pandemic has certainly shown many business leaders that in all the years that they have sat around in meetings of ‘what if,’ none of them anticipated shutting down whole businesses for months on end. The message for business leaders should be “Let’s learn, let’s adapt, and let’s be better businesses because of it.” There is no magic playbook for this, but make sure that you speak and discuss the solutions outlined above with your benefits provider.

  1. Peters, Tom. RE-imagine!Business Excellence in a Disruptive Age. London. Dorling Kindersley Limited. (2003).

 

Wojciech Dochan

Managing Director, Busy Bees Benefits

Provider of the SmartHive Platform

Smart Hive is an integrated, cost effective employee benefits platform that provides your employees with access to all their health and wellbeing benefits in one place. Talk to a member of our team today or book your very own demonstration.