New lockdown restrictions in England: how will the workforce be affected?

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New lockdown restrictions to control the spread of coronavirus begin today in England. Deemed the 'rule of six' government guidance has reduced the number of people who can meet socially to six in a private setting.

Workplaces and schools are still allowed to gather in higher numbers, alongside team sports, weddings, funerals and if your household or support bubble is larger than six.

But what impact will the new restrictions have on the workplace and its employees?


Frustrated workers

Emma Jayne, area director of people and culture at the Dorchester Collection, said the new restrictions present workers with some frustrations.

She said: “Although I see a huge benefit in new ways of agile working, I have myself experienced this month the amazing camaraderie I enjoy with my work colleagues that I have been missing for the last five months as our workplace reopened and we are all so keen to be able to keep our business open.

“For these reasons, I think the new ‘Rule of six’ is coming at us and although it’s so disappointing, it will not be forever and we do have to trust that Boris and his advisors know what they are doing. The reality is that change is sometimes the only constant in our lives and no more so that in 2020.”

Yet Jayne is keen to remember the long-term goals of the lockdown.

She added: “Human connections are vital for so many different reasons and many of us will have this taken away from us now because of the size or make up of our families.

"It’s important to keep the end goal in mind though which is one way to embrace the changes that seem to keep coming at us – our PM wants to get the UK back to work which is vital for our economy, as well as keeping children at school now and children really need a sense of routine in order to thrive.”

Further reading: How businesses are helping employees back into work


Confusion

Jeanette Wheeler, HR Director at MHR was worried that the new restrictions will lead to confusion in the office.

She said: “When severely restricted socially, but able to mix with an unlimited number of colleagues in a work bubble, some employees may find this latest announcement triggers confusion and anxiety.

“To help allay any fears it’s important for employers to offer consistent and clear information about the steps they are taking in the workplace and the expectations they have of employees. Employers with more advanced, social media-type collaboration platforms have an advantage here, but all companies should use whatever tools they have at their disposal to ensure nobody feels out of the loop.

"They should also offer support and advice to those whose wellbeing may be fragile, no matter where it is that they are working from."

Further reading: Internal communications need to be rethought and reorganised


Workplace responsibility

Rachel Suff, senior employment relations adviser at the CIPD, said the new restrictions are a reminder of the important role workplaces can play in remaining vigilant against the virus.

She said: "While the UK government has said that returning to the workplace is at the discretion of the employer, we would still encourage them to follow our three tests before bringing people back: is it essential, is it safe, is it mutually agreed?

"After months of home working, more employers are wanting to bring some workers back to the office in a limited capacity. Staggered start times and alternating office-based teams are just some of the ways they are helping to reduce safety risks.

"However, supporting people to work from home effectively continues to be the surest way of protecting people against COVID-19."

Further reading: The five things HR leaders should consider in return to work planning


Economic impact

Liz Sebag Montefiore, director and co-founder of consultancy 10 eighty, said another potential lockdown could damage the already fragile employment market.

"Lockdown has already had a significant impact on jobs. If we have to deal with further restrictions, it will be hard for the economy to pick up momentum and recruitment is weak already. Sadly, job losses tend to fall on those with less formal education, the young, and workers on temporary contracts".

Further reading: Employers advised to seek remote work balance as high street suffers

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